A regional building society has unveiled a seven-figure plan to transform banking for the “21st century and beyond” at a flagship Carlisle branch.

In a move thought to be the first of its kind in the county – and possibly the UK – The Cumberland will extend and overhaul its English Street branch, so its customers have a completely different experience.

Claire Deekes, head of retail distribution, and branch manager Will Park have been working on the project for more than 12 months.

The transformation was influenced and directed by people who visited The Cumberland’s pop-up research hub and branch, which was set up in October 2018 to trial new ideas and gain customer feedback.

Will, who has worked for The Cumberland for six years, was involved in the pop-up. He said: “Customers told us what they liked about banking and what they would like to see; from services to what images we should put on the walls. Interestingly, about 60 per cent of people who came in were not customers. We took on board everything they said and that fed in to our plans.”

Claire said: “We found that although digital banking was increasingly popular for day-to-day transactions, many people still valued and often preferred the personal contact they had in branches where they could get help with important financial decisions.

“It is not about automation or self-service, it’s about providing an exceptional customer experience.

“We will have more people working in the branch and the extra space will give us the flexibility to provide our services in the way our customers really want.

“We’re building a warm and welcoming environment so people can be much more comfortable when they want to discuss their finances with us.

“Our research showed that while the number of transactions carried out in branches has declined – as it has across the industry – people still want to be able to talk to a real person, someone who can really get to know them and their financial needs.

“We’ve designed this new branch to allow people to do just that, in whichever way they feel most comfortable.”

The open-plan ground floor will do away with traditional counters. Will said: “We are working on the prototype for their replacements now, which are more welcoming than a counter.”

There will be spaces to sit and discuss finances while enjoying a coffee, private areas for personal advice and learning spaces where people and businesses can get support on subjects from specialist staff.

The branch will expand into the neighbouring shop premises on English Street, which was used as the research hub.

It will also use the two upper floors to provide co-working for customers and local businesses, more than doubling the size of the current branch footprint.

It is understood the firm is investing a seven-figure sum into the transformation.

The branch will close for the refurbishment from 4pm tomorrow and is expected to reopen in August. City centre customers will still be able to use the Fisher Street branch.

The Brampton branch will close for four weeks from noon on Saturday February 22, for a refurbishment which will incorporate some of the features that will be a part of the English Street branch.