How a 101-year-old customer found “a real friend” at Barclays
Barclays Branch Manager Catherine Harris and her 101-year-old customer, Frank Buttery, share how their friendship flourished during the pandemic – and how they have worked together to support vulnerable members of their community.
When Yarm Branch Manager Catherine Harris saw an elderly man drop his glove, she hurried after him to return it. So began her friendship with Frank Buttery, who turned 101 in March.
“I picked up the glove and ran down the high street after him,” says Catherine. “And he said that’s the moment he fell in love with me.”
“When I met this lady here,” says Frank, “she put a crown on my head. She’s a wonderful lady and we’ve become great friends.
“When you get to my age, you tend to want friends more than ever. There’s a difference between a friend and a real friend – and I have a real friend in Catherine.”
Neither can pinpoint why they get along so well. “You really can’t put a finger on that,” says Frank, and Catherine agrees: “We just clicked.”
When you get to my age, you tend to want friends more than ever. There’s a difference between a friend and a real friend – and I have a real friend in Catherine.
Soon after they met, the UK entered its first COVID-19 lockdown, and Catherine took it upon herself to “make sure Frank had what he needed” because he was living alone. She and her colleagues made frequent checks on Frank in socially distanced visits – bringing him groceries, treats or just some company from the doorstep.
“He’s a very special man and we all care about him deeply,” says Catherine. “I needed to know that he was okay.”
Working together to support vulnerable people
Frank has also been supporting other people made vulnerable by the pandemic. When Catherine told him about another branch customer – a grandfather – who was alone caring for seven grandchildren, he wanted to help.
“I just happened to mention it to Frank,” says Catherine, “and for a good portion of last year, he gave money every week to the family so that they could afford the basics.”
Frank says: “I’ve always been generous. As a child, I kept newspapers – I used to get a penny to get myself some sweets and I’d give one to my friend.”
Catherine also helped to raise £250 for the grandchildren’s school uniforms – and her commitment to customers didn’t stop there. “All through the pandemic, we’ve been open,” she says. “Our focus, passion and dedication is to our customers and the Barclays community.”
In addition to ensuring that her team telephones thousands of UK customers to check on their safety during lockdown, Catherine refuses to turn away those who ask for help. When a “man in distress” came to her branch on his daughter’s birthday with an overdrawn card, no food and a job that hadn’t yet started, she was determined to do something.
Frank is a very special man and we all care about him deeply. I needed to know that he was okay
Barclays Branch Manager
“I had a box of biscuits and a box of chocolates in the back of my car,” she says. “About 10 minutes later, my colleagues and I had all put food together to help him and his daughter. We haven’t seen him again, but I hope we helped him in a small way.”
Positive change in the community
Beyond her work as a Branch Manager, Catherine finds pride in taking an active role in her community. Her current project involves a collaboration with Yarm Town Council to build a communal garden.
“We've just planted 60 trees and loads of wildflowers,” she says. “It’s going to be a really peaceful place, where you can go and pick the fruit off the trees, look at the beautiful flowers and have somewhere that’s calming.”
She also describes her branch as more like a community centre than a bank. In addition to offering Tea and Teach sessions by Barclays’ Digital Eagles, to help people improve their digital skills and “socialise again”, the branch displays work by local artists.
“It’s got everything you need,” says Frank. “It’s popular, it’s joyful to come and see. The staff are out of this world – and I’m not saying that because I’ve made friends with the manager!”
Catherine, who says she spends “all my time” in the banking hall, agrees: “That’s where I’m happy.”
Reflecting on the last year, both Catherine and Frank focus on the positives. “What I’ve really enjoyed is exploring where I live,” says Catherine, “going for walks with my sons and just spending time with them in a different way. I think it’s made people I know appreciate each other a lot more.”
For Frank, meanwhile, it’s friendships like the one he has with Catherine that have got him through.
“I was in the war for six years,” he says. “I’ve had a plastering business and a building business and a hotel. I even had a Rolls-Royce, which I bought brand new. I’ve enjoyed my life. But Rolls-Royces and properties don’t mean a thing. What can be better than having this lady as my friend?”