Can you give a brief description of your role at the Bank of England?
I am the Chief Cashier at the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank. I am responsible for meeting public demand for banknotes and maintaining confidence in the physical currency. This includes seeking to ensure that we have the right number and denominational mix of good quality banknotes in circulation, and introducing secure “state of the art” banknotes. A key focus of my role over the past few years has been leading the programme to introduce polymer banknotes. The first polymer Bank of England note, the £5 note featuring Sir Winston Churchill, was introduced in September this year, and being printed on polymer it is cleaner, safer and stronger than its paper counterpart. My role even includes signing the banknotes!
How was it decided that the new banknotes needed to be accessible for VI people?
We want Bank of England banknotes to be accessible and recognisable for all members of society. They are a key part of everyone’s daily life. Our current paper banknotes include three features to help visually impaired people differentiate between the denominations - they are different sizes (in both height and width), different colours and contain a large numeral indicating the denomination. There are also features, such as the raised “intaglio text” that help visually impaired people to verify genuine notes. This puts us ahead of many other countries, in terms of easy to distinguish notes and all of these features will also be included in our polymer banknotes.
To further aid accessibility of banknotes for VI people, on the 2 June 2016 Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, announced that the Bank will include a new tactile feature on the forthcoming polymer £10 and £20 notes. This new feature will be a series of raised bumps created during the banknote printing process, and with different formations for the £10 and the £20 to help the visually impaired denominate the note. The £5 polymer banknote will be differentiated by not having a tactile feature.
How did you involve RNIB in the work?
As with all new product designs we believe it is important to obtain input and guidance from the experts – the users. In addition to internal consultation and analysis, we sought views from the public across the UK in relation to polymer – with 87% of those responding saying that they were in favour of a move to polymer. As part of the decision to move to polymer we consulted the RNIB at an early stage and received a favourable response.
When we decided to go a step further and to investigate the possibility of adding a tactile feature, we engaged directly with the RNIB for advice and guidance on ensuring notes were accessible for visually impaired people. They arranged a series of focus groups which showed that many VI people would find a tactile feature useful. They also helped us to identify the optimal pattern for the features.
I am grateful to the RNIB for their help in designing these new polymer notes.
How are you promoting accessibility needs across the Bank of England?
Equality, diversity and inclusion are important to the Bank. The Bank of England is committed to providing information and products that are accessible to all users, and as an employer attracting and retaining the best staff from all backgrounds, including disability.
For example, the majority of images used on our website include a descriptive tag that is displayed when the cursor passes over the image, and an audio described tour is available for blind and partially sighted visitors to the Bank of England Museum.
I am the Executive Sponsor for the Bank’s Disability Network, a staff-led group which exists to support disabled colleagues to reach their full potential and to raise awareness of disability amongst all colleagues.
We have seen some recent progress in both areas. The age and listed status of our main building can sometimes pose challenges to this but we are always looking for ways to overcome them. Advances in technology allowed us to recently install a disabled access chair lift at the front of the Bank, which we previously were unable to do.
Has the strategic decision to be more accessible had an impact on your staff?
Bank of England staff involved in launching the notes put the end user at the heart of everything we do. We work really hard to ensure the notes are fit for purpose and meet our core objectives. Our colleagues have been really focused on engaging the right audiences and raising awareness for our notes, and that will be the same for the £10. The tactile feature is new and we want people to be aware of it. For the new £5 note we went to all corners of the UK to meet the public, retailers and local media to get the word out. For the £10 we’ll be making sure the visually impaired community are as engaged as possible and that will be a team effort.
What has the response been from your VI customers?
When we’ve been to public events like Sight Village, the visually impaired community are very supportive of us introducing tactile features and consulting the RNIB on our new notes. There are lots of things we have to consider when designing and producing a banknote, so it’s often about striking the right balance to produce the best note we can to suit different needs with a mind to the cash industry and to costs too.
The new polymer £5 and the concept of the tactile feature for the £10 were well received when I spoke on the In Touch programe earlier this year.
What where the challenges of introducing the new note?
There are many challenges when introducing a new note. Some of which include design and production considerations; such as what substrate to print on and which character to feature.
The £5 was the first polymer banknote the Bank of England has issued so the production processes were new, but having worked through the various challenges this presented we are delighted with the finished article.
We also needed to ensure all machines accepting and dispensing banknotes were ready to transact polymer, and the public were aware of the new banknotes and confident using them. We worked closely with the cash industry, who helped to deliver a smooth transition.
We printed 440 million ahead of the launch of the new £5, so it was a big project and couldn’t be done overnight!
Given the change in both substrate and size of the new £5, we were really keen to connect with as many communities as possible. Our outreach work, through visits, special interest groups and organisations such as the RNIB, enabled us to spread the message to a wide range of people including children, the elderly, partially sighted and those to whom English is not their first language. We’ve really enjoyed our work with the RNIB and it’s been a massive help to have their guidance on how to spread information through their magazines, online and radio programmes.
If you like to share your thoughts, ask for specific information, or find out more about our work please contact the team at [email protected] or call 01733 375 370.