Save Our Post Offices!
PUBLISHED: 15:52 17 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:04 20 February 2013
With the axe looming over dozens of our post offices, people across Somerset are currently fighting to save what they regard as the heart of their community. At the end of February, Post Office Ltd announced plans to close 65 branches in Bristol a...
Following the closures, the Bristol and Somerset area could be left with 324 branches, seven of which may become new outreach services such as a travelling van or a 'hosted' service in perhaps a village hall or pub.
Post Office Ltd says it has made these decisions after talking with consumer watchdog Postwatch and local authorities, and has considered factors such as geography, transport, alternative access to Post Office services and the impact on the local economy. But views on all these are welcomed during the consultation process.
Tony Jones, Post Office Ltd's Regional Development Manager for Bristol and Somerset, says: "Post Office Ltd's aim is to continue to provide essential services and support retail businesses and the local economy in as many communities as possible, subject to the minimum access criteria set by the government."
Under the proposals, 99% of the UK population should be within three miles of their nearest post office and 90% should be within one mile.
Labour MP for Wansdyke, Dan Norris (www.dannorris.org.uk), says: "While only 40% of Bristol and Somerset people live in rural communities, they will keep nearly 200 post offices compared to 129 for the majority of the population who live in our towns and cities."
This is not good enough for campaigners such as the Save Somerset's Post Office Group, which was set up in a bid to save the county's remaining branches from closure. The campaign is led by the Liberal Democrats, and Taunton MP Jeremy Browne (www.tauntonlibdems.org.uk) has presented a petition to the House of Commons which warns that closures will hit local communities in Somerset hard. Seven post offices have been earmarked for closure in Taunton Deane alone.
"Smaller post offices provide a social lifeline for many vulnerable or disadvantaged people. They are particularly valued by pensioners and those without private transport," he says.
Ten of those post offices under threat are in the Wells constituency. "We are already suffering reduced services in rural areas," says MP David Heathcoat-Amory (www.davidheathcoatamory.co.uk), who believes the closures will be devastating for community life in Somerset.
More than 300 post offices have closed in the South-west since 2001 and Somerset County Council, concerned about the future of our small communities, is opposing the plans to close more. Other local authorities, such as Mendip District Council, have also taken up the fight and councillors in West Somerset, which has one of the highest elderly populations in the country, have urged locals to speak up.
Post offices proposed for direct closure in this area include Bicknoller, which was one of the first completely voluntary, cooperative, community post office/shops to be set up in the UK.
"We are concerned that if people go to the Post Office at Williton they will stay there to do the rest of their shopping and our shop will be affected by that" says Maggie Pumphrey, Bicknoller Post Office and Shop
This small Quantock village is more than two miles from the nearest alternative shop so residents launched the Bicknoller Post Office/Shop Association (www.virsa.org/index.cfm/villageshop/Directory.Details/shop_id/249) some 13 years ago. Now people fear that if the post office facility is lost, the shop will suffer. "We are concerned that if people go to the Post Office at Williton they will stay there to do the rest of their shopping and our shop will be affected by that," says association secretary and shop manager Maggie Pumphrey. "Also, the person who runs the post office puts their salary into the shop account and without that money the shop could be in jeopardy; we could be trading at a loss even though we are manned by volunteers.
"We have a number of other concerns too. Yes, there is a bus service, but it's not that regular and if you live at the far reaches of the village it is a long walk to get to the bus stop."
Maggie Pumphrey is particularly worried about the safety of elderly residents who might be forced to drive to another post office to collect their pensions. "The A358 is supposed to be the most dangerous road in West Somerset. Drivers from Bicknoller have to turn on to a road where cars are travelling at 60 miles per hour and it's very dangerous. A man from the village was killed here last year."
"The post office is vital because the bus service at this time of year into Weston-super-mare is limited" says Mark Tottle, Royal Oak Stores, Kewstoke
The post office in the village of Bathford near Bath is another that could fall under the axe. Here, local volunteers who run the community store (www.avoncda.coop/ruralenterprise/Case_studies_Bathford.pdf) from the same building hope to be able to incorporate some of the post office services within their own shop.
Meanwhile, in the north of the county, the sub-postmaster of the Royal Oak Stores (www.kewstoke.org/shops.htm) in Kewstoke is busy raising a petition. "The post office is vital because the bus service at this time of year into Weston-super-mare is limited," says Mark Tottle. "Losing the post office would put a strain on the shop because business is very seasonal here. I had more than 200 post office customers in one week during February and we have had a lot of support - no one wants to see it go."
Chief executive of the Rural Shops Alliance (www.rural-shops-alliance.co.uk), Kenneth Parsons, suggests that before people start to protest about closures it is important to find out whether the postmaster wants it to be saved. "The twist to the tale is, because the government has given a target to close this many in Somerset, if local people save one, another will immediately be selected to replace it," he says.
It's a warning echoed by Dick Whittington of Community Action (www.community-action.org.uk), an independent registered charity which provides information and advice on rural issues in the former Avon area. But it isn't all doom and gloom. "If faced with definite closure," says Dick, "we can look at what else a community can do to preserve post office services at another venue or find ways for the shop to stay open without a post office." BY SARAH FORD
What do you feel about the lack of services in our towns and villages? Make your views heard on our Forum.
What you can do if your post office is under threat
Customers have until 9 April to let Post Office Ltd know how closures might affect them. Obtain a copy of the Area Plan proposal for Bristol and Somerset from www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; tel 08457 223344; or write to Post Office Ltd at Freepost Consultation Team.
If, as a result of closure, your local shop is also lost, the following websites can provide guidance for community-owned shops: www.virsa.org; www.storeisthecore.org.uk; www.expertsonline.org.uk/rssupport; www.community-action.org.uk.
Post Office branches proposed for closure are:
Alma Vale; Barrow Gurney; Barwick; Bason Bridge; Bathford; Bayford; Bear Flat; Bedminster Road; Bicknoller; Bitton; Bower Hinton; Bradford-on-Tone; Broomhill Road, St Annes; Church Road, Weston-super-Mare; Clandown; Claremont; Croscombe; Dinder; East Coker; East Harptree; Easton; Farmbrough; Goldcroft; Haslebury Plucknett; Hill Street, Kingswood; Holcombe; Keinton Mandeville; Kewstoke; Kingsdon; Kingshill; Lower Weston; Loxton; Marksbury; Middleton Road, Bristol; Midland Road, Bristol; Mudford; Newton St Loe; North Worle; Northville; Old Sodbury; Park Estate, Keynsham; Priory Road, Wells; Pylle; Quantoxhead; Redcliffe; Ridgeway, Shepton Mallet; Sefton Park; Severn Road, Weston-super-Mare; Shuttern, Taunton; Sparkford; St George, Bristol; St Mary, Kingston; St Phillips Marsh; Station Road, Yate; The Chessels, Bristol; Tytherington; Uphill; Walton; Wellington Hill West, Westbury on Trym; West Buckland; West End, Street; West Monkton; Windmill Hill, Glastonbury; Wookey Hole; and Royal Naval Air Station, Yeovilton.
Branches proposed for replacement by an outreach solution are:
Brompton Regis; Charlton Horethorne; Churchinford; Kilve;
Lydeard St Lawrence; North Cadbury; and Wheddon Cross.