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5 March, 2008

Prove necessity

There's a slight problem with this article and the accompanying comments bewailing the loss of Post Office branches in the current rationalisation programme, with 'the hearts being torn from local communities for the sake of commercial viability'.

Post Office, Quernmore, near Lancaster, UK. ©NRTAll very emotive stuff, and no doubt anathema to the cosy fantasies of little Englanders who dream of a 1950s idyll (which barely existed), of drinking lashings of ginger beer on the emerald village green, chatting to the local policeman next to the red telephone box and the thatched cottage with roses around the door.

Back in the real world, 2,500 of 14,000 post offices are closing because people aren't using them. The romantic illusion of a village with a vibrant community spirit, currently thriving but which will be destroyed when the bustling post office closes, is absolute rubbish. Several of the 'threatened' offices serve less than ten customers per week; in many cases considerably fewer.
I don't doubt that those two or three people, possibly elderly, who'll have to travel 3-4 miles to the nearest remaining post office or obtain the same services by other means may experience rather major inconvenience, but if they're an office's entire weekly customer base, it's ludicrous to retain it. Much as I value individualism over collectivism, the state can't, and shouldn't, afford such extravagance.

[Update 15:16:
Here in the Lancaster area, the remotest two of eight post offices to be closed are to be replaced by a two-day-per week 'outreach' service, but the local newspaper's report exhibits the same unrealistic attitude as the Guardian's.

Mrs Owens said: "The outreach is not like having a permanent shop and post office.
"To go to the village hall to get a parcel delivered just does not feel right. It is not a post office – it is the kitchen of a village hall.
"I can understand the situation the post office is in but a community needs that shop."
It "doesn't feel right"? Sorry, but 'tough'.
No, it's 'not the same', but the existing situation simply isn't working. The idea that a post office could be a 'communication hub' is an compelling one, but if the community really needed the shop, the community would use the shop, and in far too many cases, that isn't happening.

That's my overarching point: people seem to like the idea of their cosy local post office far more than the mundane reality of an office which stands near-empty for most of the week; they don't use the post office, but find it somehow comforting that it's there.]

[Update 11/03/08: Another BBC article, about branch closures in Wales, summarises some of the Post Office's attempts to minimise the impact.]


It is disappointing that the rural Post Offices have to close, but if they are not economical, there's little point in them staying open. They no longer seem to be integral to the rural community since most people have cars, and shop elsewhere. But there are always those who don't. Couldn't Royal Mail provide a mobile Post Office service? It would be much better for the elderly customers than having to embark on long treks to the nearest town.
I've seen mobile libraries and banks, surely mobile Post Offices could be an answer?

Posted by RF84 at March 5, 2008 02:37 PM

It's an interesting idea, though let's not overstate the distances people will have to travel a number of technically non-viable post offices are to be retained in order to maintain reasonable geographic coverage.

Actually, as mentioned in the updated entry (updated after your comment!), some are to be replaced by a part-time service in village halls, which is kind of similar to your suggestion.

Your point about people shopping elsewhere is interesting, too.
Many of the unsustainable post offices are in locations lacking shops selling groceries, so people must be travelling some distance for their weekly shopping already if they can get to a supermarket, they can get to a post office, perhaps on the same trip.
As I said, some might find it awkward, and I sympathise, but it is possible.

Posted by NRT at March 5, 2008 03:39 PM
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