Fight to save Offwell Post Office

PUBLISHED: 20:31 03 June 2008 | UPDATED: 21:53 15 June 2010

ON the day their village post box was given a fresh lick of paint, villagers at Offwell were told there is only a small" chance they will save their post office from closure. The stark irony galvanised already strong support for the post office's retenti

ON the day their village post box was given a fresh lick of paint, villagers at Offwell were told there is only a "small" chance they will save their post office from closure.The stark irony galvanised already strong support for the post office's retention.There was standing room only in the village hall when a public meeting, held on Monday night, left all but that corner of the village deserted.The Reverend Brian Green, chairman of Offwell Rural Services Association (ORSA), which established the post office and community shop just four years ago, chaired the meeting, attended by Paul Godden, of Post Office Limited, and Richard Brown, of Postwatch.Mr Green is to stand down as chairman of ORSA - but only once the outcome of the fight to save the post office is known. He will remain on the committee until April next year.Villagers are to march along the A35 to Honiton Post Office in protest at the planned closure. Participants are likely to carry cash - so they can file into Honiton Post Office en-mass.They are also seeking legal advice, in a bid to find out if they can challenge the government-initiated threat on discrimination grounds.Although Mr Godden was able to explain the results of a branch access survey on Offwell Post Office (previously reported in the Herald), which singled it out for closure along with 44 other post offices across Devon, and acknowledged a lack of public transport, he was unable to reveal how much of a cash subsidy the post office would need to keep going.He refused to answer the question: "How much is our post office losing?" Dr Mike Hounsome told him: "We've got to know how much the difference is. Surely, we must be given this information?" He implied use of the Freedom of Information Act, saying Devon County Council would have to be supplied with the figure, if it agreed to step in and help run the post office. Mr Godden replied: "You are not going to get that information. We can argue the toss all day long."The Midweek Herald made a Freedom of Information Act request for the figure yesterday (Tuesday).When asked why a government grant was given to help set up the post office, Mr Godden said: "We are a government-owned business. Whenever a post office failed we were to go into those communities and do what we could. "We found a community willing to work with us. "Unfortunately, things have changed."Mr Godden went on to admit there was only a "small possibility" Offwell could save its post office.Villager Matt Corker asked: "Why such a small possibility?"Mr Godden replied: "Such a large amount of work has already gone into the plan."He explained Offwell Post Office would need to undertake 1,000 transactions a week to be viable. He explained over 90 per cent of the population had transport and, with such little retail provision in the village, residents must be migrating to do their shopping.If an area had a large, medium and small post office and the large one closed, he doubted migration would be to the smallest outlet.He caused offence when he suggested those present "look well to me", implying they were fit to make journeys into Honiton. Among those present was muscular dystrophy sufferer Les Atterbury and others with debilitating conditions.Richard Brown, of Postwatch, told villagers: "The most important thing is how this proposal is going to affect you - in time and money. "Obviously, you can't walk to Honiton - the traffic, for one thing."You must look at your branch access survey. Scrutinise, scrutinise, scrutinise."He urged people to write individual letters.Mr Brown had a warning for protesters. "You have had a good start," he said. "Don't go out of here and think that's the end of the matter. At the end of the consultation period, Post Office Limited will review all the concerns raised."I can't give you false hope. If it is successful, another post office in Devon will be closing."Mr Brown said villagers are up against the clock: "Do it now. Do it as soon as possible. You haven't got long."Villagers responded by saying the threat of another post office closing if Offwell is saved amounted to political and emotional blackmail.Dr Hounsome said Offwell Post Office served six parishes and took in the largest area of any post office in the district.Residents feared, with increasing petrol prices, they'd be unable to afford to travel into Honiton.Parish councillor Doreen Phillips asked: "Will we lose our post box as well, because they were painting it today?"Mr Godden said it could be moved, if it's on private land.Mr Godden upset the Press when he refused to give his name, saying he wished to be known as "a Post Office Limited representative". He was unhappy about having his picture taken during the meeting, but the Herald pointed out he was a speaker for an official body at a public meeting, in a public place.

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