Villagers 'devastated' by Post Office threat

PUBLISHED: 07:13 21 May 2008 | UPDATED: 21:50 15 June 2010

DISABLED pensioner Doreen Phillips spent last Saturday morning making apple pies for a fundraising event, held in Offwell later in the day. Sitting in her country kitchen, surrounded by the fruits of her labour, she could only shake her head as the awful

DISABLED pensioner Doreen Phillips spent last Saturday morning making apple pies for a fundraising event, held in Offwell later in the day.Sitting in her country kitchen, surrounded by the fruits of her labour, she could only shake her head as the awful truth dawned... Offwell Post Office has been earmarked for closure, among more than 40 others across Devon, and the fundraising chilli and apple pie night had been organised to raise funds towards a permanent building for the post office and village stores.Offwell Retail Services Association has worked hard over a number of years to establish community facilities and parish councillor Doreen was already worrying about the alternative - difficult trips into Honiton."I'm absolutely gobsmacked," she said. "Devastated, to be honest. The village post office is our lifeline."Doreen and frail husband George live just a stone's throw from the village post office."There's nowhere in town we can park that's close to the post office, because it's beside a pedestrian crossing," she said."There is a bus from Offwell into Honiton that leaves from outside the church at around 9.10am, but the next one back isn't until noon. It costs £7.80 to get a taxi home."Mr and Mrs Phillips have lived in Offwell for 33 years and say they will take part in any future protest to save the post office."It wouldn't be so bad if someone had come and consulted with us before this news got out," said Doreen. "But they didn't."Sheila Errington, of Honiton, was using Offwell Post Office on Saturday morning. She said: "I just feel devastated. "I purely come up here because I use the post office as my bank. "I can park and the people are friendly. I used to pay my TV licence and everything here, but gradually it's all being taken away."Villager Ian Dickinson said: "I can't really think of a word to describe how I feel. I'm not happy at all! A very large number of people rely on the post office."Thelma Critchard, a member of Offwell Women's Institute, said: "I'm devastated really and completely surprised - after all the hard work we've put in! This is a community place and it's not always convenient to go somewhere else."Dick Erith, of Offwell, is also planning to support protests in the village.He said: "What can we do about it? I will be sad to see it close. It's happening everywhere."Angela Jeans said: "It's an absolute disgrace. My parents live in the village and I use the post office."Conservatives have called for a debate in the House of Commons, saying they want the government to suspend the programme of closures.Neil Parish, the Conservatives' prospective parliamentary candidate for Tiverton and Honiton, says post offices are the hub of rural communities in Devon and that local people should fight to keep them."Politicians talk a great deal about social breakdown, but Labour has failed to invest in the glue that binds communities together," he said."Post offices have become less viable as businesses because Labour has taken key services away from them. Local councils should consider taking a lead from Essex County Council, which is looking to take over the running of post offices facing closure."I am sure people will fight closures tooth and nail, and local Conservatives will be standing right behind them."A six-week consultation period was launched yesterday (Tuesday) and villagers have until June 30 to state their case.In documentation, published as your Herald was going to press, it was said that Offwell Post Office averages between 100 and 199 customers per week.A branch access report said the post office serves a population of 420, with 15 per cent of residents aged between 0 and 16.The report further stated that 93 per cent of households in the village have one or more vehicle.Brian Berman, Devon County Council's executive member for communities, said: "We can understand and sympathise with the concerns of both individuals and local organisations over the future of Post Office branches in Devon. "Local groups and customers will be able to put forward their views and concerns."Devon County Council has previously expressed concern about the impact of the closures on local communities, and will be responding to the consultation before the six week deadline.Once the council receives the official list, they will invite postmasters of the services affected to contact them, so that they can work with them to assess the impact of the proposals. The county council will also work closely with Offwell Parish Council - to see how closure could affect the local communities. A telephone helpline is also being set up - to give those who want to continue to run threatened post offices or who wish to close but feel that there is a need for post office services within their community.After gathering all the facts, the council may, in some cases, provide financial support to help sustain post office services, although such support could not be considered a long term measure, an official statement said.

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