Have your say: Government consults on post office future
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Years ago, post offices held villages together.
In plentiful supply, they were hubs for banking, postage and all manner of everyday errands.
As the internet advanced and cost-saving drives took hold, though, thousands were shut – with 6,500 UK branches closed from 2000 to 2010.
But over the last few years, as buying and selling online boomed, the local branch has had something of a renaissance.
So today, with the government in the early phases of a consultation on its future, we are issuing a rallying call to share your views on the post office's evolving role in society.
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Though most services have moved online, collecting and mailing parcels will only become more popular as internet shopping grows.
And the region's poor broadband and mobile signal – as well as its ageing population –- mean there are large swathes of the region where the post office remains part of the fabric of village life.
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Ben Underwood, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said post offices remained 'at the heart of rural communities' and urged people to have their say.
He said: 'With many banks closing and disappearing from our market towns, and reliable access to the internet still a problem in the countryside, rural communities will become even more isolated if more post offices are forced to close.
'It is absolutely essential the people living and working in small villages have access to a branch.'
Innovation has proved key – with many branches reborn as counters in shops, halls, pubs and even libraries.
In Wortham, Suffolk, the post office is at home in the village tea room and store.
Postmaster Janice Lloyd said having the three businesses in one place meant it was in high demand.
'We are benefiting from them being together,' she said. 'It gives people even more reason to come, so we are very busy.'
She said though the internet did have an impact, it also 'created opportunities' such as posting goods sold on eBay.
The consultation on post offices will close on December 21. To share your views, email firstname.lastname@example.org
• How important do you think post offices are? Email email@example.com
Fight to keep newly-saved post office
In Gressenhall, villagers are desperate not to lose their post office for a second time.
It closed in April last year, and only reopened in February after an outpouring of opposition and an intervention from MP George Freeman.
It now opens twice a week in the village shop – much to the relief of owner Simon Chisholm, who said the loss of the post office made his own business difficult to run.
'When it was shut, Mondays were our quietest days,' he said. 'Now, they are our busiest – there must be 25 or 30 people coming in to get their pension.
'People come in and get what they need from the village shop at the same time and it works well.
'Without the post office, that link is lost and it absolutely impacts on my trade.' He said he visits Dereham post office on the other day and often finds it deserted.
'I arrive at about 5pm, when you think you'd see lots of businesses doing the same thing,' he said, 'but it's very quiet. People with the internet just aren't using it as much and it is the same everywhere.'
Many in Gressenhall are working to maintain the healthy numbers currently using the branch.
Hamish MacInlay, who was involved in the campaign to see it reopened, said: 'It is fundamental to how we live in a village – there are many services that people use here rather than having to travel to Dereham.
'We are encouraging people to use the post office as much as possible.'