Parliament treat for long-standing Westhall worker

He's been a pillar of his community for more than six decades.

He's met the Queen, been named Citizen of the Year for Suffolk and been praised by the prime minister.

And yesterday his service to his home village was rewarded once more as shop owner Tony Whatling was treated to an afternoon at the Houses of Parliament.

Mr Whatling, 86, has been running Tony's Stores in Westhall, near Halesworth, since he left the armed forces in 1951. In this time he has served generations of families through his store and post office service, and his dedication has been acknowledged with numerous awards and accolades.

However, after turning down an offer of afternoon tea at the Houses of Parliament, a kind customer stepped forward to drive him to London.

Mr Whatling said: 'It is an honour to go up there. I was asked some time ago but I refused, as when you are old like me, you look on afraid at doing something like that.'

However, colleague Cindy Woolnough offered to accompany him and customer Albert van der Meulen said he would drive them.

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Mrs Woolnough, 55, first started working at the shop when she was 12 years old and said she was 'over the moon' to be able to go with him, while Mr van der Meulen, 65, said he had no hesitation in offering to drive them both to London.

'I feel this man has done so much for the village that what I am doing is minimal; he is so deserving, we would be lost without him,' he said.

A crowd of customers gathered to wave them off, with villager Mandy Payne with her daughter Zoe, four, who wanted to see him dressed up in his finest before he left.

She said: 'He is so friendly to everyone. He always says hello and asks how you are. He is always concerned about everybody.'

Mr Whatling, who first started the store during rationing, was invited to view the House of Lords and have afternoon tea at the House of Commons by Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey.

She said: 'Tony has gone above and beyond what any community could expect in terms of service to his customer, not just in years.

'The prime minister praised him as somebody who 'keeps this country running' and his dedication to his work is second to none.

'I thought it appropriate to invite him to Parliament so he could enjoy a day off and to say thank you for his hard work serving the residents of Westhall.'

richard.wood@archant.co.uk

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