VILLAGERS in 10 rural North East communities have been left high and dry by the breakdown of a vital Post Office mobile van.
The west Northumberland villages, which lost their post offices three years ago, depend on the van service for pensions and general mail.
But 17 days after the van broke down on Christmas Eve, it has still not been repaired and it is expected to be another week at least before the new engine the van needs is installed.
Stocksfield sub-postmaster Martin Nichol, who runs the mobile service franchise, said: “It appears to have taken a while to establish what the fault was.
“I discovered at the beginning of this week that it needed a new engine and that then needed to be addressed. Ten villages are now without it and there can be no replacement van because the information and transactions stored on the computer in that van is specific to these areas.
“A lot of these people totally rely on the mobile van to get their pensions. So it’s not a good situation.”
The mobile van serves Bardon Mill, Colwell, Fourstones, Humshaugh, Langley, Mickley, Newton, Ninebanks, Simonburn and Slaley. All the villages lost their post office franchises three years ago.
At Humshaugh, villagers fought without success to preserve their post office, though the village shop enterprise which was born in its wake has become award-winning.
Dick Moules, chairman of Humshaugh Community Ventures Ltd, said yesterday : “It’s not as if this was a problem we didn’t foresee. There was always this risk, having a mobile service rather than in the shop. When we were fighting the campaign to save the post office, we said: ‘What happens if the van breaks down?’ And now here it is.
“People in Humshaugh are having to go through to Acomb for their post office services and it’s a problem that is continuing, though in one way it was a good thing that the van broke down at Christmas when there was less demand for the service.”
Slaley village shopkeeper Margaret Ward said: “We can only sell stamps, so the local people are having to go elsewhere for their postal services.
“One lady had to carry a heavy parcel into Hexham and others have had to do the same to get their pensions.
“Our parish council chairman, Ian Hancock, has been on to the post office and the post office apparently didn’t have a new engine ready, but they have ordered one now.”
A Post office Ltd spokesman said yesterday: “The Post Office understands how important post office services are to people in the area and apologises to customers for any inconvenience caused by the current lack of the mobile post office.
“The vehicle is currently being repaired and we expect to be able to reinstate the service by the end of next week.”