A RALLYING call was issued yesterday in town halls across the North East for councils to help fill the void left by post office closures.
A motion put forward at a meeting last night in Alnwick for the authority to step in will be followed by others in Durham and Newcastle today after the full list of the region’s 81 branches either being closed or downgraded was published.
Twenty-four rural branches in Northumberland and Durham are being replaced by timetabled visits from a mobile van, while a further 57 in urban areas across the region are to close.
Senior members of Northumberland County Council will also look at how they can bring post office services into council buildings at a meeting on Monday.
The moves come as local campaigns began across the region to save community post offices, and amid calls for solutions to be found to replace the “buzz” of a local branch.
Jeff Reid, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “We are keen to work with partners in other councils to see what can be done, and to decide on next steps. “We are anxious that we work with the communities affected, and to help them however we can.”
George Hepburn, chief executive of the Community Foundation, said: “It is going to be so important to find new and imaginative ways to keep the buzz going in our local communities where the post offices are closing.
“We ought to look at whether there is a greater role for churches, community centres and social clubs to be the places where people meet and share their news as they did previously at the post office.
“We should think about having replacement ‘postmasters’ who can signpost villagers to public services and provide a listening ear.”
Countryside Alliance regional director and Ponteland farmer Richard Dodd said post offices are the social heart of many communities and their removal would leave many people isolated.
“Financial viability cannot be the only concern when considering whether to continue subsidising the post office network,” he added.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith said: “There may be some places where council provision of a location for post office facilities could help, but in places where the post office is an integral part of the village shop that is ideally where it should stay, because it helps to keep the shop available for local people.”
Hexham MP Peter Atkinson added: “One of the ideas that is worth exploring is that used in Essex, where the council use the offices as an outreach service for the council.
“It would provide all the things you do with a council, from paying council tax to education matters.
“Another idea is to use them as food delivery points for online retailers, providing a central collection point where people could go and not have to worry about being in when a delivery arrived.”
Adrian Wales, Post Office Ltd’s network development manager for the North East, said: “We believe these proposals offer the best prospect for a sustainable way forward for post office services in this area, bearing in mind the minimum access criteria and the other factors we have to take into account.”
Campaigners have six weeks from yesterday to convince the Royal Mail to save their community branches.
To respond, people should write to Adrian Wales, Network Development Manager, c/o National Consultation Team, FREEPOST CONSULTATION TEAM, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Customer Helpline on 08457 223344.
Minister defends closures: Letters, Pages 10 & 11