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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Love thy Post Office
Ned Thacker
Politics Show for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire

Love your Post Office sign
There is real passion attached to rural post offices

For what might seem like generations, the Post Office down the road has been a fixed part of the community furniture. But the heavy axe of closures is dropping on their number - what about the rural POs?

Despite the biggest petition ever to be gathered in Britain, the government is going ahead with widespread closure of Post Offices, with 2,500 earmarked for the axe. But across the country, villagers are fighting back.

"We are lost without it. Very lost." The words of 86-year-old Lucy Foster, lamenting the loss, last year, of the village post office at Rufforth near York.

"You didn't use it every day, but you could just pop across and cash a cheque or post a parcel, but you can't do nothing now," she insists.

Lucy Foster, battling pensioner
We are lost without it. Very lost
Lucy Foster

In 2002, there were more than 1,500 in the Yorkshire region.

That has now been reduced to just over 1,200, and, with more than one in six branches facing the axe, that number could come down to less than 1,000.

Friends in high places

But the days of Lucy and the other residents of Rufforth having to make a long trip to the post could soon be over - thanks to a helping hand from above.

The local Methodist chapel has come to the rescue - offering a store-room which is being converted and will open as a part-time Post Office next month.

Rufforth Methodist chapel,
The Post Office is a centre of community life as well as the Church

Meanwhile in Burstwick in East Yorkshire, a local general store has come to the rescue of villagers who lost their post office last October.

Owner Jayne Marshall says "It has had such an impact on villagers, losing the office, especially the pensioners and people who aren't mobile."

Villagers agree: "It is vital that we have a Post Office," one says.

"There are a lot of old people in the village that can't get out and the bus service is appalling," says another.

Another sees the significance to the community: "We need a post office because its serves the community for banking and everything."

Red tape

But it's not been straightforward for Jayne and partner Mark Atkins to get the office started, even though they have invested £80,000 in the business.

East Yorkshire councillor Peter Turner explains: "It was quite extraordinary - Jayne had to ring up 12 times to get an application form, she was just met with a wall of red tape, so we had to get involved."

Graham Stuart, Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness
People here do really want to have a post office
Graham Stuart

And MP Graham Stuart has thrown his weight behind the village's fight: "I was told last year that it was of paramount importance to keep a post office in this village.

"Thereafter, they've had to work so hard just to get the forms. They have persevered and I hope that eventually they are going to get over the line, because people here do really want to have a post office."

Providence

Villagers in Stillington in North Yorkshire came up with an ingenious way to keep their post office open after the couple that ran it retired in 2005 and no takers came forward to take over the reins.

Over 250 locals formed a consortium by paying a stake of £10 each to buy the premises and keep the post office running.

Jayne Marshall
Jayne's shop takes on the mantle of Post Office too

Bafflingly entitled an "Industrial Providence Society", the arrangement is actually very simple.

The post office has been combined with the village's general store and the profits from these two local services, which villagers describe as vital, are ploughed back into paying the mortgage on the Post Office and employing two counter staff to run it.

Volunteers fill any gaps in the roster to ensure the post office remains open at all times and an elected management committee makes sure the operation continues to run smoothly.

The Politics Show will be reporting live from Stillington's post office and debating the closure programme with MPs and the chairman of the watchdog Postwatch in the region.

Also on the programmeż We will be looking at the campaign of Leeds Central MP, Hilary Benn to succeed where his father failed, and become deputy leader of the Labour Party.

And we will be chatting to the region's senior Lib Dem MP Phil Willis from Harrogate about why he has decided to step down at the next election.

That is the Politics Show for Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the North Midlands, Sunday 03 June at 12:00 BST on BBC One.


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