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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2006, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
'Our post offices are important'
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Delegates at a rally
Protestors want the government to change its policies

Hundreds of post office owners and customers have attended a rally in central London, calling for more government support for the post office network.

Thousands of post offices have closed in recent years, and there are fears thousands more could go in the future.

About 500 people descended on the Methodist Central Hall, in Westminster, to berate the government and explain how important post offices were.

Kam Matharu, 44, said she was "struggling" to run her post office in Bedhampton, Hampshire, because the government was taking away the Post Office's responsibility for services that "people want to use with us".

Terry Dale, 67, who relies on the services offered by his local post office, agreed with her.

Speaking outside to the hall, he said: "Anything to do with pensions should stay with the Post Office. In the village where I live we have three or four shops and people who can't walk any further [use it] to access services."

When the post office goes in small villages, everything else does too
Michael Darvill

Many demonstrators voiced anger at the government over recent policies which have seen services such as pensions, TV licences and driving licences being made available elsewhere.

Roy Brooks, who has run a post office in Doncaster for the past 11 years, said: "We need a commitment from the government to support the Post Office, but this government couldn't care less about it."

Mr Brooks, 66, said about a third of his customers were from a deprived or low income background.

"These are people who have had problems and are at the bottom of the ladder," he said.

"They will be forced into not using the post office. They like and trust us."

The subpostmaster said it was "scandalous" that "the government is effectively not listening to the wishes of some of the most deprived people in the country".

Michael Darvill, who runs a post office in Highgate, north London, took this argument further.

Delegates at a rally
An anti-government sentiment was evident at the rally

He said post offices - particularly those in rural areas - provided "a meeting point for people", as well as "a form of social service".

"I have phoned social services because a person needs assistance," said Mr Darvill, 67, who is also an NFSM executive officer.

"The milkman has gone now. The only person who goes to a house everyday is the postman."

Inside the Methodist Central Hall, the speakers were greeted with regular applause during each of the numerous attacks on the government and its proposals.

Numerous references were made to the government trying to "bully" people into using alternatives to the Post Office, with regular users being "bludgeoned" into using the internet more.

A cursory glance at the sea of white hair and bald heads in the conference hall reinforced the impression that the issues at the heart of the protest were generational, and involved fears that the lifestyles of elderly people who rely on the Post Office as a means of connection with the wider world were being eroded.

Village life

But it has been argued that the existing post office network is no longer financially viable.

Mr Darvill accepted that there was an issue to be addressed regarding economic viability.

He said different solutions should be created to suit different areas. He cited a mobile post office scheme that had been trialled in East Anglia, Devon and Cornwall.

He said that in rural areas where the number of customers was low, the mobile site could visit a village at a pre-arranged time each week, or a number of times each week.

"There is an issue here," he said.

"When the post office goes in small villages, everything else does too. It's a meeting place for people."


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