Post Office chiefs are threatening to shut down a branch in Helmsley - despite having just sponsored an award which crowned the North Yorkshire town as the very best market town in Britain.
Local business leaders have been quick to point out the irony and have insisted the Post Office has picked on the wrong town as they urge residents to fight the proposal.
Helmsley is not the kind of town to sit back and just let it happen.Lizzie Rohan, chairman of Helmsley in Business
The branch in Bridge Street is currently under a six-week consultation period for the Post Office to gather views on the proposed closure – and the Helmsley in Business group is calling on locals to make their voice heard and fight to keep it open.
The proposal includes replacing the branch with a Post Office service provided out of a local food store but businesses fear it will offer a limited service that would be insufficient to support the 100-plus local independent business that rely on the current branch to survive.
The Post Office however said the proposal stems from the decision of the current postmaster to leave the branch and that the replacement service is next door to the existing branch and would offer an array of personal and business banking services.
Just last month, Helmsley attracted more than 36,000 public votes to win the Great British High Street’s Best Market Town Award, sponsored by the Post Office, because of its vibrant and thriving nature and strong independent business community and those who orchestrated the award bid have been left feeling let down.
Lizzie Rohan, owner of the town’s No 54 B&B and chairman of Helmsley in Business, said: “It’s completely preposterous to even suggest closing our Post Office. It is a vital and heavily utilised resource for us as a rural community.
“Since it was announced I’ve spoken to many small business owners who may post 40 to 50 parcels a day, or who use the service daily for paying in cash. The proposed replacement of a local Post Office run in the town’s Costcutter would not provide the services so many of us rely on each and every day to keep our businesses running.”
A Post Office spokesperson said: “The current postmaster has decided to leave and our proposed replacement runs the Costcutter convenience store which is next door to the existing branch. It would have the same number of counters and be open seven days a week, from 8am to 9pm Monday to Saturday and 9am to 8pm on Sunday, and would offer personal and business banking cash withdrawals, deposits & balance enquiries using a card.
“We are confident that this new modern Post Office service will meet the needs of the local community and secure services for the future. This modernisation is part of a major investment programme, the largest in the history of the Post Office.”
Helmsley in Business remains concerned about the lack of banking facilities in the town, having already seen its branches of HSBC and NatWest closed.
The group also has concerns about the security and privacy for customers making transactions at the proposed replacement, saying access is also an issue.
Addressing access concerns, the Post Office said there are two entrances to the proposed new premises; the front entrance has steps with a handrail like the existing Post Office and that there are plans to make the rear entrance, which is level, accessible to customers.
Another concern is that the current Helmsley Post Office is also a sorting office, and its closure would mean 13 jobs would be relocated to outside of the town, Helmsley in Business said.
Ms Rohan said the timing of the proposal was “suspicious”, saying: “It’s so important to take action. I know it’s a busy time of year but the six weeks are already ticking by and I think that’s perhaps why they choose this time of year to make such announcements, hoping people will be too busy to realise.
“The proposals are also very vague, which again seems suspicious. Of course once these services are lost, they’re lost forever. But Helmsley is not the kind of town to sit back and just let it happen. “We need to fight for this, and it needs as many of us as possible to take five minutes to send a note explaining briefly why we need this vital service. Please help! Show the Post Office exactly why we were the winners of the Great British High Street Award - although they should know given they sponsored it - and why they’ve picked on the wrong town.”
Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, said he was aware of the strength of feeling of many Helmsley residents and that he planned to meet with all organisations involved to help work out the best solution for the future.
Mr Hollinrake added: “Post Offices have traditionally been an integral part of a community and still have huge value to customers as a service and as a focal point for people to carry out various transactions. However it must continue to be a viable and sustainable business moving forward.”
Helmsley residents can respond to the consultation, which closes on February 8, by writing to: Post Office National Consultation Team, PO Box 2060, Watford, WD18 8ZW, or by emailing email@example.com