Closure of post offices proving threat to Yorkshire village life

GLORIOUS YORKSHIRE: The hamlet of Cray in Upper Wharfedale.GLORIOUS YORKSHIRE: The hamlet of Cray in Upper Wharfedale.
GLORIOUS YORKSHIRE: The hamlet of Cray in Upper Wharfedale.
Fears have been raised over the sustainability of rural communities as it emerges nearly 40 per cent of all post offices in Yorkshire have been shut down since the year 2000.

The figures, revealed in an investigation by The Yorkshire Post, have sparked concerns over the impact on already hard-hit rural communities.

Coupled with ongoing cuts to bus subsidies, the loss of such a vital service can only spell out the demise of the traditional village, campaigners have warned.

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“This is a tragedy,” said Mark Baker, branch secretary for the Postmasters’ Communication Workers Union (CWU).

“Post Offices in rural communities are usually the only shop around. If that’s gone, the community is completely isolated.

“It’s the disadvantaged that are losing out if a post office is lost. Their closure completely marginalises rural communities.”

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The investigation, based on Freedom of Information requests to the Post Office, found that 614 branches – 39 per cent – have been closed in Yorkshire.

Nationwide, that figure is 6,750 Post Offices – 37 per cent – which have been shut down since the start of the millennium.

Rural post offices in Yorkshire have been hit slightly harder than the national average, with 36 per cent closing compared to 32 per cent in the rest of the UK.

While the majority were shut in the two branch closure programs between 2002 and 2009, the figures show, their declining numbers are continuing to fall.

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In recent months, post offices have closed in Helmsley, despite a vocal public campaign, and in Staithes, despite concerns from villagers.

It has also been announced that further branches are to be shut in Wakefield and Halifax next week, while the future of another branch, in Headingley in Leeds, remains uncertain.

The impact, say countryside campaigners, is devastating.

“Rural post offices are a vital part of village life,” said Leah Swain, chief officer at Rural Action Yorkshire. With more banks shutting rural branches, post offices provide a vital replacement banking service for individuals and businesses.

“Isolation and loneliness is growing in rural areas and removing face to face services such as post offices is exacerbating the issue. We would like to see more corporate support from the Post Office to look at alternative solutions that complement this approach in rural areas.”

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The Post Office, when approached by The Yorkshire Post, argues that it is at its most stable for years.

Changes to the network, including the transformation of many branches to a ‘new model’, is about ensuring it can remain on the high street for generations.

“We are taking the right actions to ensure that Post Office branches thrive for future generations,” a spokesman said. “We halved our losses in 2015/16 and are making steady progress in ensuring our business is simpler to run, reducing costs to the taxpayer whilst at the same time modernising our network of over 11,500 branches.” The Post Office has said it is committed to sustaining its 11,600-strong network, adding that its modernisation plans have added 200,000 extra opening hours in recent years.

Thousands have been “transformed”, with 4,000 open seven days a week, leading to shorter queues as people use post offices outside office hours, said the organisation.

“Through modernising we are making it better for customers, providing unprecedented ease of access to our services through longer opening hours,” the spokesman said.