21st October 2008
Reopening heralds a possible blueprint for other rural post offices fighting to stay open. Campaigners have won an against-all-the-odds victory, after it was confirmed that Stroud has become only the second place in Britain to save its Post Office.
Stroud Town Council, which has a majority of
Green party councillors, has confirmed that a groundbreaking deal has
been done to reopen Uplands Post Office within the next three weeks. See also John Marjoram's comment to the SNJ here.
It took a high court injunction, a 73-year-old grandmother, a massive outcry and big town centre demonstration, and lots of hard work and patience by the Town council, but an agreement has now been reached and Stroud Town Council have confirmed that the Uplands post office is to re-open in 3 weeks time.
Uplands Postmaster Robin Craig was forced in August to close his busy shop which had been trading for more than a century. The profitable facility was one of 26 in Gloucestershire to shut as part of the government’s controversial Network Change programme. Around 2,500 Post Offices will be lost across the country by the year end. However, ever since Uplands was first targeted in February, civic leaders have promised to do everything possible to safeguard the service. The shop lies in a part of the town with a high percentage of elderly and disabled residents.
At first, postal chiefs refused to even discuss a rescue plan, insisting Uplands had to close. Then in July local grandmother Mary Davies (73) challenged the decision. Just five minutes before the shop was due to close forever her lawyers won a last-minute stay of execution in London’s High Court. This prompted Post Office chief executive Alan Cook to intervene, and allow talks with the town council to take place. The shop did close temporarily, but after four months of secret negotiations councillors on Monday 20th October confirmed that the necessary contracts and funding are now in place to enable Uplands Post Office to reopen.
Only one office previously earmarked for closure has so far been saved in the UK. Station Way Post Office in Essex reopened for business last month. However its counter was part of a larger convenience store. Uplands is the only stand-alone Post Office to be saved and the only one secured thanks to the intervention of a town council.
Stroud Mayor John Marjoram (Green party) said securing a future for Uplands was probably the toughest battle he had faced in more than 22 years as a local councillor. He said: "From the start we believed this was a cause worth fighting for, but it often seemed like mission impossible. Every time we won an argument, the question was changed. There were times when I almost gave up hope. People told us we were wasting our time, as closure was a foregone conclusion. But this proves that if you believe in something you must never give in.’
John Marjoram, who has been Town Mayor for over 8 years, said: "The value of a Post Office to a community cannot be calculated on a purely profit-and-loss basis. They are an invaluable part of our social infrastructure, particularly to the most vulnerable residents. For a small council like ours to take over this service is not an easy option and it’s not a cheap option. But we believe it is the right option if we want to maintain Stroud’s great sense of community."
The Town Council will be providing around £10,000 of funding for the service this year and up to £25,000 for the next two years.
Postmaster Robin Craig said he has been overwhelmed by the support from customers: "People have not stopped asking me when we are going to reopen and how strongly they support our efforts to save it."
Mr Craig who has run Uplands for nine years, also runs one of the two other Post Offices left in the town. The Paganhill branch was saved by the community two years ago (see photo). He said: "This is a truly ground-breaking and hugely significant development,’ he said. ‘We now have a blueprint which councils across Britain can use to save their Post Offices. I am very proud that we’ve managed to do it and can’t wait to get behind the counter again."
A shop refit and a new computer system is being installed as part of the new contract. Work is scheduled to finish in around two weeks time, when a date for an official opening ceremony will be announced.
Deputy Mayor Andy Read (Independent) said: "This has been achieved by the joint efforts of so many local people. It is an achievement that Stroud should be really proud of. A big thankyou to all those who campaigned in the early stages, wrote letters and organised the demos. Everyone who supported our efforts with their encouraging words in the street and by email. To the Postmaster Robin Craig for his determination and belief. To our town council staff for their hard work behind the scenes. To Mary Davies and her legal team for making a stand in the courts. To our MP David Drew for applying constant pressure through Parliament, and to Essex County Council who really paved the way for such re-openings and whose staff readily gave us some vital assistance and advice."