Residents of St Mary Bourne flocked to the Village Centre for a meeting to discuss the future of their Post Office. A fortnight ago, it was announced that it was one of eight Post Offices in North West Hampshire identified for closure, subject to a six week consultation period.
Unlike other villages with a Post Office scheduled to close, the village of St Mary Bourne had been identified as qualifying for an "Outreach Service" for eleven hours a week.
The meeting was called by Rod Sutcliffe, Chairman of the Management Committee of the St Mary Bourne Village Shop Association, which houses the Post Office, and was attended by the Chairman of the Parish Council Alan Marsden and the local MP Sir George Young.
Rod Sutcliffe explained that he was concerned about the viability of the shop, which had been losing money. "We need to take £6,000 per week to break even with our current costs, and we are averaging £4,500".
He said that the proposal to close the Post Office meant that there was an opportunity to look at the operation of the shop as a whole and see if it could be made viable.
He explained that one of the options under "Outreach" was a contract with a core agent (in this case a Postmaster in Andover) who would provide all the services currently available, with the exception of large parcels and special delivery. These services would be available for all the hours which the shop was open for, but would be provided from the main shop counter. The Post Office unit at the back of the shop would close, and the space could be used for other purposes. There would always be one paid employee working in the shop, but that person would need to be complemented by a series of volunteers. If they were trained, the volunteers would be able to operate the Post Office till and provide Post Office services. He said the village would need to provide the volunteers, if this business model was to succeed and he hoped it would be possible to keep the shop open during the lunch break. Discussions were under way with the shop staff about the changed circumstances.
Sir George explained the background to the closure programme - a Government decision to contain the subsidy by closing 2500 Post Offices - and said that if he saved a particular Post Office from closure, another one would simply take its place.
Rod Sutcliffe said the negotiations with the core agent were proceeding well, and he was reasonably confident of securing a deal if that was what the village wanted.
"There was no dissent from the proposition that Rod should carry on talking. People felt that this was more likely to produce a sustainable service than fighting to keep the current service with its high costs."
"I left the meeting much happier than when I arrived. I think Rod is doing a great job and I have offered some help in contacting the Post Office to see if they will fund some of the transitional costs that will confront the shop. The village raised the money to open the shop in 2001 and I know there is the determination in the village to make it a success."