Sunday, 22 October 2017

Woodcote Post Office gone for good

THE post office in Woodcote has permanently closed.

Paul Chana and his mother Sue Chana, who ran the counter as part of their grocery shop and café Chana Stores, in Whitehouse Road, shut it on May 26 and have now confirmed it will not reopen.

They initially told customers there had been a technical problem following a routine system update but now it is claimed they were unable to agree its opening hours with Post Office Ltd, the Government-owned company responsible for all post offices.

The pair also ran a part-time outreach service at Stoke Row Store in the village high street but this too has closed for good.

The counter at Woodcote was open from 9am until 1pm then 2pm until 5.30pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 9am until 1pm on Wednesdays and from 9am until 12.30pm on Saturdays. 

The shop itself, which the Chanas have run since 1985, opens at 7am and shuts at 5.30pm with an hour’s lunchtime closure on all six days.

It is understood that Post Office Ltd said the counter should open whenever the store was trading, an increase from 37.5 hours a week to 57, but the Chanas said this was not viable as the cost of taking on extra staff would be greater than the additional income.

Now the parish council is working with Henley MP John Howell to find another location for the post office. It says the service is vital for many elderly people who struggle to reach the nearest alternatives at McColl’s newsagents in Goring high street, at Ipsden Stores or the dedicated branch at Pangbourne.

Geoff Botting, the vice-chairman, said: “It’s a great shame because it provided an extremely valuable service to the community.

“We’ve lived in the village for 40 years and there’s always been a post office at that site. It’s why there’s a postbox nearby and I can remember the days when people would visit to pick up their pensions in cash.

“It’s particularly unfortunate given that other post offices are also struggling and our residents were having to collect undelivered parcels at Pangbourne. We’d been trying to arrange a pick-up service at Woodcote but now the situation’s gone backwards.

“It’s tragic and the parish council is very concerned but we’re pretty powerless as there’s no recovering it at that site. We’re considering alternative locations and will make approaches soon but we’re a small village and there aren’t many other places for it.”

Councillor Malcolm Smith, who worked with the Chanas to seek a solution, said: “They went through the Post Office’s appeals procedure but it insisted they had to open for longer.

“It’s a great shame but I understand the Chanas are now looking to install their own cash machine to replace the one in the post office, which is something at least.

“It’s a total mess and creates a major problem for our elderly residents. Post Office Ltd is pushing its online services but if you’ve got to collect a parcel there has to be somewhere to drop it off. I run a business from home and it’s very inconvenient having to go elsewhere.

“My experience at McColl’s in Goring is that you’re queuing up next to people buying groceries. Whether we can get another service established remains to be seen but we will certainly try our best.”

He added: “Mr Howell has done a lot of work establishing rural post offices but he wasn’t very hopeful that our existing one could be reopened.”

The counter at Stoke Row was open from 8.30am until 11.30am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Nikki Steiger, who runs the village store with her mother Jeanette Creewel, said: “There weren’t a huge amount of people who used it but we’re very sorry it’s going as those who did relied on it.

“We’re very keen for it to continue and although the final decision rests with our landlord, we would support it because most users were elderly. They don’t necessarily drive and there are no buses to get to another post office from here. It’s devastating for them and all these little cuts to services add up. It’s quite sad, really.”

Mr Howell said a sensible solution was to move the service to the Co-operative Food shop in nearby Bridle Path, which was recently granted planning permission to expand. He said post offices often relocated to Co-op outlets, as happened in Watlington earlier this year, and the Post Office had a good track record of finding alternative sites.

Mr Chana did not wish to comment but confirmed the closure was permanent. Despite this, a Post Office spokeswoman insisted it was a temporary closure for “operational reasons” and apologised for the inconvenience, adding that the company was working to restore the service.

She added that it had “nothing whatsoever” to do with a dispute over opening hours but declined to elaborate.

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