It is a very unusual event when a demonstration takes place in Charing High Street, normally the epitome of English rural life. It adds an even more surreal twist to the scene when the 150 demonstrators include one of the country’s most famous comedians, Vic Reeves (Jim Moir in real life).
This was, though, the scene last week in Charing. What it tells us is how much people value their village Post Office, especially when it is as well-run as Charing’s has been over the years. I should make a full declaration of interest here, as a Charing resident myself. But even if I wasn’t, I would still recognise a genuine popular feeling that any closure would be a real disaster for the wider community.
Indeed this was shown because of the way events have unfolded over recent days. There has been a long-running dispute between the Sub-Postmaster and the Post Office, which resulted in a closure at less than a week’s notice, with the first anyone else knowing about this coming over the Easter Weekend, making any immediate solution more difficult. This left people turning up to collect their pension entirely unaware that the Post Office was no longer open, causing real distress. Obviously this is completely unacceptable.
The demonstration was a way of showing the Post Office the strength of local feeling, following strong messages from the Parish Council, the Borough Councillor Gerry Clarkson, and me. I know that they now realise not just the strength of local feeling but the real anxiety that has been caused to a number of vulnerable people by the sudden closure. The Parish Council has responded actively by organising transport to the nearest post office for those who need the services and have no other means of obtaining them, but clearly this can only be a very short-term solution.
Talks have now started, and as I write this I am hopeful that some sort of settlement will be reached in the next few days to allow the shop to re-open. Obviously I am going to say nothing which might jeopardise this as my main concern is to see a full service restored for all those who need it. If an arrangement cannot be made Charing will need some other way of receiving Post Office services quickly. Everyone agrees that the ideal way to proceed is to return to what everyone in Charing regarded as normal service.