Fury at Rushlake post office closure threat

P1010234
P1010234

YET ANOTHER East Sussex community could be deprived of its vital lifeline. Rushlake Green and Warbleton villagers are hoping to stave off a threat to close their highly valued post office. The closure follows the recent closure of sub post offices in Heathfield, Uckfield and villages in South Wealden.

At present the post office operates from premises next door to the village stores. It is run by postmaster Sandy Jones and opens on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am-1pm.

Now the owner wants to convert the post office section of the building back into a private house.

Fears that the shop would close were first raised in 2008 when owner Lionel Daw, whose family had owned it for 90 years, retired. This inspired a campaign to raise support for maintaining the store. More than 250 local people became involved and lobbied vigorously for the only shop to remain. Consideration was given at the time to the creation of a community shop.

To everyone’s pleasure the business was bought at auction by Andrew and Kate Wickens from Cowbeech who had previous retail experience and pledged to maintain the business and the post office. Then village planning committee chairman Jonathan Glass said: “We knew the Daw family wanted to retire but we could not see anyone who would buy it as a viable business. Suddenly someone came along, saw its potential and paid proper money for it. We were delighted.

In 2009 the Wickens family lodged an application to create two flats and a separate two-bedroom house next door. At the time they said the existing shop was not viable in its present form and needed to be supported financially by providing two flats and a house. Councillors agreed that the flats should be tied to the shop premises but the house next door could be sold as a separate dwelling.

Now plans to convert the post office section of the building look set to come to fruition but this casts a shadow over the future of the post office.

The shop itself is doing well under the management of Paul Hammond and it had been agreed that the post office could move into the main store area.

However Post Office Limited has now told Paul that funding to pay for the relocation will only be available if it is re-categorised as ‘local.’ This would mean virtually no financial support for the postmaster.

Paul said: “We are being forced out of the premises but to re-open in the shop, the Post Office has set us these ridiculous hurdles to clear. The post office would have to be open from 8am-6pm and on Saturday mornings and for that we would be paid £2,999 a year – or about £9 a day. That is unworkable. We have also been quoted a £7,500 charge to move – which includes extracting a safe set into the ground – and a small business like ours does not have money to throw around. There is hardly any public transport here and we are a lifeline for elderly people in the village who just have to walk across the green. If this scheme went ahead we would be an ‘outreach’ post office attended by visiting trained staff instead of our own postmaster.”

Village businessman and resident Chris Wells said: “We are all absolutely furious. The Post Office assesses the value of local branches by the amount of business done. I run an internet firm and regularly deliver up to 80 parcels for postage a day. The Post Office judges this quantity as one transaction.

“This post office is the lifeblood of the village and helps feed business into the shop as well. Their produce is first class. I am incensed. How come the Post Office can afford to paint postboxes gold in towns where people have won gold medals, but they can’t help us keep our vital office alive?”