Both were designed to challenge changes to provision of service at the grade II listed facility. Services which, pre-pandemic, were available in person, are now primarily available via appointment, which can be made online or over the phone.
Protestors made the case that the changes disproportionately effect society’s most vulnerable – that elderly people without access to the internet or smartphones might struggle to come to grips with a technology-first approach.
Arun District Council have refuted this, seeking to reassure residents: “We are open, we have staff in the building, and we are talking face to face to our customers,” a spokesperson said. “We are monitoring customer need and are providing services. As with many other public services we are now doing some of our work by appointments and digitally and are able to guide people through the process where we can’t help them on the spot at the town hall.”
"To me, the town hall is the heart of Bognor. If we lost the town hall, we’d lose Bognor,” said Mandee Keeling-Ward, the organiser of the petition.
"There’s a lot less access then there was. I went in there the other day to ask if I could pay my poll tax, and you can’t. I asked if I could see the electoral roll, and you can’t. Not without an appointment or going to Littlehampton. That's okay for a lot of people, but it’s not okay for pensioners.”
Started on Monday night, Mrs Keeling-Ward’s petition already has more than 40 supporters - including the town mayor- with a growing number Having spear-headed an effort to preserve the facility more than twenty years ago, Mrs Keeling-Ward feels the retraction of some in-person services might be the start of a slippery slope: “I just want to ask why are services being brought down?’ I don't believe for a minute that this is for nothing.”
The district council told a very different story: a spokesperson explained the changes are simply their way to adjust to the working environments of a post-pandemic world. A spokesperson told the Bognor Regis Observer: “We are adjusting to new ways of working, delivering services and meeting the needs of our customers.”