Last year, the Government pledged no more Post Offices would close and instead said branches would be changed and moved to keep them viable. PETE HUGHES talks to people affected by the changes to find out if the 354-year-old institution is fit for the 21st century.
NEW, modern counters with larger, screened positions and sound amplification, open-plan counters which make conversation easier without the need to shout, and so-called “combi counters” allowing customers to do Post Office and retail transactions at the same till.
This is the new face of the Post Office as it adjusts to the 21st century world of internet shopping and banking.
The project is the biggest in the history of the Post Office and more than 20 county branches have already been modified, modernised or moved into High Street retailers, such as WHSmith, or soon will be.
It comes after 21 post offices closed in Oxford in the past 13 years, including one in Lloyds Pharmacy, St Giles, which closed in 2009 after serving Oxford since 1899.
Vale councillor Reg Waite at the Harwell Business Centre McColl’s, which now houses a Post Office branch
The Post Office hopes moving counters into existing shops will guarantee longer opening hours.
The nationwide programme of Post Office renovations will see 8,000 branches modernised as the company says customers want longer opening hours.
Area manager Mark Jacobs said: “We understand how important Post Office services are to the people of Oxfordshire and we are confident these new modern styles of post office will meet the needs of the local community and secure services for the future.
“We have lots of exciting plans for Oxfordshire.”
Last year, the Government pledged £1.34bn to prevent any more closures with a further £640m for branches from 2015 to 2018.
Earlier this month, it said £20m would go to 3,400 branches in rural and remote areas.
Sub-postmasters will have to apply for support from the new fund, stating how the funds will be used to bolster the long-term sustainability and growth of their business and deliver benefits to customers.
Gurmit Dhendsa stepped down as postmaster at Harwell Business Centre’s post office after 23 years in February.
As soon as he had left, his store was closed, and a downsized branch moved into the McColl’s store next door.
But Harwell member for Vale of White Horse District Council Reg Waite said: “They are making some good progress and I know that local people are very pleased that services will be there, especially with increasing numbers of houses in the area.
“We hope it will prove just as good as the old one, maybe even better.”
When Witney Post Office first moved into the town’s WHSmith in April, town councillor and wheelchair user Brenda Churchill said it was a “nightmare”.
She said there was barely room for her to move around and the promise of fully-trained staff being transferred straight away was replaced with the sight of new staff being trained on the job. But, following a meeting with managers last Wednesday night, she says she is happy that all problems have been resolved.
Mrs Churchill, a campaigner for disabled rights in the town, said: “They were very helpful.
“They have now stopped stacking things on the end of aisles and they have cleared a path to the exit.”
Uffington Post Office moved from its former Broad Street home into a new home with the village stores in February.
Services are now offered from a combination counter with retail services, allowing the shop to extend its opening hours by 32 hours a week. It now opens Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm, Saturday 7am to 5pm, Sunday 8am to noon.
The new building makes use of the existing village hall car park, giving post office customers the chance to park.
Uffington Parish Council chairman Graham Banks said the village was unanimously in favour of the new, improved service.
He said: “I’ve not heard of any problems with it at all. Since it’s the only shop for several miles around, it means people can get access to an awful lot of things on a daily basis.
“Particularly, since we don’t have a good bus service, it means people aren’t trapped here.”
An ancient institution – and the way county branches are changing
THE Post Office is a state-owned company which oversees 11,800 post offices in the UK including 3,400 which it says are the only shop in the community.
The Post Office, along with Royal Mail, was formerly part of the General Post Office.
Post Office Counters Ltd was created as a subsidiary of Royal Mail in 1986, becoming Post Office Ltd in 2001.
County branches that are changing:
Oxford, St Aldate’s – City centre branch remains in its current location. Improvements include a new open-plan layout, four self-service kiosks for postage and one dedicated counter for post
Oxford, Cowley Road – Proposed move to Honest Stationery in Cowley Road Six-week public consultation will end on June 12. Opening hours would increase to 60 hours, Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm and Sunday 10am to 4pm. Car Tax added to services available
Oxford, Blackbird Leys, Blackbird Leys Road McColl’s – Customer consultation on possible changes has ended, with announcement due soon. Open-plan combi till for post office services and retail transactions. Hours would increase by 38 to 89 hours a week, Monday to Saturday 5.30am to 7pm, Sunday 6am to 2pm.
Oxford, Blackbird Leys, Balfour Road McColl’s – Customer consultation on possible changes has ended, with announcement due soon. Hours would increase by 28 to 79 hours a week – Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 6am to 6pm, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 6am to 6.30pm and Sunday 7am to 1pm
Oxford, Headington, Westlands Drive McColl’s – Refurbished branch opened in April. Combi till for post office services and retail transactions. Opening hours increased by 48.5 to 81 hours a week – Monday to Saturday 5.30am to 6pm, Sunday 7am to 1pm, with no lunchtime closing
Oxford, Littlemore Post Office, Cowley Road – closed for refurbishment on Tuesday and reopens Friday, May 30, at 1pm. Opening hours will increase by 17 hours a week to 63 hours – Monday to Saturday 8.30am to 7pm. Combi till at the counter for post office and retail transactions. Services to be axed: bill payments without barcode, Parcelforce Worldwide, NS&I premium savings bonds and on-demand travel insurance. Payments by cheque will also no longer be accepted
Banbury, Hillview Crescent – Moved to present site in October s Opens Monday to Friday 7am to 10pm, Saturday 8am to 10pm, Sunday 8am to 9pm. Post Office at till. Opening hours more than doubled by 55 hours a week including all day Sunday and Saturday afternoon
Banbury, Bodicote – Customer consultation on possible changes has ended, with announcement due soon. Open-plan Combi till at retail counter would provide post office services and retail transactions. Hours would increase by 45 to 91 hours a week – Monday to Sunday, 7am to 8pm.
Bicester – Moved to McColl, Sheep Street, in January. Opening hours extended by 19.5 hours a week, now open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 7am to 5.30pm, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 7am to 6pm, Sunday 10am to 4pm
Burford – Proposed move to Burford News, 83 High Street. Six-week public consultation will end on June 13. The move would see branch opening hours increased to 76 hours a week – Monday to Saturday 7am to 6pm, Sunday 7am to 5pm. Post office services at till
Cholsey – Tesco Express. Customer consultation on possible changes has now finished and an announcement is due soon. Post office services at till. Opening hours set to be increased by 70 hours to 111 hours a week – Monday to Saturday 6am to 10pm, Sunday 7am to 10pm East Hendred – High Street branch will close for refurbishment on Friday, June 13, at 1pm and reopen on Friday, June 20, at 1pm. Opening hours will more than double to 76 hours a week, Monday to Friday 6am to 6pm, Saturday 6am to 4pm and Sunday 6am to noon. Post office services at counter.
Harwell Business Centre – new branch opened in McColl’s in February s Post office services at till. Opening hours increased 27.5 to 67.5 hours a week – Monday to Friday 6.30am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 7am to noon
Hook Norton – Refurbished Queen Street branch opened in February. Post office services at till. Opening hours increased 20 hours to 66 hours a week – Monday to Saturday 7am to 6pm. Car Tax renewal now available Kidlington – Moves to Co-op in High Street on May 29. Two open-plan counters, one modern screened position and an open-plan Post Office serving point.
Marcham – Refurbished village shop and Post Office opened in November. Open an extra 46 hours a week, Monday to Saturday 7.30am to 6pm, Sundays 7.30am to 1pm
Stonesfield – Proposed move to Amlu’s Store, Pendle Court s Six-week public consultation will end on June 4. Open-plan combi till for post office and retail transactions. Opening hours would increase by 54 hours a week, including all day Saturday and Sunday and Thursday afternoons, with no lunchtime closing. Improved accessibility
Sutton Courtenay, Burgrey Stores – Among the first trial offices for Post Office Local, opened April 2012 after the branch closed in July 2011. Post Office services at till. Open Monday to Friday 5am to 7pm, Saturday 6am to 5.30, Sunday 6am to 1pm
Tackley – Tackley Village Shop. To be refurbished at current site into an open-plan branch, date to be confirmed. Will open an extra three hours a week, Monday to Friday 9am to 5.30pm and Saturday 9am to 12.30pm. Extra services include pre-order travel money, Moneygram, rod fishing licence and mobile phone top-ups
Thame – High Street branch refurbished September 2013. Opening hours extended by 26.5 hours a week, now opens Monday to Friday 6.30am to 6.30pm, Saturday 7am to 6.30pm, Sunday 8am to 4pm
Witney – WHSmith, Woolgate Centre, Market Square. The branch moved into WHSmith in April. The opening hours have been extended by nine hours a week to 9am-5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 10am-2pm on Sundays.
Uffington – Village shop. Moved from Broad Street to village stores in February.Services offered from combi counter with retail services, allowing shop to extend opening hours by 32 hours a week, Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm, Saturday 7am to 5pm, Sunday 8am to noon The Post Office declined to give a list of post offices in Oxfordshire that have been closed
The Post Office declined to give a list of post offices in Oxfordshire that have been closed