Local Councils

Hungerford Post Office – Conclusion (November 2017)

The Post Office is now fully operational at the new WHS in Hungerford High Street and was officially opened by the Mayor on 20 October. This  brings to an end twelve months of uncertainty which has surrounded this facility ever since the closure of Martin’s was first suspected last year and which we have chronicled in this post ever since.

I’m sure all Hungerford residents would like to join us in thanking Sue Rendall for operating this service over the last few months (often in the face of considerable technical obstacles); Hungerford Town Council for having campaigned so hard to keep a Post Office service operational in the town, without whose efforts the situation may have been very different; the Post Office for having accepted HTC’s representations; and to WHS for having agreed to continue the Post Office service in Hungerford. We wish the new arrangement every success.

Penny Post would also like to thank the many thousands of people who have looked at this post, which has been updated about 20 times since it was first published at the end of January. We hope that this has been a useful guide to a constantly-changing situation which is clearly of great interest to a large number of residents. Rest assured that we shall continue to publicise any other such issues: a glance at other parts of this site (in particular the Local Councils section) and our weekly newsletters should provide evidence of other matters that we are continuing to supply information about.

Please comment on this post (see below) or email brian@pennypost.org.uk if there’s anything else you feel we should be covering.

Background to the decision and further information

Much of the information that follows has been overtaken by events with the good conclusion described above. None the less, we’ve retailed it here as evidence of the complicated issues and of the amount of work which is involved by the Town Council and others when a service like this is threatened. These cover only a small part of the discussions.

There have been a few changes to the date for the opening of the new WHS and Post Office in Hungerford and today has seen another one: hopefully the last. The Post Office has confirmed that ‘due to technical issues’ the new store will now open at 1pm on Tuesday 17 October. The last day of the outreach service at the library (see below) will be Thursday 12 October. If this changes again, we’ll let you know. 

On 6 September, Hungerford Town Council received a letter from the Post Office headed ‘Changes to your Post Office – tell us what you think’. This describes how the new services compares to the old and details of the consultation process by which you can make your views known. The new Post Office is expected to be operational in the WHS (formerly Martins) shop in the High Street from Thursday 12 October.

You can read the letter by clicking here.

In summary, the Post Office will be open seven days a week with two service points. With a few exceptions, the level of service will be the same as that offered before. Information about how to contact the Post Office about this are in the letter. Comments can be accepted up to and including Friday 4 October.

There is no law that says that towns of a certain size must have a Post Office. Many towns have lost theirs; Hungerford has not. For this, large thanks must go to Hungerford Town Council which worked hard with Sue Rendall and the Post Office representatives to ensure that the service was seamlessly continued after the closure of Martins in April. Were this not to have happened, many people would have been inconvenienced over the last few months. It’s also possible that WHS may have felt that, Hungerford having been without a Post Office for some time, it would nor be worth their while opening one in their new branch.

In the meantime, Sue continues to operate an outreach service in the Library. She would like to thank everyone for their patience during the recent period of IT  problems (now solved). This is available on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9.45am to 1.45pm and on Wednesdays from 9.30am to 1.30pm.

This service has been very well used. The hours are shorter and the range of services slightly smaller than previously but there is a limit to what an outreach PO can provide.

Please note that is not able to offer driving licence renewals or passport checking. The nearest branches that do this are in Newbury, Marlborough or Wantage.

There are also other Post Offices at Shalbourne, Kintbury, Ramsbury, Great Bedwyn, Great Shefford and Lambourn.

 

In late 2016 it was confirmed that Martins would not be renewing its lease on its shop in Hungerford. It eventually closed on Friday 21 April and with it the Post Office which was located there.

Hungerford Town Council did not wish to see Hungerford without a post office, even temporarily, and expended considerable effort in finding either a temporary or a permanent  continuation of a post-office service in the town centre. These efforts were rewarded (for the time being) with the announcement that an outreach service had been secured (see above).

In April, a Post Office spokesman conceded that it was very rare for a  council to act as quickly and successfully as Hungerford’s has done. Many might feel that the presence of a Post Office in a town the size of Hungerford is inevitable – it isn’t. The Post Office is obliged to operate about 11,500 branches throughout the country and it currently has more than that. There’s no obligation to maintain one in any particular area. Nor is the Town Council able to insist on any continuation of service but can merely apply as much pressure as it can in order to ensure that that the needs of the town are met.

Following months of speculation, it was announced in mid July that WH Smith will be taking on the building in the High Street formerly occupied by Martins.

On 4 September I spoke to two men who were fitting out the shop and asked them when the new shop was likely to be open. They said they’d been contracted to finish on 6 October so it won’t be before then.

Judging by planning applications submitted by WHS in late July, it appears that provision has been made for a Post Office counter in the store. On the top left-hand panel of the above-mentioned West Berkshire Council page there’s a list of documents – click on ‘Design and Access Statement’ to download the PDF which is called WestBerksPlanning1304644.pdf.

The document confirms that ‘…the Post Office counter will be resumed.’ It also recognises that the Post Office was (they might better have said ‘is’, as there is an outreach service operating) ‘a popular facility for the people of Hungerford.’

 

The following is a summary of some of the many discussions and exchanges that have taken place on this matter over the last few months.

Hungerford Town Council meeting with Post Office Operations Manager

On Monday 13 February, The Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Cllr Simpson, Cllr Small and the Town Clerk met with Stuart Scarle, Post Office Ltd’s Network Operations Manager, to discuss the situation. Stuart advised he is continuing to look for a solution to provide a Post Office service in Hungerford and the Town Council is in support of this.

Locations are being sought and both the Mayor and Stuart are in dialogue with retailers who have adequate access and space to house the Post Office, such as Co-op, Tesco and From the Heart. Another possible location is the Library which is in the process of becoming a community building and needs to raise funds. The Friends of Hungerford Library is keen on this location. This could also be a possible location for a temporary post office whilst a permanent solution is put in place.

Although there is no mobile van post office available in this area to help, an outreach branch may be able to provide a service in the interim and HTC has requested that this be investigated.

Taking over the Post Office

If you have a retail premises in Hungerford and might be interested in taking on the running of the Post Office this link provides more details on the running of Hungerford Post Office and shows the fee income you can expect. For more information on the application process generally, please click here.

When the Post Office branch relocates it will be a Main Post Office. This means it will need to open all day on Saturdays (as well as during the week) and will need to keep the Enrollment Identity Machine. The Post Office can provide some funding for fitting out and training of staff.

The Post Office carries out a 14-week consultation when moving a branch and relocating usually takes six months.

How to Comment

Should you wish you make your views known on any aspect of these changes, you can contact the Post Office using any of the methods at the foot of this post. It will be useful to quote Hungerford’s Post Office number, which is is 057939.

I have just visited the postofficeviews.co.uk site and, once again, entered this code but, once again, it doesn’t recognise it. This suggests that the 14-week consultation period hasn’t yet started: we understand that this does not begin when it becomes clear that the Post Office needs to move but rather when the new premises have been identified. We’ll try to get this confirmed and update the post as necessary. When we learn when the consultation process starts we’ll publicise that as well, here, in our newsletters and on social media.

The previous version of this post summarised the various attempts I had made to understand the decision-making process employed by the Post Office. Much of what I wrote has been superseded by the results of the recent meeting with HTC (which is why I removed it), but I thought I’d share an email received from the PO’s Customer Care department on 15 February:

The provision of Post Office services to our customers in the local community is important to us and I am really sorry that we were not able to provide any advance warning of this closure.

Regrettably, following our current partners tendering their resignation and the premises no longer being available for Post Office use, we had no other option but to temporarily close this branch. Therefore, at the moment there will be no consultation period, as we are considering options in order to resume services within this area

Our Network Transformation Team are working with the Local Council, liaising together to restore services in the areas soon as possible. At this moment in time, as Post Office Ltd and the Local Council are still in discussions regarding a suitable agent, I am unable to offer any further information on this ongoing process. However, once a decision has been made, there will be notice given to the local community to make them aware of any proposals.

If this branch does go into a Consultation Period, the local public will be made aware by Posters and Leaflets being displayed. It will also be displayed on, https://www.postofficeviews.co.uk/liveconsultation.php where you can get regular updates and provides you with the information of where views and opinions can be given.

Once again please accept my apologies for the temporary closure of the branch.

If you need any further help with Post Office products and services, you can access information at www.postoffice.co.uk alternatively you can call 0345 722 33 44 between 8:15am and 6pm Monday to Friday and 8:30am to 7pm on Saturday.

How to contact the Post Office:

• FREEPOST Your comments (this is all you need to write on your envelope)
comments@postoffice.co.uk

• Customer Helpline: 03457 22 33 44
• Textphone: 03457 22 33 55
• postofficeviews.co.uk

 

Brian Quinn

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12 Comments
  1. Neville Greening- Steer

    Why the hell does Hungerford need a WHS , the town needs more decent clothes shops something for the younger generation instead of over priced tat , stupid amount of barber shops.
    Post office should be returned to the original building across the street as already mentioned.

    • Brian Quinn

      Thanks for your comment.
      I’d guess that the old Martin’s site is too large for most independent retailers: it was always likely to be a chain that took it over. I’m glad someone has and hopefully the PO service as well.
      As for the PO moving back to the original building across the road where the sorting office still is, I understand that the Post Office and Post Office Counters are now quite separate organisations, in the same way as, say, National Rail and GWR are; and for the same reasons. Whether these divisions are generally beneficial is a wider discussion…
      Regards,
      Brian Quinn

  2. Sheila Bamford

    Why can’t the post office return across the High Street to it’soriginal setting . No one seems to favour this solution.

    • Brian Quinn

      Sheila –
      Thanks for your comment. I imagine this or any other move will depend on whether an existing retailer or organisation wants to have a PO counter in-house as I don’t believe the PO is looking to create a stand-alone outlet. I further imagine that any suitable retailer or organisation will already have been contacted by the PO or HTC: all should in any case be aware of the situation – this post has been read over 600 times and the matter has been publicised elsewhere as well.
      Regards,
      Brian Quinn

  3. Graham Racey

    They could use part of the Library,as this seems it will close within a few years or put it back where it was in the post office building maybe?

    • Brian Quinn

      Graham –
      Moving the PO to the library has been suggested by the Friends of Hungerford Library and others and may be an option that comes up at the meeting with HTC on Mon 13 Feb.
      I don’t believe it is likely that the Library will close, as you suggest, though it will certainly be run on a different basis one way or another. The FoHL plan to turn it into a CIC (which would enable extra sources of funding to become available) seems the most interesting and is being looked at by West Berkshire Council. Moving the PO into the Library wouldn’t seem to be incompatible with this.
      Regards,
      Brian Quinn

  4. Sylvia Judge

    Ramsbury almost lost its PO in about 2002. The Parish Council, the Residents and the Newspapers and media were all involved in the attempt to keep a PO in the village. The generosity of the village. after public meetings and facts proposed enabled a new PO to open very swiftly. It is a fantastic village hub, needs much custom .
    I note that the Hungerford Police Station is closing and the property is for sale. Maybe a possible site for a new PO to open?
    I am full of admiration for the investigations done by Brian Q and encourage all customers to swamp the PO powers that be; to send comments to comments@postoffice.co.uk about HUNGERFORD PO BRANCH Ref No 057939.

    • Brian Quinn

      Sylvia –
      Thanks for your comments and support. I know the Ramsbury PO as our youngest son plays for the football team (another good institution you have there). The last time I went there the place was so full I could barely get through the door. Hungerford is, of course, a larger town and so needs a PO all the more: and in a suitable location.
      You’ll see from the recently updated post that Hungerford Town Council, which has also been working hard trying to find out the situation and what can be done to influence it, has managed to secure a meeting with a local PO rep on Mon 13 Feb. The results of this will be publicised by all the methods I mentioned.
      Thank you also for your kind words about my investigations. It’s only a shame that the hunt for these simple facts, by us and HTC, has turned into something far more time-consuming than it surely need have been – and still, nearly two weeks on, with no certain information provided. So, yes, I do urge people to contact comments@postoffice.co.uk now and to be prepared to do so again if the meeting reveals a different method is needed. Please also spread the word about this post.
      Regards,
      Brian Quinn

  5. Mrs J Rixon

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to contact the local MP with all this information and ask them to get involved.

    • Brian Quinn

      Dear Mrs Rixon –
      I understand that Hungerford Town Council has done this: indeed it was partly as a result of his involvement that the meeting on 13 Jan with the PO representative was able to be arranged. I have written to him as well, drawing his attention to this post.
      Regards,
      Brian Quinn

  6. Maria Leon

    If the reply you got was an autoreply, it’s a generic reply that is always sent when you write to that address, no matter what you say in your email. So the process might have started or not.

    But it seems from its contents that this email address is at least 1 way how they receive people’s comments in these situations, so an idea might be to get a lot of people from Hungerford to email them to that address…

    • Brian Quinn

      Maria: Thanks for your comment. I agree that auto replies are often generic and this one was no exception. My point was that the PO website I was directed to indicated that there was currently no consultation regarding this branch. This corporate confusion should not stop us making our views known and agree that as many people as possible should email the PO about this. Please spread the word about this post.

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