During 2015 staffing difficulties resulted in the temporary closure of Downderry’s Local Post Office, before reopening on the basis of reduced operating hours. Post Office Limited’s imposition of stricter conditions and squeezed margins on Local Post Offices resulted in the owner of Downderry Stores, Richard James, notifying the Residents’ Association of his intention to resign as Postmaster at the start of 2016. Richard indicated that it might be possible to continue offering a Local Post Office service if the community were in a position to contribute towards its operation. Whilst a subsidy could not be seen as an indefinite guarantee, it could be enough to retain the service for at least another 24 months. The Residents’ Association called a Public Meeting on 8 February 2016 attended by a large audience to discuss this potential loss of this service to the community.
In addition to being informed about the imminent closure of the Local Post Office, the meeting considered options that could prevent this happening. The meeting voted overwhelmingly for the establishment of a Fund for the protection of “Community Assets” with its initial focus securing the continuation of a local post office service. A large number of residents elected to subscribe to the Downderry and Seaton Community Fund, which was able to support the continued operation of the Post Office. Richard James honoured his 2 year commitment to providing a continued service.
However, in the meantime, Post Office Ltd have continued to tighten conditions and erode margins for Local Post Office operators leading to Richard’s relinquishing his post as Postmaster as from March 2018.
The Committee of DASRA called a public meeting in January 2018 to discuss options for future provision of a local Post Office service in Downderry & Seaton. The assembled residents voted for their preferred options to continue the service as follows:
1) Replacement ‘Fixed’ Post Office Counter - integrated into a local business
2) Extended “Outreach Service” as per option 3 (below) but with more hours/days
3) Basic “Outreach Service” - 2 hrs per day on 2 days per week in a local venue
The meeting asked the Committee of DASRA to explore all possibilities and a team of Committee Members began discussions with Post Office Ltd who made it clear that the final decision was to made by the company.
As no local business was interested in tendering for the Post Office contract, thus ruling out preference 1), DASRA discussed the deployment of an Outreach Service with Post Office. This Service would be provided by Menheniot Stores, who, at the time, was providing ten Outreach services to other communities in Southeast Cornwall including in Millbrook and Lostwithiel.
After reviewing historic Post Office revenues for Downderry and Seaton, Post Office Limited was only prepared to fund a “Basic Outreach Service” of 2 hours on a Tuesday and on a Friday. It was clear that they would not accept any community payment to enable this to be ‘topped-up’ to provide an increased number of hours, thus ruling out Option 2, the “Extended Outreach Service”.
After surveying potential venues for physical access and mobile communications, including an offer made by Store owner Richard James to use the existing post office site, the Outreach provider considered the ‘fortress’ in Downderry Stores to be the most suitable location.
In the weeks leading up to the closure of the four-mornings a week Post Office operation run by Downderry Stores, everyone was feeling positive that the there would be a seamless transition from one operator to the next, but sadly that was not to be the case.
The Post Office counter in Downderry Stores closed on 21st March 2018 and the Outreach Service was to be operational from the same site from 11:45-13:45 on Friday 23rd March and thereafter at the same time on each Tuesday and Friday. The move to a 2-day per week service in Downderry stores was contingent upon the Outreach provider receiving technical equipment. This was and not delivered to him until 9 May (over a month late). There were then technical problems in configuring the kit. However, all problems did become resolved and the new Post Office Outtreach Service began on 26 June 2018.
The service operates in Downderry Stores every Tuesday and Friday, from 1pm until 3pm