Well-heeled and well-to-do the residents of a Solihull village may be, but the genteel community of Catherine de Barnes is not afraid of a fight. Their latest battle is to save their post office, as Emma Brady reports.
They have already seen off the threat – for now – of a second runway at Birmingham International Airport, which would have encroached on manicured lawns, and are embroiled in a legal row over a proposed service station.
Now the ladies that lunch and their professional partners are taking on another mighty battle to save their local post office, with a call to arms sounded for villagers to meet on July 9 to talk tactics.
Gareth Thomas took over the Catherine de Barnes post office in Hampton Lane in 2001, when it was little more than a corner shop with a counter, but after £170,000 of expansion and joining forces with Spar in 2006, he has seen business treble.
“I originally thought it’d give me something to do when I retired,” said Mr Thomas, “but now I’m not so sure. I’ve known about this proposed closure since March, when the list was originally meant to be published but the Government delayed its announcement until after the local elections, so it’s been very hard keeping quiet about this.
“We’ve already booked the church hall for a meeting on July 9 which, if it’s anything like previous meetings, I expect it’ll be standing room only. The make-up of our community hasn’t been considered at all, or the impact that such a closure will have here, it’s all based on arbitrary geography.”
The closest post offices to Catherine de Barnes are nearly two miles away in either Elmdon or Hampton-in-Arden, neither of which are “walkable” no matter how old the customers are.
Mr Thomas added that his staff also deliver papers to homes in Barston and Bickenhill, while a few weeks ago a couple travelled from the Black Country to pick up a four-figure National Lottery win.
“A young couple from West Bromwich looked up on the web where the nearest post office was that would be open on a Saturday night, I think we were the only one, and they drove over to pick up their prize, which was a few thousand pounds,” he said.
“The Post Office was involved in planning our expansion under its Rural Initiative Strategy, which brought us in line with what they thought rural sub-postmasters should be. They were 100 per cent behind me then but now they want to shut me down. Their logic defies me.
“This is absolute madness. The whole community will have to go miles to reach their nearest post office, little old ladies won’t be able to do that, it’s crazy.
Maggie Throup, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Solihull, who lived in the village for 18 years, said its residents “will be ready for a fight”.
Ms Throup, who plans to take a petition to No 10, said: “We’ve been running a campaign for some time to make people aware of the potential closures. Three out of 11 sub-post offices in Solihull are facing closure, but I never thought Catherine de Barnes would be one of them.
“We’ve fought successfully against the airport’s second runway, we’re already fighting plans for a service station, and we’ll fight to save our post office and shop too, because if those go it will destroy the community. We’ve got to fight back.
“The whole closure programme has been a sham from start to finish as it’s based on distance from the nearest post office rather than viability, which is completely arbitrary.
“The Government has been cutting post office services to give them the excuse to close them and this is with no real consultation at all, but Catherine de Barnes will come out fighting to keep our village hub.”