Post-Office Closures Draw Protests in Britain
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And a long-term trend in rural Britain could be ending. Britain's Royal Mail plans to close thousands of rural sub-post offices, and it has been criticized by groups trying to preserve the English countryside. The groups say the move will hit traditional village shops that depend on post office business for much of their income and weaken communities already affected by high unemployment, declining services and the lack of affordable housing for young families.
Some communities are turning to that other British institution, the Village Pub, for a solution.
NPR's Rob Gifford reports from the Lake District in the north of England.
ROB GIFFORD: The Lake District is the epitome of beautiful rural England, dry stonewalls crisscross the lush green fields. The lakes attract tens of thousands of visitors each year. But the communities that make up the region away from the main tourist centers are under threat. Places like Witherslack, which is, or was the typical English village. Was because though it's still has a church and a small school, in the last two years, it's seen the closure of many crucial services. Most recently, says long-time resident Steph Fry(ph), its precious only pub, now boarded up at the center of the village.
Ms. STEPH FRY (Resident, Lake District, England): This is the Derby Arms, which has been around since Victorian times. It's all closed down completely now and it will need major renovations to get it up and running and make it viable again. And as a consequence of that going, we've also lost over services like the village shop and the post office went with it. There's less young families, so there's less children around, which means the school is now on the threat as well. Then it effects the church because there's no Christenings, there's fewer weddings, the congregation has dwindled down. So affectively, we'll end up with a ghost town, a ghost village. `
GIFFORD: Fry says it's happening all over the Lake District, and indeed, all over Britain. Rural transport and healthcare are poor or nonexistent when the decline of farming has further affected rural communities. She and other local residents have now formed a cooperative to buy up the pub building and the old store and prevent them being sold off as holiday homes. Just 30 miles away, another village has found a possible solution.
(Soundbite of noise)
GIFFORD: Despite threats of closure, Ravenstonedale still has its own school with just over 30 people. But in recent years, the village also lost its shop and its post office and villagers have to drive miles just to buy a pint of milk. But then, Luis and Allan Dinis(ph) bought the villages' rundown pub, the Black Swan, renovated it and converted one of their ground floor bedrooms into the village's new general store.
Ms. DINIS (Owner, The Black Swan): We're never going to make anywhere near as much money as we would have (unintelligible) been a bedroom, but that doesn't matter. It's exactly what it was meant to do, which was bring the community together and people that wouldn't abuse the pub are using the shop and everyone is now involved and it is a focal point in the village.
GIFFORD: The Dinis's were helped in their move by an organization called The Pub is the Hub, a group that is trying to revive rural community.
(Unidentified Woman): Hello, Sally. Hello, hello, hello. I'm all right. Thank you. Yes, I'm fine.
GIFFORD: The store has transformed the village for long-time residents such as Caroline Morris(ph), who says people are looking for an alternative to the super stores and urban life.
Ms. CAROLINE MORRIS (Resident, Ravenstonedale): Now, gradually, things are beginning - people are beginning to center into Ravenstonedale again, more, helped by things like the shop - which suddenly is exciting to have our own shop instead of being exciting to go to the supermarket have your shop in the village. Yes, wonderful. And people realize now that supermarkets and all that are not all that they've cracked up to be, that it's destroying something. And then miss the community.
GIFFORD: Just a few weeks ago, the village of Ravenstonedale held its first music festival on the village green. Luis Dinis has started providing a basic postal service for the village residents. She's applied to open an official post office in the Black Swan beside the store.
Rob Gifford, NPR News, in the Lake District, northwest, England.
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