RECENTLY I met with a group of residents in Drewsteignton who are trying to buy their local pub and discussed the future of Post Office provision in Christow and South Zeal with the chairs of the local parish councils. But first, a little background.
Our Central Devon constituency is one of the most rural in England and retaining our rural services and amenities has been one of my top priorities.
This mission stems back to before I was first elected as an MP when I raised 14,000 signatures door-to-door for my petition against the last Labour government’s Post Office closure programme and ran "Use It or Lose It" campaigns for individual Post Offices.
Labour’s programme closed more than a third of Post Office branches across the country but here in Central Devon the losses were much smaller, with my campaign helping to save branches we would otherwise have lost.
I understand that times change. Online shopping, internet banking, more people having access to cars, changing social habits, and many other factors have all affected the financial viability of our village shops, Post Offices, rural bus services and local pubs.
But just like when I pounded the streets with my Post Office petition, we shouldn’t roll over when another amenity or service is about to be lost. Which brings me to three of the meetings I had last week.
The Drewe Arms in Drewsteignton is a special pub. It is in the record books due to having the longest serving landlady in our country’s history – Mabel Mudge – who managed The Drewe from 1919 to 1994.
The pub closed last year and a group of local residents are working to buy it and re-open it for the community. I met with some of the group at The Drewe to offer my support.
From Drewsteignton it was over to South Zeal for a meeting with South Tawton Parish Council Chair Paul Warne.
We had recently been given notice that the Post Office, housed in the village shop, is likely to close with outreach services to Sticklepath, Belstone and Throwleigh also therefore at risk.
Paul and I talked through some potential future options if the Post Office concludes that replacing the departing postmaster is not financially viable and I will remain closely engaged with the Post Office over their future plans.
Christow in the Teign Valley is in a similar situation but a little further down the line.
The postmistress gave notice to cease operating this spring and I have been liaising with the Post Office over how services can be accessed.
Their solution is to move the outreach service from Lower Ashton, which has less than a dozen customers, to the Teign Valley Community Hall in Christow.
I discussed this with Parish Council Chair Tom Archer and we will stay in touch as to whether this level of service meets the needs of the community.