Tucked under the arm of deputy mayor Andy Read, the Post Office sign borrowed from Uplands for the day didn’t even bat an eyelid in Stroud. Folk round here are used to the weird, the wonderful and the downright odd.
But in London, where virtually nothing turns the heads of the commuting masses, it was a real show stealer.
Andy and mayor John Marjoram brought the sign to London, quite literally as a sign of the desperate situation Uplands Post Office was in.
As we set off from Stroud railway station on the 11.04am to Paddington, Andy explained that a lorry had knocked the sign off its perch last week – and Post Office contractors said they’d be round to fix it on Tuesday. If they close Uplands Post Office, that would be a day late.
After more than 150 years in business, Uplands Post Office was set to close at 5.30pm. We had less than seven hours to save it.
The plan was simple; armed with a letter pleading for clemency and a cheque to underpin the popular branch for the next three years, we would head for the Post Office’s HQ in Old Street, meet Stroud MP David Drew in the House of Commons, then head to Downing Street to hand over the second cheque, while all the time, keeping in touch with developments at the Royal Courts of Justice.
There, a legal team acting on behalf of a disabled woman from Stroud, was bidding for an injunction ahead of a judicial review on the closure of Uplands Post Office.
We expected news of how that was developing, to filter through later in the day. But no sooner had we arrived at Paddington, than Andy Read’s mobile phone rang at 12.48pm.
The solicitor representing the 73-year-old lady said Post Office Ltd’s legal team was offering a deal. They wanted a halt to proceedings for an injunction, in return for a stay of execution for Uplands. Stroud Town Council would have to come up with some of the cash to keep it going.
A hastily-arranged ‘executive meeting’ of Stroud Town Council, in Paddington’s cavernous waiting area, came to a quick, though not hasty, conclusion – as long as it was okay with Uplands post master Robin Craig, then STC would go for it.
Money-wise, STC would be looking at coughing up £1,000 a month – less than 8p a month for every Stroud resident. “It gives us time to look at more options and to make our case,” they agreed.
Off to Old Street, to the towering headquarters of Post Office Ltd, and the office of Alan Cook, its managing director. STC has sent him letters and pleaded for communication but the Post Office has been less than forthcoming.
STC was offering up to £75,000 over three years to keep the Uplands branch open, but the Post Office wouldn’t take it.
So after making out a huge cheque – kindly printed off that morning by Stroud stationers James and Owen – to Post Office Ltd in the street, the delegation marched in.
“We’re here to make sure this gets to Alan Cook,” said John. “This is a token of our desperation – we are told that offering money to keep this post office going would be to the detriment of two other post offices.”
“One is Robin Craig’s (in Paganhill) and the other is the Crown in Stroud. We are pretty fed up.”
The receptionist listens attentively.
“I know a lady who works for Mr Cook,” she said. “I will see that it gets to her.”
Over a brisk lunch, Andy’s 12-year-old son David, who had asked to join us for the day, explains what Uplands Post Office means to him. “It’s the only local shop I can walk to by myself and spend my money how I like,” he said. “It’s great for sweets, dog chews and getting parcels off to my nan.”
By 3.40pm we are at the House of Commons going through security to meet Stroud MP David Drew. Big Ben strikes 4pm and we are inside the corridors of power.
Amid the hubbub of a main lobby, David arrives between dealing with a Select Committee hearing, union delegates and the Climate Change Bill. John briefs him on the latest development.
“If that’s the case, it’s very encouraging news,” said David. “But why did it have to come to this at this late stage?”
A personal presentation of the second £75,000 cheque and letter, to the front door of Prime Minister Gordon Brown requires five working days notice. So the STC delegation settles for handing over the paperwork to a friendly policeman at the gates of Downing Street. It’s now 4.45pm. Uplands Post Office has 45 minutes left.
At 4.50pm Andy’s mobile phone rings outside Downing Street. It’s the solicitor again. A lengthy explanation on the phone, reveals that the injunction is off and Uplands has been handed a stay of execution – for now at least.
Detail is to be thrashed out but the bottom line is that Uplands will be open for business on Tuesday. Jubilant Andy and John pose for The Citizen and Stroud Life outside the House of Commons, with that sign all the way from Uplands which they have lugged around all day.
John is lost for words, certainly for the first time I can recall in 10 years as a local journalist. However he collects his thoughts in Portcullis House, as an equally delighted David Drew treats us all to a very welcome dinner to mark the occasion. I head off to the MP’s office to file the picture and copy of the victorious moment.
It’s almost 5.30pm. Back in Stroud, Robin Craig is preparing to shut up shop – but not for the last time. This opening battle has been won. Now the fight is on to keep Uplands Post Office open for good.
Article and pictures by kind permission and copyright of Stroud Life .