Church members in affected areas are being urged to join consultations on sub-post office closures by the Anglican Archdeacons of Berkshire, Buckingham and Oxford - after protests by local communities hit by threatened closures.
In December 2007 a consultation document for West Berkshire announced the planned closures of 14 Post Office branches in the area, resulting in outcry, especially from the elderly.
People now have until 31 January 2008 to respond to the proposals, point out the archdeacons and community activists, who say the impact could be devestating.
Retired and vulnerable people in rural areas will be particularly hard hit without a post office nearby, they point out, since many rely on them as the means to collect pensions and benefit payments.
According to the Diocese of Oxford, 80 per cent of rural post office customers over the age of 65 use their post office at least once a week.
However, the Post Office expected to announce the closure of more branches in the next six months, arguing that people can switch to direct banking and online services instead.
“Post offices provide valuable services to the community,” declared the Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Ven Karen Gorham, adding: “Where they are under threat, partnerships between the local church and the post office are one way of keeping these services available.”
She pointed to a number of Anglican dioceses where post offices are being opened up inside church buildings. “There is no reason why churches in this diocese shouldn’t follow that example,” Ms Gorham said.
The Archdeacon added: “It is good use of our church buildings and gives them wider community use, as long as we can tackle issues such as security and flexibility. At the very least, churches should be discussing this option with their local communities and with post office officials.”
Community campaigners welcome the initiative, but say it is important that the government is not let off the hook, and that post offices remain fully accessible public services rather than charitable efforts.