Royal Mail privatisation will hurt rural communities, says vicar

The Rev John Owen, vicar of Froxfield, Privett and Steep, with Royal Mail postman John Luker at the post box opposite Froxfield Church

A vicar of three Hampshire villages fears the privatisation of Royal Mail will hurt rural communities.

The Reverend John Owen is vicar of the villages of Froxfield, Steep and Privett, near Petersfield.

He praised his local postman, John Luker, who has collected and delivered letters in the villages between Petersfield and Alton for 32 years.

"John knows the local roads like the back of his hand. He doesn't use a SatNav, never gets lost, and knows a good many of the 800 inhabitants of Froxfield and Privett by name," said Mr Owen.

"If something is amiss, John is likely to notice it on his delivery round and will raise the alarm.

"We wonder how economically viable his job will be when the flotation of the Royal Mail takes place."

Mr Owen said villagers were sceptical about official assurances of a continued daily collection and delivery in the hamlets. Most predict a weekly collection, which will mean villagers have to drive to larger towns nearby to post urgent items.

"John Luker represents that bit of community capital and cohesion which does so much for the well-being of the rural community," said Mr Owen.

"He's not unlike the landlord of the local pub and the people who have been running the village shop for years. They help to bind the community together."

The vicar said rural communities would be poorer, emptier and less attractive as a place to live without the postal service.

"As Christians, we are aware that life can't be quantified in a balance sheet," he said.

"Our church members will be challenging this thinking and finding new ways to serve their rural communities – churches hosting post offices is just one way they are already helping.

"But my plea would be for us to hold back from privatisation of the Royal Mail until these issues have been thought through properly."

Mr Luker added: "I have 283 calls to do, and drive about 36 miles a day from our office in Petersfield. I know any private firm wouldn't have the same kind of local knowledge that I have. I love these villages and I know about 90 per cent of the people who live here, by sight or by their Christian names. It will be hard to replace that."

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