The Post Office: The Public: Deliveries form part of rural 'lifeline'

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The Independent Online
IN DEEPEST Devon, in the villages around Honiton, Lindy Pridmore is more than the postwoman who drives 40-odd miles daily down narrow farm tracks, delivering letters and picking up them up from tiny boxes in hedgerows.

Though that part of her role is vital, in her postbus she is a lifeline to the six tiny villages along her route, acting as an unofficial social worker and tourist guide to holidaymakers for good measure.

The fear is that Mrs Pridmore, 38, and countless others like her country-wide who provide a similar service, could be lost in the competitive struggle of privatisation, despite guarantees by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, to placate Tory backbenchers acutely aware of rural voters' sensitivity on the issue.

'Mr Heseltine has to give these assurances,' said Julia Simpson, of the Union of Communication Workers. 'But the economic reality is that it will not happen after privatisation.'

The note of pessimism is echoed by Mrs Pridmore, a mother of two teenagers. 'We will certainly lose it,' she said. 'It's not costeffective and no private company will take it on. I drive miles down farm tracks to deliver one letter with a first class stamp on it guaranteeing next-day delivery.'

Daily deliveries to villages such as Dunkeswell and Luppitt will be replaced by a central collection point in the nearest town, such as Honiton, where people will have to pick up mail sent there only every second or third day, she and her colleagues believe.

But it is the many other services that Mrs Pridmore provides that could have a crippling effect on the whole community because the only alternative to the postbus is a service that runs just once a day, and even then does not go to all the villages on her round.

'After the passengers on the bus heard of privatisation plans, they were talking about what it might mean for them,' she said. 'Many have no idea what they would do without it, especially the old and the ill who have no other means of transport.' More than that, though, is the binding effect it has on the area. 'You really get to know the people you are running the service for because it's such a small place,' Mrs Pridmore said. 'You listen to lots of their problems and pick up little things like prescriptions, and other things, you aren't really supposed to. That's one of the nicest things about the Royal Mail.'

(Photograph omitted)

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