ON THE MORNING of Wednesday (Oct 19), all those people in Aberystwyth and Ceredigion who responded to PO Ltd’s consultation on ‘changes we were looking to make to your local Post Office’ received the decision.
In the event, PO Ltd ignored the strength of local objections and decided to go ahead with moving the Crown Post Office in Aberystwyth from Great Darkgate Street to within WHSmith on Terrace Road. For many people, this decision came as a shock and undermined any faith they had in the legitimacy of public consultation.
The lengthy letter, signed by Roger Gale, General Manager – Crown and WHSmith Network, acknowledges: “During the public consultation period we received 91 individual representations from customers and local representatives. A petition was also received along with 582 campaign cards and we were made aware of the protest against the relocation that took place. We also held a customer forum to talk about our plans and answer questions. In addition, the local MP chaired a public meeting.”
The letter attempts to address major concerns about ‘the size and capacity of the proposed new premises to cope with additional customers; accessibility into and within the proposed new premises, especially for disabled customers and car parking availability. We were also asked about the Welsh language provision at the new branch’.
With respect to space, PO Ltd make the bland assertion that: “When designing the branch, we will ensure there is adequate space within the WHSmith store to manage customer demand and have space for Post Office customers. This has been considered as part of the franchise planning for the branch.”
There is a conspicuous lack of detail on how the WHSmith premises will suddenly perform the spatial miracle of Dr Who’s Tardis. On access and parking, the letter simply concludes: “We have carefully considered ease of access to the new location and in conclusion, we remain satisfied that customers in Aberystwyth will continue to have good access to Post Office services.” Again, no substantive response to public concerns. PO Ltd also commit that: “Prior to the move, we’ll also be contacting local disability groups to take them through the layout of the new branch.” With respect to Welsh language provision, respondents to the consultation are assured that: “Externally, the store front will include clear bilingual Post Office signage and an opening hours board.” PO Ltd also promise that ‘Welsh speaking staff will be in branch to assist customers’.
SAME OLD, SAME OLD
It is the defining feature of PO Ltd’s decision that nothing has changed since the process of public consultation began: Their story remains exactly the same as it was at the outset. This has left a bitter taste in many mouths and led people to question the credibility of the consultation process, not to mention what now seems like the waste of time and money. PO Ltd’s letter promises that: “The same wide range of products and services will be available, including materials in Welsh. However, retaining the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service at the new branch will be subject to Home Office checks and validation. We anticipate that there may be a short interruption to the availability of this service at the new location due to this; however, we will work with WHSmith and UK Border Agency to do all we can to reduce the length of time this service will be unavailable.” Once again, nothing has changed with respect to the issue of the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service. This, despite its importance to a town with vital international connections, not least via the university, having been stressed by many respondents, including, in the strongest possible terms, Ceredigion MP Mark Williams.
On the vexed issue of the war memorial in the Great Darkgate Street premises dedicated to General Post Office workers, PO Ltd reiterated the commitment they have made throughout the so-called consultation process, without any tangible progress having been made: “We are working with Royal Mail to identify the most appropriate place to relocate the memorial so that members of the public can continue to pay their respects to those of our colleagues who sacrificed their lives.
“Please be reassured that we fully recognise the importance and significance of this war memorial and, once agreed, the relocation will be handled with due and proper care and sensitivity, including a re-dedication ceremony.”
‘A DONE DEAL’
Ceredigion Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams has condemned the decision of PO Ltd to relocate the Post Office from its historic Great Darkgate Street site to WHSmith on Terrace Road. Mark Williams told The Herald: “Despite huge opposition to this plan, two well-attended public meetings, and a large number of representations, the Post Office have ploughed on regardless. It is hard to conclude anything other than the fact that the outcome was a done deal, regardless of the consultation. I remain concerned about the implications of this on our hard-working staff and the size and capacity of the new Post Office. We in Aberystwyth know just how congested the WHSmith shop can get, and indeed the narrow pavement outside.
“The questions I have raised with the Post Office remain unresolved; I am unclear what discussions the Post Office have had with the local branch of the Royal British Legion in regards to the location of the Post Office’s War Memorial. Whilst Post Office Ltd tell us that the new Post Office will retain a UK Visas and Immigration Biometric Enrolment Service, critically important for a university town such as Aberystwyth, they then tell us there will be an interruption in the provision of that service. Presumably, they think it is acceptable for my constituents to have to access the service in Port Talbot or Shrewsbury – at one of the last remaining Crown Post Offices. I remain very disappointed that Post Office Ltd have failed to listen to hundreds of representations from the people of Ceredigion, Aberystwyth, and their elected representatives.”
Ceredigion AM Elin Jones told The Herald: “I’m disappointed to hear that the Post Office has decided to move its branch in Aberystwyth to the WHSmith store. I, along with many people, have made my views known to the Post Office that I would much rather that it stayed at its current location on Great Darkgate Street. I will now be watching to see that all services are retained during the move, and that the residents of Aberystwyth continue to receive the high standard of service that is required from their local Post Office.”
The Herald has been following the campaign to save Aberystwyth Post Office closely since back in April, giving voice to community concerns about the privatisation of public services through the backdoor. The result of the public consultation, into which so much effort has been put by local campaigners, comes as severe blow. Although government and corporations riding rough shod over people’s concerns is logically what citizens have come to expect, they strive to retain a vestige of hope in processes that represent themselves as democratic. One of the Save Aberystwyth Post Office campaigners, Rachel Seabrook, commented that PO Ltd’s decision ‘shows up the consultation for the sham we knew it to be. They say that feedback was taken into account, but they clearly paid no heed to the public’s desire to keep the Post Office where it is, as a public service’.
Linda Ingram commented: “Obviously they have NOT taken account of comments from the public in Ceredigion.
“As far as they were concerned, it was a foregone conclusion. WHSmith is being bailed out by the taxpayer. Disgraceful!”
On Save Aberystwyth Post Office’s Facebook page, Morgan Commins posted: “Feeling disgusted and despondent.”
Roger Gale concludes his letter: “I’m satisfied that customer needs will be adequately met. Alongside this, we’ll monitor customer usage at the branch following the move and will work with WHSmith to make sure service standards are maintained.”
The people of Aberystwyth must now be wondering exactly what the point of such monitoring will be when public opinion clearly makes no difference at all to PO Ltd’s decisions. The Crown Post Office on Great Darkgate Street will close at 5.30pm on November 23. The new branch in WHSmith will open at 9am the following day.
Join the stand against scams
CEREDIGION residents will get the opportunity to learn more about how they can protect themselves against scams in an event to be held at the Bandstand, Aberystwyth on 27 September between 9:30am and 1:30pm.
Ceredigion County Council have joined the National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team and Wales Against Scam Partnership (WASP) who will be touring Wales holding scam awareness events between 24 and 28 September.
Friends Against Scams is an NTS initiative that aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams by empowering communities to ‘Take a Stand Against Scams’.
Councillor Gareth Lloyd, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Public Protection Services said, “Scams often target the most vulnerable people in society but the reality is that anyone can become a victim of scams. Scams damage lives and can affect people financially and emotionally so I’m proud that Ceredigion County Council has joined the work of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, Friends Against Scams and others who are working together to prevent people from being victims of scams. By signing up as an organisation we undertake to actively promote the Friends Against Scams initiative.”
Each year scams cause between £5bn and £10bn worth of detriment to UK consumers. In addition to the financial impact, scams can have a severe emotional and psychological impact on victims.
Louise Baxter, Team Manager in the National Trading Standards Scams Team said: “The tactics used by scammers leave victims socially isolated and ashamed of telling their friends and families what’s really going on behind closed doors. It is fantastic to have a great organisation to help us tackle this problem on a local, regional and national level and I would encourage all those that are interested in showing their support to join the campaign and be part of our growing Friends Against Scams network.”
Call by at the Bandstand, Aberystwyth on 27 September between 9:30am and 1:30pm to learn more on how to protect yourself from scams. For more information about becoming a Friend Against Scams, visitwww.friendsasagainstscams.org.uk
Victim speaks out about the impact knifepoint robbery
THE VICTIM of a knifepoint robbery has spoken out about the impact the incident has had on his life as Dyfed-Powys Police takes part in a national knife amnesty aiming to get weapons off the streets.
The 24-year-old was approached by a man he didn’t know while walking his dog in Carmarthen on July 20 this year. A knife was held to his chest, and he was forced to hand over the money in his wallet.
His attacker, Teifion Lewis, of Llammas Street, Carmarthen, was arrested and charged with robbery within four days, and was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
Looking back at the incident, the victim, who has asked to remain anonymous, said: “At first, I didn’t realise he had a knife on him. I just assumed he was another man who was out partying, given he was young and it was late on a Friday night.
“Even when he was right in front of me with his hand on my chest, I assumed he must have had too much to drink and just stumbled into me. Once I saw he was brandishing a knife, though, that changed everything. It was at that moment that I realised I was in far more danger than I’d first thought.
“I suppose the only real thing that was going through my mind at the time was to talk to him, do as he says, and get out of there as soon as possible without becoming hysterical. I just had to keep as calm as possible for the time he was blocking my route.”
He explained that it was only when Lewis had taken his money and walked away, that he realised what could have happened had things gone wrong.
“I thought about how easily he could have stabbed me and I’d have been left out in an empty street, cold and alone, bleeding to death, without even a mobile phone on me to call my friends and family to tell them I love them,” he said.
“I’ve never given much thought as to what my inevitable death will be like, but I’d never have thought it could have ended that way.”
The victim had walked his dog every night for two years – using this particular route for seven months – with no issue. Since being robbed, he has become wary of going out at night and hasn’t been able to walk down the lane where he was stopped without suffering flashbacks.
“It’s not necessarily the whole event that comes back to me, but different parts, such as when he started to sob to me about his home life, or when he apologised for ‘having to mug me’,” he said.
“By far, what’s stuck with me the most are the words said to me as I was being mugged. The words ‘I want your money, I don’t want your life’ have been repeating in my mind every day since then, without failure.”
On September 2, at Swansea Crown Court, Teifion Lewis was sentenced for robbery and possessing a knife in a public place. The victim read out a statement directly addressing Lewis, urging him to get his life back on track and forgiving him for what he did.
“You asked me that night to forget that the robbery had ever happened,” he read. “My assumption is because you were fearful as for what might subsequently happen to you. I’m afraid though, that the image of a knife being flicked towards my chest, and the phrase ‘I want your money, I don’t want your life’ is something I will never be able to erase from my mind, no matter how much I wish for it to go.
“I want you, however, to improve. I want you to use your punishment as your wake-up call, and as a doorway to improving both your future and the future of those who you are close to. There is help available for you, even in prison, and even when it seems all hope is lost. If I can get my life back on track after my autism diagnosis, so can you.
“You’re young, you’re able bodied, and you still have time. Use it wisely. I can’t forget what you did, but just this once I will forgive you.”
The victim has spoken out about his experience as Dyfed-Powys Police takes part in Operation Sceptre – a national week of action aimed at cracking down on the illegal possession of knives. A knife amnesty is taking place during the week (Sept 18-24), with people able to bin their knives at specific locations across the force no questions asked.
The 24-year-old has backed the operation, and the chance to get knives out of our communities.
“I’d prefer it if these people who carry knives with them be honest about who they are and why they have them on their person,” he said. “But it’s much more important that it’s an opportunity to get these weapons off the street.
“If the ability to do this anonymously is what gives these people the confidence to rid themselves of their weapons, then so be it.”
A brand new Welsh language ukulele orchestra
CAN you play the ukulele and would like to join a ukulele orchestra? Or would you like to learn a new skill and to socialise in a Welsh-speaking environment? Why not join Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl?
On Monday, October 15, Cered: Menter Iaith Ceredigion, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Learn Welsh will launch Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl which is a brand new, Welsh language ukulele orchestra in Aberystwyth for free, for those aged 16+.
Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl will practice weekly between 6pm and 7:30pm every Monday night during the school term and practices will take place at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. There is no need for any experience or ability on the ukulele and there will be instruments available to borrow so that you can have a taste before buying your own ukulele.
Welsh will be the main language of Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl but there is a warm welcome to everyone whatever your level of proficiency in Welsh. Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl is supported by Learn Welsh as a great activity for learners to practice their Welsh outside the classroom in a fun and new way.
Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl’s conductor will be Steffan Rees who has held a number of Iwcs a Hwyl workshops over the last year as Cered’s Community Development Officer. Steffan is also a musician who composes and performs as “Bwca” and he has been playing the ukulele for years.
Steffan said, “I have really wanted to start a Welsh ukulele orchestra in Ceredigion for a while having seen the successes and popularity of those in Cardiff and South East Wales. The ukulele is an instrument that excites people of all ages and with some patience and perseverance, it is an easy enough instrument to master. I’m looking forward to developing a repertoire with the orchestra and play a few gigs; the National Eisteddfod in Tregaron in 2020 perhaps!”
Numbers for the first term of the orchestra are limited so contact the Arts Centre Box Office on 01970 632 232 to book your place in Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl.
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