An Easter Ross community has penned an open letter to the chief executive of the Post Office in a last-ditch plea to save the vital service.
Around 30 residents of Balintore and the surrounding villages came out on Friday afternoon in a united stance to save their local post office.
Located in the local Spar shop, it is one of 31 to close over the next six months as part of the decision taken by operator CJ Lang & Son.
Careful consideration given to closures
The company said the decision has been “carefully considered” after 18 months of negotiations and comes amid “industry-wide pressures”.
Conon Bridge is also to lose its Post Office, with five branches in Aberdeen to close as part of the firm’s decision.
Locals have now pleaded to the Post Office to intervene.
Letter penned to Post Office chief executive
In an open letter to chief executive Nick Read, backed by more than 50 locals, the community has said they are “deeply distressed” at the closure and have urged CJ Lang & Son to reconsider.
Locals have argued that they are in a “unique position that requires specialised attention” and have invited Mr Read to visit to see first-hand the importance of the service in the village.
If removed, residents face a 14-mile round trip to Tain to conduct full postal, banking, pension and other services – a move they say is not feasible due to irregular public transport.
Community leaders have warned that the decision to close would be a “major blow for elderly people”.
‘A lifeline to small communities’
Locals have described the service they receive as “excellent” and an “asset to the village”.
Small business owner Isla Scaman said: “Rural post offices are a lifeline to small communities with residents often unable to use public transport to other branches.
“Balintore post office – pre-Covid – had excellent late night hours.
“It was excellent for my small business to be able to access Post Office counter services.”
‘Employment and enterprise are fundamental’ to avoid depopulation
Within the letter, which has been copied in to CJ Lang & Son, community chiefs have said that “employment and enterprise are fundamental to keeping the Highlands going”.
The group have said crucial amenities like the Post Office are required to aid efforts to encourage young people and families to remain in smaller communities.
‘People are more important than profit’
Jennifer McCann, chairwoman of Balintore Hilton Community Council, said: “We will do everything we can as a community council to try and prevent its closure.
“It means so much to so many people here in the villages, not just for postal services but also for banking services and even things like getting your electric key topped up.”
She has said irregular bus services would leave those travelling to Tain for services with a two to three hour wait.
She continued: “The Post Office really is the hub of the community.
“The impact would be quite profound, not just for the elderly but for everyone.
“People are more important than profit and the people in the villages need their post office.”
Local MP Jamie Stone, who gathered with locals yesterday, added: “The buck stops with the Post Office.
“It is absolutely crucial this service is retained in the village.
“We have seen far too many closures and reduction of services and people have a basic right to service, particularly the old and vulnerable.”
Decision made ‘solely’ by CJ Lang & Son
The Post Office has said it is disappointed at the decision to close counters at stores, adding that the decision in Balintore has been taken “solely by CJ Lang”.
A spokeswoman said discussions have taken place between the two for a number of months to keep essential services open.
She added that alternative branches are available nearby, but admitted: “We recognise that for some particularly older and disabled people they may not be easily accessible”.
She continued: “We fully recognise the need to maintain Post Office services in the Balintore community and are actively exploring options that would provide some continuity of service.
“As soon as we can share more details we will.”
CJ Lang & Son chief executive Colin McLean has agreed to meet Jamie Stone MP to discuss the community’s concerns.