Why rural Welsh survival hopes are in the post

PEOPLE in rural Wales often have to travel miles to buy a stamp or borrow a library book but many will soon need to walk no further than the local village school.

Rural primaries are setting up post offices and libraries in response to closure threats. A rising number aim to avoid the axe by becoming centres for key community services.The schools are also organising playgroups and hosting adult learning classes.

The Welsh National Assembly has given pound;2 million to rural schools to explore the use of school premises for non-educational purposes. Five primaries in Flintshire already allow public libraries to run from their premises. Others are looking at also offering computer access to outsiders. Ysgol Cefn Meiriadog, in Denbighshire, has contacted the Royal Mail hoping that it will be able to perform tasks once handled by the village post office.

Mervyn Benford of the National Association for Small Schools suggested schools could be centres for services not available locally: "The village school can become the focus for regenerating rural life. School opening hours could be convenient for a post office, a prescription pick-up room or a meeting room."

Such changes could save the 29-pupil Moylegrove primary in Pembrokeshire from closure next year, said Jonathan Guest, vice-chair of governors. "People here have to travel four miles to buy a stamp," he said. "There is no library for six miles. Why not use the school as a focus for community services?"

There are worries that schools who offer other services may compromise pupils' safety. But Heledd Hayes, Welsh education officer for the National Union of Teachers, said the problems were not insurmountable.

"You do need to look at issues of health and safety," she said. "But it is a matter of imagination and common sense. Children shouldn't be completely cut off from the real world when they go to school."

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