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    Portabello retailer Sellathurai Chandrakumar receives royal recognition

    Sellathurai Chandrakumar (Photo: Post Office)

    Portobello Road postmaster Sellathurai Chandrakumar, better known as Chandra to customers, has been given royal recognition for services to his West London community near Grenfell Tower.

    The long-serving postmaster will be presented with a British Empire Medal for the big difference that he has made to his community in the past 18 years and especially for going above and beyond for his community caught up in the Grenfell disaster.

    With the Grenfell Tower fire his post office became the hub of a West London community following the tragedy which sadly claimed the lives of 72 people, including many customers.

    Victims of the Grenfell fire in June 2017 found a lifeline in their local post office, which remained open daily after the tragedy to distribute emergency funds to those in need. Along with a nearby sports centre, the Portobello Road branch was selected to dispense the government’s £5 million Grenfell Tower Residents’ Discretionary Fund.

    Residents were able to exchange special barcodes for cash in store, which they used to pay for food, clothes and funeral costs. Each family was given £5,500 from the government fund, with further donations coming from charities. In the first week alone, the store distributed more than £100,000 to residents, many of whom were Chandra’s customers.

    Chandra opened his branch the Sunday after the fire and chose not to have a day off for a full month so he could cater for his community.

    The residents of Grenfell and the surrounding areas were in deep shock and disbelief. Many people did not want to talk much, but seeing Chandra’s familiar face was reassuring. At the time of the tragedy, he had already been postmaster for 11 years. His branch was where many of the residents would visit.

    The store remained open and Chandra pulled out all the stops. He extended his normal opening hours to help the survivors and to provide some form of normality for others in the wider community.

    Even customers not directly affected by Grenfell, thanked Chandra and his team for his important role and showed their appreciation for what he was doing. Some customers gave him a hug to thank him.

    On a day-to-day basis a postmaster plays an important role in the community, but Chandra really went the extra mile to help his community in crisis. He immediately offered his help to do what he could do to assist people.

    Then in 2020 the pandemic struck. Chandra was determined to keep his store open to maintain vital services to the community. He achieved this with the help of his wife who came to work in the store, reducing her hours for her normal job, as other staff were unable to work. Despite both of them getting Covid one after the other, they remained fully open.

    Chandra, who was born in Sri Lanka, has lived in the UK since 1984. He first worked in the petroleum industry on the retail side, until he decided that he wanted to run his own business. Chandra, who lives in Harrow, became Portobello Road postmaster in June 2006.

    “I have always worked hard to serve my community. I will never forget the Grenfell disaster, the people who died and all the lives affected. I wanted to do what I could to help by opening daily to make it easier for people to get their emergency payouts, but also to be someone that people could talk to that they already knew,” Chandra said.

    “Then when Covid came I was determined to stay open as the community had already endured so much that they needed stability and access to vital Post Office services. Once again it was reassuring for people to see my familiar face, especially for the elderly, who can feel very lonely and even more so during the pandemic. I love to chat to my customers.”

    For the past 18 years he has been a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable postmaster at the heart of this West London community. On 27 June, Chandra is to retire from the role, however, he is to carry on working part-time at Portobello Road Post Office to help the new postmaster to settle in.

    Chandra added: “I have really enjoyed being a postmaster and I have got to know people well – I’ve become part of their extended family. My regular customers are sad that I am retiring, but they are pleased that I will be around for a while yet to help the new Postmaster settle in. I’ll introduce customers to the new owner and pass on my knowledge.”

    Post Office area manager, Matt Edgar, said: “I want to sincerely thank Chandra for serving this community so incredibly well for the past 18 years and he is very popular with his customers and held in high regard.

    “With the Grenfell Tower tragedy, despite being personally affected by the deaths of customers, he immediately wanted to do whatever he could to help. He opened his Post Office daily so that customers could access emergency funds. He’s also a good listener and really cares about his community. That dedication to his community shone through again during Covid and once again now as he will be helping the new owners to transition into the role.”

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