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Harrow resident honoured for outstanding service during Grenfell disaster

Harrow resident Sellathurai Chandrakumar, better known as Chandra, has been awarded a British Empire Medal for his exceptional service to the West London community following the Grenfell Tower disaster. Chandra, the long-serving Postmaster of Portobello Road, has been recognised for his dedication and significant contributions over the past 18 years, particularly during the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy.

When the Grenfell Tower fire devastated the community in June 2017, claiming the lives of 72 people, Chandra’s Post Office became a vital hub. His branch remained open daily, providing emergency funds to those in need. Alongside a nearby sports centre, the Portobello Road Post Office was selected to dispense the government’s £5 million Grenfell Tower Residents’ Discretionary Fund. Residents could exchange special barcodes for cash, which they used for essential needs such as food, clothing, and funeral costs. In the first week alone, over £100,000 was distributed to the affected residents, many of whom were Chandra’s regular customers.

Chandra’s commitment was evident when he opened his branch the Sunday after the fire and chose not to take a day off for a full month, ensuring his community had access to necessary services. His familiar and reassuring presence provided comfort to the residents of Grenfell and the surrounding areas, who were in deep shock and disbelief.

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Beyond the immediate response to the disaster, Chandra extended his opening hours and offered continuous support to help the survivors and maintain a sense of normality for the wider community. His efforts did not go unnoticed, with many customers expressing their gratitude, some even giving him hugs in appreciation.

Chandra’s dedication was further demonstrated during the 2020 pandemic. Determined to keep his branch open, he and his wife, who reduced her hours at her normal job to assist, ensured that the community continued to receive vital services. Despite both contracting Covid-19, they remained committed to their work and kept the Post Office fully operational.

Harrow resident honoured for outstanding service during Grenfell disaster Harrow Online
Sellathurai Chandrakumar

Born in Sri Lanka, Chandra moved to the UK in 1984 and initially worked in the petroleum industry. He decided to run his own business and became the Portobello Road postmaster in June 2006. He has lived in Harrow since then and has become an integral part of the local community.

Chandra’s dedication to his community has earned him not only a prestigious medal but also the admiration and respect of those he has served. As he prepares to retire from his role on June 27, Chandra plans to continue working part-time at the Portobello Road Post Office to help the new postmaster settle in, ensuring a smooth transition for his beloved community.

Chandra Chandrakumar, Portobello Road postmaster, said: “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.

“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 with 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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