THE POSTAL service is a mainstay of rural Britain and its decline has long been a bone of contention to those living in our less urban communities.
As many businesses have found it simply too costly to run sub-post offices, the number of such outlets has declined.
And it is rural people – often elderly, often with little or no access to transport to bigger shopping centres – who have struggled to cope.
But the Post Office is fighting back with some new branches in less than traditional locations.
And many are opening on Sundays meaning the business is on course to become the biggest single Sunday trader in the country.
In what the business calls its modernisation programme, post offices have set up counters in some weird and wonderful locations, including a pub, pet shop, church and fish and chip shop.
Meanwhile, the number of post offices open on Sundays has reached 3,000, with the firm bidding to become the largest retail network doing business on a Sunday in 2016.
A total 5,000 branches have also been modernised this year, at a rate of 10 a day, delivering an extra eight million opening hours.
Branches have opened this year in a butcher’s, a baker’s and a shop making candle holders.
A new branch in Huby, near York, is run from a not-for-profit community shop by over 400 villagers, opened with help from the Post Office’s £20m community fund.
Jack Hawker, post master at Huby since the community-owned facility opened earlier this year, said: “It is going very well so far.
“The previous owner was retiring and the village faced losing the business which would have a massive blow,
“People would have had to travel much further for their pensions and for other post office services.
“It is very important to the village that we maintained this and so far, so good.”
Branches have also opened at Baltonsborough Farm Shop, near Glastonbury; a farm shop in Bergh Apton, Norfolk; the Badger Hounds pub in Hinderwell, North Yorkshire; a church in Stow, Lincolnshire; a fish and chip shop in Allonby, Cumbria; and a pet shop in Holmbush, St Austell, Cornwall.
In a twist to the trend, a local town library moved into the post office in Ashburton, Devon, in what used to be a kitchen.
Kevin Gilliland, network and sales director at the Post Office, said: “Our modernisation programme has continued apace during 2015.
“We reached a major milestone of over 5,000 branches converted into new modern retail outlets, with over 3,000 open seven days a week.
“Three years into the programme we have now delivered an eight million extra opening hours for customers to visit our branches. The Post Office is operating in a rapidly changing retail market and customers rightly expect to be able to access services when they need them.
“We’ll be working hard in the coming year to make sure customers across the UK whether using branches to withdraw cash or pick up online shopping have as easy access as possible to our services.”
The news comes as Post Office chiefs threatened to shut down a branch in Helmsley – despite having just sponsored an award which crowned the North Yorkshire town as the very best market town in Britain.
Local business leaders have urged residents to fight the proposal.