Village fight saves ‘vital’ rural Post Office

Coun John Blackie is the new Head Postmaster at Hawes Post Office
Coun John Blackie is the new Head Postmaster at Hawes Post Office
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A RURAL community which faced losing its vital Post Office has fought back - by employing a new postmistress at a new venue.

People in Upper Wensleydale and Upper Swaledale faced the prospect of losing their main Post Office in Hawes as part of a reshaping of the organisation.

In its place, the Post Office planned to send a mobile service three times a week, and undelivered mail would have had to be collected in person from Leyburn, 17 miles down the valley.

But now a full time Post Office, along with a sorting office, will remain in the village, with local councillor John Blackie as Head Postmaster.

A new postmistresses, 22-year-old Imogen Kirkbride, has also been appointed - and takes the accolade of being the youngest postmistress at the Post Office.

Coun Blackie said: “To have lost the Post Office permanently, as was proposed, would have been a devastating blow.

“Like many other rural communities, those of the Upper Dales have seen their vital support infrastructure whittled away over recent years. We decided enough was enough.”

The new look Post Office will open next month at the Upper Wensleydale Community Office, which already houses the local library and access to services provided by Richmondshire District Council, North Yorkshire County Council, and the police.

As well as providing the counter service in Hawes, it will provide outreach service in Bainbridge and Askrigg.

Miss Kirkbride was brought up in the Upper Dales and recently returned from studying at Teeside University to live in Hawes.

She said “I am absolutely delighted to be part of this stirring community enterprise, and intend to go well beyond the extra mile in ensuring the Hawes Post Office is a huge success from the day it opens.

“And what a wonderful bonus for me to be able to live and work here in the Upper Dales.”

Post Office regional network manager Adrian Wales said the company was delighted that the service would be transferring, and that Miss Kirkbride was a “great example of a young entrepreneur.”

The fight for the Post Office came as other vital services in the area were under threat.

But Coun Blackie said it was a great demonstration of what can be achieved by a community “which decides it is not content to sit back and allow itself to be abandoned.”

He warned: “The fight is not yet won. We still have a formidable battle to ensure that we retain proper healthcare for our people. As well as the possibility that the nearest hospital maternity and paediatric services might be moved ever further away from us, we also know that funding for rural GP services is under threat.

“But we have shown by our success with the Post Office, and before that with the library, that it is possible, with sufficient determination and commitment, to save those services which people in communities like ours hold dear to their hearts.”

He added: “What is especially heartening is that Imogen is a young, local person who is committed to her home town and its surrounding communities.

“With the commitment of people like Imogen, and the vital support of organisations such as North Yorkshire County Council and Richmondshire District Council, we can and will keep the Upper Dales alive and thriving.”