Post office early for Christmas

A village is getting its post office back. Mark Holdstock talks to the woman credited with making it happen.

A remarkable event takes place on Monday. A rural post office is re-opening after two years. It's the Christmas present that any village as tightly-knit as Bainbridge would be delighted to receive.

As in so many villages in Yorkshire, the closure of Bainbridge's post office was much mourned.

The shop owner had decided to move premises and give up that part of her business. It was a double blow because around the same time the post office in nearby Askrigg also closed.

For locals it meant having to travel to Hawes, four miles further up the dale.

"Hawes isn't far away, but you've got to have transport to get there," says district councillor Yvonne Peacock.

"You don't want to be trying to get to Hawes just to buy some stamps, and to post something."

The new post office will be open for two hours a day, two days of the week. The driving force behind this is Kate Empsall, a retired school teacher from York who moved to Wensleydale 19 years ago.

"The post office matters because there are a lot of elderly people in the area and because there are young mums who don't necessarily have another car to get to Hawes easily," she says.

Finding potential premises was fairly straightforward. A recently-opened retirement home called Sycamore Hall proved ideal because it had a small shopping arcade for the residents, who live in 42 apartments which is open to the rest of the community.

"Michelle the manager was very keen for the post office to be there," says Mrs Empsall.

"Her old dears were having to go up to Hawes to get their pensions, or get relations or carers to get them."

The next task was to persuade the post office to open up a branch again and this meant finding someone to run it. Steve Reynolds, who runs the sub-post office in Hawes, stepped in and offered his services. "I offered to do it over twelve months ago," says Steve.

"The stumbling block was that you had to do it for 52 weeks of the year. And if you were off on holiday you had to find a relief which for two, two-hour periods a week, is a very awkward thing to do."

This is where the persistence paid off. Kate Empsall and local councillors Yvonne Peacock and John Blackie badgered the Post Office to agree to some flexibility and a compromise was reached.

Steve Reynolds would run the sub post office for 48 rather than 52 weeks a year. "You've got some preparation work to do to get all the stuff you need to take down there with you," says Steve.

"It's the bits either side of that. But my wife and myself feel we can handle that in our work at Hawes."

Gillian Alstead from the Post Office said, "We apologise to customers for any inconvenience the temporary closure has undoubtedly caused but I'm sure our customers will be delighted that it will soon be business as usual. Several villages in Wensleydale are still stuck without a post office but Kate Empsall belives decisions can be reversed.

"Never give up. Never take no for an answer. This battle's gone on for three years. Things don't happen in five minutes, but you've got to persist. The Post Office is such a bureaucratic organisation that just seems so inflexible.

"With the support of our county councillor, John Blackie, and William Hague (the local MP) we've made them take up notice that we are worth supporting and we have a valuable voice and we need services. Because if services aren't there, a rural area will die."

She insists Bainbridge is very much alive.

Those families who can point to several generations lying in the graveyard mix quite happily with those like Kate who have moved here in recent years

"It's a very caring community, they look after each other at Christmas. There'll be carols for the elderly and a children's party run by the community."

In Askrigg next door there is a Christmas Tree Festival organised by the village church. There is also a midnight carol service near Semerwater which is very popular.

"There are quite a lot of incomers, but everybody blends in and mucks in together if there's a problem. It doesn't matter whether you're an incomer or not, people fit in and get on

and it is a good community spirit."

Over Christmas Bainbridge's many holiday cottages are full. Karen Prudden, who moved to the village eight years ago, is the secretary at the local school. "Everybody tends to muck in," she says.

"Over Christmas we have a huge influx and last year they had a fabulous time because they got snowed in, and they were sledging on the village green, usually it's a buzzing week. We always involve the visitors as well as the locals because they're key to making the money really."

CW 18/12/10