A campaign to return the once-common sight of the post office to rural Britain is celebrating a significant success in the Staffordshire village of Weston.
Severe cuts over the last 15 years have seen a massive decline with scores of rural outlets lost outright.
While some villages now have a mobile post office service others have only been left with just a post box.
But the village of Weston, near Stafford, is just one rural spot that is celebrating a turnaround in fortunes on Thursday with the revival of a post office service after a year-long absence.
It follows a campaign run by Weston’s Community Shop Group, and Stafford Borough Council’s Post Office working group – which was set up to fight closures and support Royal Mail services in the borough.
After being closed early last year, Post Office Ltd recently announced that the service would return for two days a week – which it is hoped will build up to full time in the near future.
The new service will run out of Weston Village Hall on Green Road (on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 1pm and 4pm) and will provide the same range of services as its previous facility – including a banking and benefits collection.
For Weston, the post office is a lifeline for many, especially older members of its community in the wake of increased fuel costs and wave of austerity measures.
Community group chair Bill Perrett told the Birmingham Post: “We are delighted that Post Office Limited has agreed to open a part time post office facility in Weston at a time when so many village post offices are closing.
“It will be a great asset to Weston and especially for elderly members of our community and anyone without access to their own transport who finds it difficult to travel to Hixon post office or are dependent on others to take them; as well as people in both adjoining villages and hamlets.”
He added that: “As an interim measure we think this is the way forward. Our longer term plan is to open a full time post office as part of a community shop.”
Councillor Frances Beatty, Stafford Borough Council’s cabinet member for planning and regeneration, said: “The community has worked hard to achieve this and it is really good news.
"It is so important to maintain a local postal service in our villages especially for those without transport or where a car journey to the post office can be several miles and costly with increased fuel prices.”
The village hall is around half a mile from where the old post office operated from in Old Road, Weston.
A Post Office spokesman said: “We are delighted we have been able to restore post office services to the community at Weston.
“Our priority is to maintain Post Office services to local communities and it is therefore important that any future service is sustainable for the person operating the service, and for Post Office Limited.
“The Post Office has the largest network in the UK and there will always be an element of turnover. When a Post Office branch closes due to circumstances beyond our control, such as retirement, then we do everything we can to restore services to the area.”
Widespread closures in many cases have sounded the death knell for the village shop, out of which many post offices operated.
More than 1,000 post offices were put up for sale last year, according to the Communication Workers Union.
A recent deal whereby the Royal Mail agreed a 10-year deal to keep using post offices to sell stamps and handle parcels after the company is broken up at privatisation as part of the Government’s major overhaul of the service has given a shot in the arm to some outlets.
The Government has also pledged £1.34 billion to assist Post Office Ltd in maintaining a viable network of branches across the UK. More details of how this cash will be spent is expected to be released later this month.
The Post Office spokesman added: “In a network the size of ours, we will always have some branches temporarily closed due to circumstances beyond our control and branches that we are reopening. This has always been the case.”
But she went on to say that: “No further Post Office closure programme is planned.
“In fact, the Post Office is planning to transform its network of branches across the UK over the next three years as part of a £1.34 billion investment programme.
“The investment will provide a more modern and convenient retail network with longer opening hours for customers and more sustainable business model for subpostmasters.”