THERE was good news for Walkerburn this week with the official re-opening of the village’s only retail premises after extensive refurbishment.
First built and opened in 1866, Walkerburn post office on Galashiels Road had, according to sub-postmaster Eric Lavender, reached a crossroads last year.
“For many people in Walkerburn the store was more that just a convenience: it provided an essential service,” he explained. “The trouble was that those for whom it was essential were not producing enough trade to make the store viable.
“This meant we had to try to maintain essential services, while attempting to attract new trade from passersby on the A72, and the growing number of walkers and bikers using the newly developed tracks at Elibank and Cabertson forests.”
The breakthrough came last year when Eric, supported by the community council, along with local businesses, successfully applied to the Scottish Government for a Post Office Diversification Grant.
The funding scheme, which saw £1million allocated across Scotland in the current financial year, is designed to help sustain and develop businesses allied to post offices, acknowledging the latter’s vital role in local communities.
And Eric’s bid hit the mark.
The post office that he and his partner Evelyn Greers have run in the 600-population village for more than three years was awarded the maximum grant of £25,000.
“Before this, we were struggling to maintain a business employing Evelyn and myself full time and two part-time staff working 16 and 12 hours respectively,” admitted Eric.
“We wanted to move beyond this by expanding turnover and making the retail side fully sustainable and the refurbishment will allow us to do just that.”
The premises was closed for 10 days to allow the refit, reflecting the business’s recently-forged link with the Booker Cash and Carry retail marque Premier, to take place. Notwithstanding the shopfitting, Eric employed local joiners, painters and electricians.
“The backing of a national symbol group allows us to provide value for money across about 500 top-selling product lines and make regular monthly offers, while staying firmly local,” said Eric.
The store now has new chillers, shelving and a freezer, and is brighter and more inviting for passing trade.
“Bookers Premier business development manager has advised us that a store or our size with a full refit would normally see an increase in sales of up to 30 per cent and, having checked with other similar stores, I reckon this is achievable within five years,” said an optimistic Eric.
He gratefully acknowledges the role of local MSP Jeremy Purvis who, as Lib Dem finance spokesman, had pressed the Scottish Government to establish the diversification fund.
For the re-opening on Tuesday, Mr Purvis was joined by his Scottish party leader Tavish Scott MSP, along with community councillors, including secretary Patricia Purves who had helped make the case for funding.
She said: “The community council considers it critical for the village to retain a post office, both because of the high- quality small businesses which rely on it and the nature of the population, which has a higher-than-average number of elderly people.”
Meanwhile, Eric has already taken on an extra member of staff to work evenings .
And if turnover predictions are realised, he expects to require another part-timer in the near future.
The refirbished Walkerburn post office is open from 6am to 8pm Monday to Saturday and from 6am till 1pm on Sunday.
The integral post office opens from 9am till 5.30pm Monday to Friday and until 12.30pm on Saturday.