New home is found for town’s post office service

Susan Meikle and Hazel Millen, owners of The Allotment, Innerleithen.
Susan Meikle and Hazel Millen, owners of The Allotment, Innerleithen.

Innerleithen will welcome the return of a full time post office service this summer after almost a year-and-a-half of relying on a once-weekly service.

The owners of the Allotment fruit and vegetable shop, in High Street, have struck a deal with Post Office chiefs and will provide a full-time post office counter within the shop from the end of August.

The Allotment fruit and veg shop in Innerleithen.

The Allotment fruit and veg shop in Innerleithen.

That news brings an end to a long-running push to reinstate a full-time service in the town following the resignation of the previous postmaster there in February last year.

Susan Meikle and Helen Millen, business partners at the Allotment, say the loss of the post office has been badly felt within the town.

Susan said: “It’s been disastrous. A town the size of Innerleithen needs a post office because it has taken the soul out of the community to an extent.

“Everybody goes out of town to use the post office services elsewhere now.

“For us, it’s a community thing rather than a financial thing.

“I think everybody needs a social hub and the post office is that social hub. That’s basically why we are doing it.”

The business partners say that despite never being approached by the campaign group and politicians pushing to find a new home for the service, they took the decision to express an interest in taking it on just before Christmas.

“Within five minutes of us clicking the link online, the Post Office were on the phone to us and it just went from there,” Susan added.

The fruit and vegetable shop, opened midway up the High Street in 2011 and moved to its current position just down the road to opposite the bank a year later, will not need any alterations.

It will house a small counter running side by side with the existing one.

It will operate during the store’s usual opening hours, from 10am to 5pm during the week and from 9.30am to 1pm on Saturdays.

“We will take a while to find our feet,” Susan added. “We want this to work for the community and we want to customers to be happy, so Helen and I will be focusing more of our time on the post office to begin with, leaving the fruit and veg side of things to our two part-time staff.

“It will take us time to find out what the busy times are, but the post office will need to be our priority at first to get it right.

“It’s very exciting but also very daunting. There’s an awful lot of different products and services I didn’t even know the post office did, but we are quite excited to bring all this back to Innerleithen.”

The town has been served by a mobile outreach van every Friday morning for the past 15 months after the town’s DayMart store ceased to act as a post office in February 2017.

Innerleithen businessman Andrew Caldwell, of Caldwell’s Ices, had previously stepped forward to take on the service from his High Street shop, but despite widespread support negotiations broke down due to what Mr Caldwell described as unrealistic demands over layout and opening hours.

Residents unable to make the Friday morning van visit have had to travel to Walkerburn or Peebles to access post office services since.

A Post Office spokesman said that plans have yet to be finalised and that further details confirming opening hours and the range of services on offer will be revealed nearer the time.

MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, Christine Grahame has welcomed the news.

She said; “I’ve been in contact with the Post Office since the previous one closed to try and find a solution to restore services, as they were sorely missed by locals so I’m delighted to hear the owners of The Allotment have managed to take on the Post Office services.

“Many people are reliant on Post Office services, particularly rurally - take for example those people who run online businesses and rely on it to post out orders or indeed elderly folk who rely on it to draw their pension.

“The mobile service, whilst better than nothing, is simply not a long term solution, especially when inclement weather or mechanical issues prevent it running.

“I look forward to hearing further details of the service as their confirmed and I wish The Allotment every success with this new venture.”