THERE was some (mostly) good Post Office news for residents across West Somerset and Exmoor this week after months of business closure announcements.

Plans have been submitted by Postmaster Neil Scofield to expand his Washford Post Office and Stores, and he has also secured the future operation of sub-Post Offices in Kilve and Wheddon Cross.

Mr Scofield and his partner Caroline Cook moved to West Somerset from Woolwich, London, earlier this year to apply his retailing knowledge to the rural Post Office network.

However, it was also revealed that the property housing Williton Post Office had been put on the market for £495,000, with a 10-year lease on the postal and retail shop business being sold separately for £40,000.

Already in 2023, a string of communities have lost their Post Offices, including:

  • Watchet

  • Alcombe

  • Carhampton

  • Exford

  • Lydeard St Lawrence

  • Winsford

  • Brompton Regis

  • Oakford

  • West Anstey

  • Rackenford

  • Hawkridge

Nether Stowey’s Post Office has also been put up for sale as the owner plans to retire, while Stogumber’s was saved when residents formed a community group to buy and run it.

Mr Scofield told the Free Press this week his plan for Washford was to return the Post Office and shop to how it used to be.

Plans have been submitted to expand Washford's Post Office and shop business.
Plans have been submitted to expand Washford's Post Office and shop business. (Architectural Studios SW Ltd)

He currently trades from a room at the back of the building in Station Road but is seeking planning consent to convert its living room back to retail use, which would increase the size of the business trading floor by 62 per cent.

Mr Scofield bought the business in May from Tony Middleton, who had run it for the past 10 years.

He said: “We are putting it back how it used to be, in the front of the building, reinstating the shop floor and the entrance in the front, and the store is being brought up to modern standards.

“It will offer what a village store should offer.

“We are providing people with something that is much-needed.

“It had slowly been eroding over the years, why is a mystery to me because the Post Office business has gone up by 300 per cent now.

Williton Post Office has been put on the market with Humberstones.
Williton Post Office has been put on the market with Humberstones. (Humberstones)

“The Post Office is here and it will stay here for a long time.”

Mr Scofield said his background in London was in retail and he recognised that ‘gone are the days when a Post Office could open 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday with an hour closed for lunch every day’.

Now, Mr Scofield opens the Washford business every day of the week, from 7 am to 7 pm Monday through to Saturday, and 7.30 am to 12.30 pm on a Sunday.

The business is also on the Minehead Metalheads Trail and has ‘Postman Pat’ outside, which Mr Scofield hoped would attract some visitors to the village.

Williton Post Office and the building housing it are being marketed by Humberstones, a spokesperson for which said it was a ‘substantial freehold property with various rental income streams’.

The spokesperson said the Williton postal income was about £60,000 last year plus the high-profit retail shop took £68,000.

West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has been asking for an urgent meeting with Post Office Counters Ltd to discuss the situation in the district.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “I have stressed to Post Office Counters that it is totally unacceptable to allow local Post Offices to disappear at the rate we have seen, particularly in an area so sparsely populated as this.

“So, this is tremendously good news from Neil, and I am delighted that the offices in Kilve and Wheddon Cross have been secured and I congratulate Neil on his efforts.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger said Post Offices were a ‘basic amenity’ for rural villages, even if they opened only for a few hours a week.

He said each closure was devastating for residents, especially for those who were elderly or suffered mobility issues.