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The Shropshire post office delivering smiles and a first-class service in tough times

By Mark Andrews | Shrewsbury | Business | Published:

'Please sigh heavily from here', says one sign. 'Please tut loudly from here', says another.

Caroline Jones of Abbey Foregate Post Office in Shrewsbury

Keeping a sense of humour during the coronavirus pandemic is essential says Caroline Jones, who keeps Abbey Foregate Post Office in Shrewsbury.

"It's driving all postmistresses mad," she jokes, as she takes a rare breather from her hectic schedule.

One of the cheeky signs were outside Abbey Foregate Post Office. Pic: Chris Kelsall

While post offices have remained open during the pandemic, both staff and customers have had to adapt to some pretty drastic changes since the lockdown was introduced.

Before the crisis, the post office at Abbey Foregate employed three full-time members of staff, plus one part-timer, and also operated a convenience store.

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Since the outbreak, the staff have all been furloughed, leaving Miss Jones to hold the fort alone. Opening times have been reduced from 9am-1pm – allowing Miss Jones to concentrate on online business during the afternoons – and there is a strict one in, one out policy in place for customers.

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"It seems to be working well," says Miss Jones, who has kept the main post office for 13 years.

"I had to furlough the staff, because it's quite a small building, and it was impossible for us to keep two metres apart," she says.

"Only one customer is allowed in at a time, and we have a strict one-way system, where customers leave through what was the shop area."

Caroline Jones

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The humorous signs outside the shop, which have attracted widespread media attention, are a light-hearted way to tell people where to stand in order to maintain social distancing. While the number of people using the branch has fallen significantly, queues are still building up outside.

"When I opened up there were nine people waiting to come in, which doesn't sound too bad, but because they are waiting outside in the road, two metres apart, it looks a lot worse than it is," she says.

Miss Jones says the signs have brought a smile to customers' faces in a difficult time, with one man coming in to tell her a friend in Northern Ireland had heard about them.

At the moment the post office is serving about 50 customers a day, down from about 300 before the pandemic.

Caroline Jones

"What we are doing now is our bread and butter, and the bread and butter is doing very nicely, but we are missing the jam," says Miss Jones.

"We are not getting the pubs bringing their cash in, the small business cash, the passport applications or the travel insurance, it's financially quite difficult."

She says the Government support package has so far cushioned the blow, but fears things will become more difficult when that finishes at the end of the month.

Caroline Jones

"We've then got June, July, August, September, it could easily be that long before things are back to normal, and even then I'm unsure of what kind of business we will get back," says Miss Jones.

"I think the businesses that were viable before the coronavirus will be viable afterwards, but the small village post offices, which are not really viable, but are more of a community service, I think they will struggle.

"Personally I don't think it will ever be what it was before the outbreak."

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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