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Husband and wife abandon retirement to take over Cottam Post Office

Posted on - 4th December, 2023 - 5:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Cottam, Lea, Preston Council, Preston News
Sheela and Gary Harper
Sheela and Gary Harper

A husband and wife have abandoned their retirement to take over a suburban Preston post office that was thrown a lifeline by the parish council for the area it serves.

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Cottam Post Office was forced to relocate to the local community centre two years ago after its previous base on Hoyles Lane was severely flooded.

The initial temporary arrangement with Lea and Cottam Parish Council, which operates the centre, became a longer term plan for the survival of the service after the original premises were later sold.

Read more: Hundreds of homes set for mill site among most forgotten parts of Preston city centre

The mobile counter unit that was installed in a room within the Haydocks Lane community facility has now been transformed into a permanent home for the post office, with its own dedicated entrance, after the parish council secured planning permission for the change in October.

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Cottam residents Sheela and Gary Harper stepped in to operate the proposed new set up shortly before it was formally given the go-ahead – delivering themselves back into the workforce having been retired for five and three years respectively.

“We both just had too much energy – and this has got us active again,” Sheela told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but we love it – and everyone is so nice around here.”

Their involvement came after the departure of the longserving couple who had been at the helm of the business for more than 20 years – and is due in no small part to their decision to get a dog to accompany them in what was supposed to be a relaxing retirement.   But the arrival of Bob – a goldendoogle who lends his name to a corner of the new post office that sells pets’ toys – changed all that.

“We were planning to go on long holidays, but I just couldn’t leave him.   We moved to Cottam in 2021 and had been volunteering at the community centre, so that’s how we heard that they need someone for the post office,” explained Sheela, who previously worked as a commercial director, while husband Gary had already run his own business.

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Lea and Cottam Parish Council vice-chair Christine Abram, who cut the ribbon on the new venture – which includes gift and stationery outlet Take a Mooch –  said that preservation of the post office was crucial for the community.

“It would have been a real loss if it had closed.  For one thing, you can get money out there – and banks are few and far between nowadays, plus the bus service into Preston isn’t great.

“So the parish council have been very supportive and it’s been a boost [to the area] to relocate it in the community centre,” Cllr Abram added.

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