CENTRAL Devon MP and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride has officially opened Ashburton Hub and Spoke to improve lives across Dartmoor, which is the brainchild of Ashburton Postmaster Stuart Rogers.
Ashburton Post Office is at the hub of these initiatives with a new look library and a brand-new area where representatives of banks can meet their customers in person.
A former Post Office van offers the spokes – providing new links to different communities across Dartmoor. Services include library books (bringing selected books and returns), Post Office forms and providing internet access and computer guidance.
Mel said: ‘Stuart never ceases to amaze me with his creative ideas and his commitment. For the past 10 years he has worked tirelessly to run a first-class Post Office for the people of Ashburton and surrounding areas.
'Ashburton Library was then successfully added eight years ago.
'Now there’s also a dedicated area where banking representatives from major banks visit one day a week.
’Stuart has also looked at the bigger picture of how to help people across Dartmoor. He now has a vehicle to reach outlying rural locations to take services to them or to give them transport to easily come into Ashburton to visit the library, meet banking representatives and to use the wide range of Post Office services.’
Stuart has self-funded his ‘Big Build’, an extension to his existing premises. Upstairs space has been put to good use to create more room to provide extra services. He has arranged banking industry support for various aspects of his new venture.
The library has moved upstairs in a five-month transformation project. Today [October 13] it re-opens to the public.
Martin Roberts, Post Office group chief retail officer, said: ‘Stuart Rogers is truly an inspirational Postmaster who really cares about his community. His innovative ideas have increased the range of vital services available at Ashburton Post Office, but importantly they are also accessible to a much wider community across Dartmoor.’
A lift has been installed at Ashburton Post Office in St Lawrence Lane to make the library accessible to those who can’t use stairs. It is known as the Mary Witt lift in memory of a loyal customer, who regular as clockwork, turned up at the same time each week. A book of her poetry has been put together by her family to sell to raise funds for Stuart’s project. A local choir the Incon Singers have recorded a song to fundraise for the work which also included a fire sprinkler system being added.
Community-minded Stuart has successfully negotiated for representatives from Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds to each visit one set day a week for banking advice and consultations in private. Banking transactions for business and private customers are still done at the Post Office counters. He is also hoping the interview room can be used by other well respected organisations.
Stuart transformed his former Post Office van into a ‘Green’ vehicle with solar panels fitted to help provide services and initiatives to rural communities across Dartmoor. This allows internet connection for those without, and to support those lacking digital confidence.
He gained support and funding from the Dartmoor National Park Authority to develop his ‘Spoke’ initiatives for serving outlying areas including a Ring and Ride service to Ashburton where there is a greater range of shops and services.
The logo on the vehicle was chosen from designs by Ashburton Primary School pupils in a design competition.
He said: ‘I am overjoyed that my Hub & Spoke vision to provide much-needed services across Dartmoor has become reality. I want to thank everyone who has supported me. This project will enrich the lives of people who live, work or visit here. It’s my hope that what we’re doing here, and the close partnerships we have built with a whole host of organisations, will help to inspire other communities and local leaders to think differently and explore how merging services can bring real benefits to local communities.’
Stuart has the support of the Dartmoor National Park Authority as he wants to reduce how far Dartmoor people need to travel to access services. Ashburton is attempting to create a UK first by creating a model that sees profit created by all the services he offers being reinvested into Dartmoor National Park.
Dartmoor National Park Authority Chief Executive Kevin Bishop said: 'We’re delighted to see this development come to fruition. We hope it will help secure the future of the Post Office, provide a valuable community asset, and contribute to the economy of Ashburton.’
Stuart, who was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queens’ Birthday Honours in 2018 already provides outreach services in Widecombe-in-the Moor, Dousland and Buckland Monachorum. In October, he also helped to restore Post Office services in Kingskerswell as a partner branch.
Since 2015, Stuart and his wife Jackie have donated one pence for each ATM transaction to a community fund. He has worked with local community dignitaries and businesses to ‘match-fund’ his contributions, effectively doubling the amount available for local good causes as they want to serve and to put back into the community. Last week he presented £1,000 to Bank Youth project, a local charity to keep children off the streets.