A NEW community hub in Ashburton that simultaneously offers postal, financial, internet, and library services is a UK-first.
Ashburton’s Post Office has been refurbished over the past 5 months to house the enterprise. It involved adding another story to the building and completely enhancing the inside with a lift, an open-plan new-look library, enhancements to the existing Post Office, and a private meeting room where customers can have consultations with three major banks one day a week.
The project was funded by Postmaster Stuart Rogers’ personal savings with help from community fundraisers.
A local choir, The InCon Singers, have recorded a song to fundraise for the work, and a book of poetry by Mary Whitt, a loyal customer been put together by her family to raise funds for Stuart’s project.
She visited the old building at the same time each week, and the lift to the library is named the ‘Mary Witt Lift’ in her memory.
Another element of the hub project is the repurposing of a Post Office van.
The van is a ‘green’ vehicle with solar panels fitted, that will help provide services and initiatives to rural communities across Dartmoor.
Its services include library books (bringing selected books and returns), Post Office forms and providing internet access and computer guidance. The logo on the van was chosen from designs by Ashburton Primary School pupils in a design competition.
Stuart has the backing of the Dartmoor National Park Authority as he wants to reduce how far Dartmoor people need to travel to access services, particularly with bank branches closing in the area.
Ashburton has created a UK first by creating a model that sees profit created by all the services reinvested into Dartmoor National Park.
Stuart said that the hub is by the community, for the community, and hopes that it will be a communal space through winter and beyond.
He said ‘It will be a warm space as well as a practical space. It’s important for young and old people, everybody really, to have the hub,’ he said.
‘We’re trying to keep the money on Dartmoor for Dartmoor.’
Mel Stride MP has praised Stuart’s innovation: ‘Ashburton Postmaster Stuart Rogers never ceases to amaze me with his creative ideas and his commitment,’ he said.
‘For the past 10 years, Stuart 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.
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 use the wide range of Post Office services’
The new library space is a brilliant upgrade, providing a more open space on the top floor of the building.
Karen Berry, who has worked at Ashburton Library for two years said: ‘The previous space was a lot smaller and was an L-shaped space so inconvenient for lots of visitors at a time. This is a much brighter and lighter space.’
As well as rane of books the library provides printing services, Wi-Fi, computers for public use, and a desk for private study. There is a children’s reading corner, including beginner reads, audiobooks, comic books and storybooks with spaces for guardians and children to read.
Library supervisor Ros Parkes hopes to see the library become a busy and vibrant hub for people of all ages, helped by the open area providing room for spending time in the space.
Dedicated to his community, Stuart has worked tirelessly on local initiatives. In October, he also helped to restore Post Office services in Kingskerswell as a partner branch.
Since 2015 for every ATM transaction on the free-to-use ATM, Stuart and his wife Jackie have donated two pence for each transaction to a community fund.
He has worked with local community dignitaries and businesses to match-fund his contributions.
Last month he presented £1,000 to Bank Youth project, a local charity for children aged from 9 to 19, to keep children off the streets.
The Ashburton community hub is his most recent project for his community.
He hopes to host cost-of-living events and other initiatives, as well as continue working on the outside as part of a mental health project that will be ready for next year.
He said: ‘I am overjoyed that my 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.
‘I’m making sure that the space is protected for future generations to come.'