A VILLAGE post office targeted by armed robbers has been kept alive after a £500,000 donation from a local businessman.
The future of the post office in Wylam, Northumberland, was put in doubt in February when robbers attacked Fred and Rosa Voase, who are both aged 70.
The couple have kept the post office running on reduced hours since – but now they will be able to retire thanks to the intervention of a wealthy charitable foundation with its base in the Tyne Valley village.
The Reece Foundation, founded by entrepreneur Dr Alan Reece, has put up £500,000 to buy the post office in Laburnum Terrace on behalf of the parish council.
A new sub-postmaster will be taken on, allowing the post office to resume full opening hours, while Mr and Mrs Voase will be able to retire and put the trauma of the robbery firmly behind them.
Mr Voase said yesterday: “We are very, very pleased that this has happened. After the robbery, we were going to shut the post office. We are both 70, and the reason that we re-opened was that we had the offer from the Reece Foundation via the parish council.
“We also would have hated to see the village without a post office, so we kept it going on a three-and-a-half-day week. But now we are happy this has finally come about and Rosa and I will be able to retire.”
The couple came to Wylam from Berwick 25 years ago and have become a much-loved part of the close village community.
But their peace was shattered early on the morning of February 10 when two crowbar-wielding thugs forced their way into the premises via a rear door. Mr and Mrs Voase, who live on site, were both beaten before the raiders made off with “a large amount of cash”.
Mr Voase suffered a cracked rib and bruising to his back, while Mrs Voase suffered a bruised back and shock. Both needed hospital treatment.
A major police manhunt has not yet tracked down the criminals, who escaped in the Voases’ car, which was later found abandoned two streets away.
“We are OK now,” said Mr Voase. “We have both got over it, but it was a bad experience for us and since it happened we have been looking to retire.
“Living in the property was a stumbling block to the sale, but we now have a place in Wylam to retire to although we are still running the post office on reduced hours until it is all finalised.”
Wylam parish council chairman Tom Martin said: “Fred and Rosa have been fantastic servants to Wylam and have been looking forward to their retirement for some years.
“After the robbery – extremely bravely, we all feel – they re-opened on limited hours to keep the service going for us all.
“The Reece Foundation first contacted the parish council and offered a very generous donation if we could buy the post office to keep it open for the village. Brian Japes and Diana Carney of the council have worked very hard on this.
“The parish council contacted Fred and Rosa and now the parish council have bought the property. The next step is to advertise for a new sub-postmaster and bring the post office back to full hours.
“Wylam post office is an extremely important part of the village and it is extremely generous of the Reece Foundation. To have been given this kind of donation is brilliant.”
Coun Martin added: “I think Fred and Rosa are very happy that the situation has changed quite dramatically for them, from having concern about their futures to being able to move after something as horrible as that happening to them. Everyone wishes them a happy, and well-deserved, retirement.”
The Reece Foundation was founded by Dr Reece, owner of Pearson Engineering in Walker, Newcastle.
Most recent figures show the Foundation, which promotes the teaching of engineering, maths and physics, has funds totalling £18.5m.
Last month the Foundation donated £250,000 to establish a scholarship allowing school pupils in Newcastle to take up engineering as a career. No-one was available for comment yesterday at the Foundation’s address at The Crescent, Wylam.
A Post Office spokesman said: “We are committed to maintaining post office services in Wylam. We are delighted that the local parish council will be providing post office services to people in the area.”