When the threat of losing their local post office loomed, the people of Heptonstall formed a community benefit society to ensure it wasn’t turned into an Air BnB…
Standing high on a hill above the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, the small village of Heptonstall – and its nearby hamlets of Colden and Slack Top – are home to some 1,500 people.
For those people, the local post office is a lifeline, offering postal and banking services, as well as essential groceries and other supplies.
So when the postmaster decided to retire, the community came together to stop the post office being sold off. “They didn’t want it turned into an Air BnB, so explored what could be done to save it as a community venture,” said local resident Lindsay Smith.
That’s how Hepstonstall Community Assets (HCA) was formed – a community benefit society created to raise capital via a community share offer that would enable local people to buy the post office and keep it at the heart of their village.
One village resident – Mark Simmonds – is a community shares practitioner and offered to lend his expertise to the project. “I’ve been in Heptonstall for 20 years,” he said.
“I work with other communities preparing share offers. We were going to lose our village shop and post office, so I offered to help. I wrote the business plan and the share offer document.”
HCA was given funding to develop their offer from the Community Shares Booster Fund – provided by the Community Shares Unit at Co-operatives UK.
“The Booster funding was really useful, otherwise we’d have had to find the money to pay people ourselves. It allowed us to spend money before we’ve raised money, basically.
“I’d never worked with a post office, so we got some help from a practitioner who had – and paid another to assess the share offer so we could be awarded the Community Shares Standard Mark – the official guarantee of a high-quality share offer.”
With the villagers mobilised and the Standard Mark awarded, the share offer launched on 1 October 2021. Many leaflets, posters, meetings and social media posts later, the offer closed having reached its target of £158,000, which included £10,300 from the Community Shares Booster Fund.
“It was a great security blanket knowing we’d receive investment from the Booster Fund,” said Mark. “In total, 380 people put their money in to help buy the post office. Remarkably, around 40% of them offered to donate the value of their shares on their death rather than pass them onto someone else.
“Normally if you invest in community shares, they form part of your estate. If someone opts to donate them back to society when they die, the society inherits those shares.”
The new community owned post office opened in Heptonstall on 1 April 2022. The turnover has since increased and the local people are happy to have retained a valuable part of village life. It now employs four paid staff and is run with the help of 30 local volunteers.
“There are a couple of younger people working there on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s giving them opportunities to get work experience,” said Lindsay, who now owns a share in the post office.
“It serves the community incredibly well. When I go in, I see people greeted by name. It’s a very important social resource for local people.”
Mark feels the same way too. “Without the share offer, we’d have lost the beating heart of the village,” he said. “It’s where you can leave stuff and connect with people – there’s a lost property office and notice board. It would all have gone.”