A RURAL lifeline in Herefordshire could be forced to close its doors unless urgent action is taken as energy bills soar.

Sonya Cary and her team of volunteers have created a lifeline for people living in rural Herefordshire over the years.

The Pontrilas postmistress has been working to tackle loneliness and malnutrition in over 20 surrounding villages through her community interest company, C.A.R.E. CIC, and now heads up not only the Post Office, but also a gym, shop, cafe, and lunch club.

In 2020, the dedicated postmistress even received royal recognition for her efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, which included arranging deliveries of food and prescriptions for the vulnerable, providing Zoom gym sessions, and launching a telephone wellness service for people to ring if they need a chat, receiving the British Empire Medal.

But now, Ms Cary has said, rising energy bills are threatening to overwhelm her social enterprise, and could force the closure of a rural lifeline offering a warm and safe place for people to meet, eat, and keep fit.

She has seen her bills double in just a year, with energy for the post office alone costing £1,000 per month, and a total bill for the entire premises, including the gym, shop, and cafe, set to reach a staggering £3,500 per month by January.

The enterprise, a registered charity, is largely self-funding, with some funding from the Post Office, and is not designed to be a profit-making business, leaving it with very tight margins as costs mount.

"That will see this crumble and close. It is more than I can bear," Ms Cary said.

"I can't put prices up because then the people we support might not eat.

"I know this will tip us over the edge."

Ms Cary is calling on the Government to step in now to stop the closure of enterprises like hers, which work to help elderly people remain fit, well, and in their homes.

"I am passionate about embracing the elderly here. They can come here and they know they can meet up and catch up," she said.

"Everything we do saves the NHS. We combat loneliness, social isolation, and malnutrition."

And it is not just the elderly that Ms Cary and her volunteers support, with younger members of the community also welcome.

"I know the negative impact it will have if we have to close," Ms Cary said.

"We support 23 villages, and we have a very elderly and sparse population. The effect it will have on mental health is awful."


Nationally, the Post Office has warned, thousands of branches are at risk of buckling under the strain of rising bills.

It is calling on the Government to extend its current support on energy bills beyond the end of March 2023.

Typical post office energy bills have gone up by 249 per cent and are set to rise by a minimum of £6,000-£8,000 next year, if the current support stops in March.

To date, the Energy Bill Relief Scheme (EBRS) has helped cap the increase in energy bills for post offices, which has been a lifeline for thousands of Postmasters. The Government is now reviewing the scheme to determine which businesses are most vulnerable and merit continued support, with a decision expected by the end of December.

Post Office chief executive Nick Read said: "With over 11,500 branches across all four nations of the UK, post offices are catalysts for social but also economic activity. Together we generate almost £5bn in economic impact nationwide, supporting businesses of all sizes, thousands of jobs and delivering vital services. But our Postmasters are not immune to the profound cost-of-living crisis and escalating energy bills, and they need help to survive this winter and beyond.

"Government should not overlook the important role they play in the economy and in keeping us all connected – both nationally and in every local community across the country – and we strongly urge them to extend the Energy Bill Relief Scheme support in place for post offices beyond 31 March 2023.”

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