Postmaster Liam Searle has managed to open Swanage’s new Post Office on schedule, despite having to beat off a dangerously aggressive cancer at the same time.
An operation to remove a huge sarcoma of soft tissue from his stomach should have left him needing intensive care for days and chemotherapy afterwards, but Liam just wanted to get back to work.
With two secure counters, Swanage Post Office can be a new banking hub
Post Office aims to be a banking hub for Swanage
Although the cancer operation did delay Liam’s plans to open the gift section of the new shop in Institute Road in the summer, the town’s new post office opened on schedule on Tuesday 11th October 2022.
With two secure counters, he hopes the new post office can take on the role of a banking hub for Swanage after Lloyds Bank closed the last bank branch in town in September 2022.
A larger stationery and gift section will provide the profit margins needed to financially support the post office’s services, which just break even.
Liam, whose father ran the town’s previous post office in Kings Road opposite Swanage Medical Practice for many years, had been working to convert the new premises for the past year but had often felt tired and run down during the process.
The frontage of the new Post office in Institution Street
“I thought I was just feeling run down”
After welcoming customers into the new premises for the first time, Liam said:
“While I was working on the conversion, I had put on some weight, then got a chest infection and Covid, but thought I was just feeling run down and tired because I was taking on so much work.
“But after seeing a doctor and getting a CT scan, I was sent straight to the Royal Marsden Hospital and had an operation to remove a soft muscle cancer measuring 21cm by 21cm by 15cm.”
Liam has the scar to remind him of his unexpected battle with cancer
“I made a brilliant recovery after surgery”
“Essentially it was growing between all the major organs but not giving any symptoms other than making me feel a bit run down.
“There is still a high chance it will come back, but I made a brilliant recovery after the surgery. I’m still here and there is a chance it will never come back.
“I am very grateful to the hospital for their brilliant care and very positive for the future.”
A feature arch to the old building had been previously covered up
Original Purbeck stone walls and a feature arch
The new town post office is now situated in the former Betfred premises, and is the sixth location in its history, having been in Kings Road since the 1970s and at Station Road before then.
In the 1850s the Post Office was at Victoria Terrace, then The Square in 1886 and then lower High Street until 1908 in the shop which is now Candle World, coincidentally just round the corner from the new premises.
With the lease on the Kings Road store coming close to expiry, Liam had wanted more security and a more central location for the post office, so bought the Institute Road site and sank £70,000 into renovating it.
Along the journey, he discovered original Purbeck stone walls and a feature archway which had been covered up, and is now converting the cellar – which had been inches deep in water – into a staff kitchen, relaxation area and office space.
He has dropped down the ceiling, installed super energy efficient halo LED lighting which dims itself when no-one is around, and Liam hopes that by the time he has installed solar panels he will be on the way to a zero carbon footprint.
The Post Office gift shop counter makes the most of its Purbeck stone walls
Cash is important to seaside towns
“It was a mammoth task for one man and felt like wading through treacle, especially when it turned out that I was doing it with cancer, but I focussed on one job at a time and I am so proud of the result.
“Post offices have always had four main tasks – parcels, travel documents and money, bill payments and banking. I am hoping that we can make banking a lot more important and step in as the banking hub of the town.
“Cash has always been an important way to transact business in a seaside town, and now that we have doubled the capacity for banking operations we hope to be able to help more Swanage businesses, whether they are banking £30 or £3,000.”
Huge amounts of work and money were needed to transform the new premises
The building’s basement is being transformed into a staff kitchen and offices
Fill a need for face to face banking
“I would like to assure all those customers who have asked about an ATM that one is on the way, and that we intend to fill the gap for access to cash which the loss of bank branches has caused.
“Business is changing towards online transactions and remote payments, but cash and face to face banking is still very important to Swanage and we hope to fill that need.
“We feel very proud to be a part of the long history of a post office in Swanage and to have custodianship of it. I am not here to make a fortune, but to provide a service to the town.”