Words and photo by Dave Barry
Working at an office doesn’t usually entail much physical exertion.
Working at Royal Mail’s sorting office in Aberdeen Walk, Scarborough, is a notable exception.
In the busy pre-Christmas peak period, the 125 staff received, sorted and delivered nearly 100,000 letters and packets a day.
The posties - about 110 men and 15 women - walk about 10 miles a day in whatever the weather has to throw at them.
In town, they used to use cycles but now they push large unmotorised trolleys weighing about 70 kilos up and down hills.
In outlying areas such as Newby, Eastfield and Hackness, two travel together in a van.
At Christmas, many staff start at 5am to sort the extra packets and larger volume of cards which cannot be done by machine. In the past, due to the higher volume of cards and before the sorting machines, a night shift of up to 30 staff would sort all the mail by hand.
Times have changed. When manager Alan Gilbank joined Royal Mail some 30 years ago, the volume of letters was far higher - the company was handling about 125,000 letters and packets a day.
“The big change is letters”, he says. “We’ve gone from masses of letters and packets to mostly packets”. December witnessed the annual peak of about 10,000 packets a day, which falls to around half that through the year, Alan says.
Most of Scarborough’s letters are mechanically sorted by scanner and postcode in York and arrive in boxes, ready for delivery. All the mail which has to be sorted manually, including anything without postcode, comes from a big Royal Mail centre in Leeds.
Another big change involves the amount of cash handled by Royal Mail. Not too long ago, six and even seven-figure sums were stashed in huge floor-to-ceiling, walk-in safes and paid out in pensions, state benefits, etc. Now, just one safe remains and is used to store cleaning materials.
Early one morning just before Christmas, the borough mayor and mayoress, Joe and Margaret Plant, visited the sorting office to see how the operation runs.
As a former milkman, Cllr Plant knows all about early rises, as he had to get up at 4am to start his round on a float.
“I’ve got nothing but admiration for them”, he said. “I appreciate and understand what a fantastic job they do. It’s not just delivering letters and packets, it’s about preparing it all”.
Postmen and women play a social role as “the eyes and ears of the community”, noticing when things aren’t right and passing it on, the mayor said.
He added: “Hopefully there is a sustainable future for Royal Mail”, which will use the space vacated by the post office if and when it moves to WH Smith.