A COMMUNITY which has repeatedly fought to keep its post office this week welcomed the arrival of a mobile service – in the shape of a ‘fortress’ van.

Residents of Coundon and Leeholme, near Bishop Auckland, have constantly called on the Post Office to resurrect a local service after seeing previous branches shut in the wake of an armed robbery and cutbacks.

And on Wednesday their calls were answered when a secure mobile Post Office van arrived to deliver the first of a new twice-weekly service.

Durham County Councillor for Coundon Charlie Kay said: “It really is a massive deal for these villages.

“This has been one of the highest priorities for the community, so it is a huge day to see an important facility return to its heart.”

The villages' campaign for a Post Office began in August 2016, when a part-time service at Mickle Grove shut following a knifepoint robbery.

That office had itself opened in 2014 due to public demand after Coundon and Leeholme Community Partnership could not sustain a service ran in its building from 2009 to 2013.

The new mobile outreach service, hosted by the postmaster from Tow Law, operates from a van fitted with a security-screened counter and alarm.

Cllr Kay said: “It's known as a fortress, we don’t want to dwell on the past but we do want people using and working in the post office van to feel safe.”

The villages may only be two miles from Bishop Auckland and three from Shildon, but Cllr Kay says they could be 100 miles away as low levels of car ownership and poor public transport leave them isolated.

Just the day before the new service launched, mother-of-one Melissa Singlewood, 22, of Coundon, had walked to Shildon to use the branch in town.

She said: “It will make things a lot easier, I don’t have a car and the buses aren’t reliable so to know the post office will come to us will be a big help.”

Cllr Kay added: “I’m confident it will be a success but people have to use it to ensure it continues and maybe even increases its hours.”

The Post Office mobile outreach service will be outside Old Methodist Chapel, on Collingwood Street, Coundon, every Wednesday from 12.45pm to 1.45pm and Friday from 11.45am to 12.45pm.

Kenny Lamont, Post Office network operations area manager, said: “We are confident that this new service at the heart of the local community will meet customer needs.

“The introduction of a mobile Hosted Outreach service presents the best possible solution to allow us to maintain Post Office services in Coundon in the longer term.”