A POPULAR village postmaster who came out of retirement to ensure a rural community did not lose its post office is finally putting his feet up – after the service relocated to a nearby store.

Derek Miller, 77, who served Esh Winning, in the Deerness Valley, for five decades said: “ I am going to miss it. I would like to thank everyone for their loyalty over the years.

“I took over the post office from Bob Mason in 1972 and we have been working since then to keep the service alive.

“I was supposed to have been retired about 12 years ago. About ten years ago my granddaughter Sarah Prouten took it over, but she married a fellow and moved to Eastbourne about six years ago. We came back in and I finished off as officer in charge.

“I didn’t’ want to retire until we had found someone to take it over. The post office is a vital facility - particularly in outlying areas like ours and has become the focal feature and the most necessary shop in the village.”

He added: “We have had two or three people wanted to buy it and use it as a post office, but unfortunately they couldn’t get the finance or satisfy the Post Office with their business plans.

“Finally Michael McCormick, who is the owner of the Nisa store, applied for it and they have him up now.”

Mr Miller, whose wife Sylvia helped run the shop, said: “I would like to give special mention to my assistant manager, Lilian Burns, who has stayed with us for 27 years now. She has been such a faithful employee and really excellent.

“My daughter Carol Shepley has also helped out.”

Mr Miller said he had been been inundated with cards and gifts on his retirement.

He said: “We used to support our local schools with boxes on the counter for donations and both headteachers brought me posters made by the children on my last day at work.”.

Over the years, Mr Miller has won a series awards, including Top Commercial Post Office and Post Office in the Community award for County Durham and Cleveland.

He has weathered many changes in the service including the sale of the Giro bank, as well as the “big upheaval” with the move to paying pensions into bank accounts.

He said: “Although we kept the pensions through post office card account, that is now under threat by the DWP. We have moved very much into the banking service where people can access their bank at every post office.”

“The biggest challenge has been computerisation and getting to know how that works and how to operate. Being old fashioned I prefer the fortress-type offices to the open plan ones. But they can do most of the things we do.

“The future for the post office is in the area of travel because we are one of the top performers in travel currency and insurance.

Hundreds of customers posted messages on Facebook, wishing the couple a happy retirement.

Mary Mckee wrote: “I for one will miss you terribly. I travel from Newton Aycliffe for the fantastic customer service you give..enjoy your retirement .”

Charlene Cameron added: “Awwww so sad. Will be a massive miss both Derek and Sylvia. Ive known them all my life. Used to go in with my nana Mrs Rhoda Watson.

“Also got my Sunday school anniversary outfit and shoes every year from here. All the best for the future.”

Eileen Robinson said: “There is only one Mr Miller. A true professional. Wonderful at your chosen career. Have a happy carefree retirement. You will be much missed.”