A man who was an “avid stamp collector” as a child has moved to Scotland from Florida with his wife to take over the world’s oldest post office.
Barry Ford has taken over Sanquhar Post Office in Dumfries and Galloway, which has been in continuous operation for 311 years.
Ford, originally from Lincolnshire, and his wife Mary, from North Lanarkshire, had been living and working in the US for 20 years when they first heard the post office was for sale three years ago.
He had an aircraft detailing company in Lakeland in the US state, cleaning aircraft for private owners, but the couple were hoping to buy a business back in the UK as their elderly mothers there were in poor health.
They put in an offer but were pipped to the post, but had a second opportunity to buy the business when the sale fell through, and are now only the 17th operators of the world’s oldest post office.
The couple were also delighted to discover that Mrs Ford’s ancestors were from the nearby Muirkirk area in East Ayrshire.
Mr Ford said: “It is amazing that I have gone from living in Florida for 20 years, where the history is mostly 19th to 20th century, to becoming the postmaster for the world’s oldest post office which dates back over 300-plus years.
“I was an avid stamp collector as a child and to discover that Mary’s ancestors were from the local area was fate.
“To be given a second opportunity to buy the Sanquhar Post Office came at the right time when our elderly mothers had sadly passed away.
“Mary and I are very excited and humbled to be serving this community, and we also look forward to welcoming tourists from both near and afar who come to Sanquhar to sample the delights this vibrant community has to offer.
“I am also proud to be this post office’s 17th postmaster, which isn’t that many, considering its long history.”
The post office opened in 1712, eight years before the second oldest, and is recognised by Guinness World Records as the oldest one in operation.
The second oldest, in Stockholm, Sweden, opened in 1720 while the third, in Santiago, Chile, opened in 1772.
Mrs Ford, from Motherwell, discovered her connections to the local area while sorting through her mother’s possessions, when she found a pair of knitted gloves with a Sanquhar pattern.
She decided to further investigate her family tree and discovered that her ancestors came from around the Muirkirk area.
Mr Ford, who served in the RAF, has taken over from postmistress Nazra Alam, who had run the Post Office since 2015 along with her late husband, Dr Manzoor Alam, who passed away in November 2022.
She has now retired and is returning to the Midlands, where she lived before moving to Sanquhar.
Post Office chief executive Nick Read said: “As a nation we should be so proud to have the world’s longest-running Post Office.
“Not only does it support the wider economy by attracting tourists from all over the world, but it continues to provide everyday essential banking and postal services that local residents, like anywhere else in the country, rely on.”
The post office is a popular attraction for postal and philatelic enthusiasts from across the UK and the world, and many visit to have their letters marked with a special handstamp bearing “The World’s Oldest Post Office”.
Separately, postmasters wrongfully convicted in the Horizon IT scandal will be offered £600,000 to settle their claims.
Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake said those affected had suffered “for too long” and so should be able to settle their claims “swiftly if they wish”.
The offer will be optional, the UK Government said, with those affected able to continue with the current compensation process if they choose.
The scandal, which has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history, saw more than 700 Post Office branch managers handed criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it appear as though money was missing.
The UK Government said 86 convictions have been overturned and £21m has been paid in compensation.
Postmasters who have already received initial compensation payments or have reached a settlement with the Post Office of less than £600,000 will be paid the difference.
Making a statement in the Commons, Hollinrake said: “The sum will be £600,000. It is not up to £600,000, it is £600,000.
“There will be no requirement for evidence to support the claim other than being able to demonstrate that the individual has an overturned conviction.”
He said the figure was arrived at by looking at existing claims that have been processed and applying a “generous uplift to that”.
The minister acknowledged “some details will need to be worked through”, including how long the upfront offer remains open.
The government said it would continue to fund the legal costs of the postmasters to ensure they receive independent advice before making a decision.
Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, which represent 70 former sub-postmasters who are seeking compensation from the Post Office after having convictions relating to the scandal overturned, said in many cases the offer is “nowhere near enough”.
He said: “I expect the reaction of many of our clients will be that this move is another example of the Post Office trying to control the narrative here.
“The government has said these offers are optional, but my fear is that, due to the delays we have already faced, and the particular circumstances many sub-postmasters face, some may feel pressured to accept this offer even though their claims are worth much more.
“In isolation £600,000 may sound like a lot of money, and it is, but in many cases it is nowhere near enough to represent what has been lost over the last two decades.”
Starting in the late 1990s, the Post Office began installing the accounting software, but faults in the software led to shortfalls in branches’ accounts.
The Post Office demanded sub-postmasters cover the shortfalls and, in many cases, wrongfully prosecuted them between 1999 and 2015 for false accounting or theft.
An independent inquiry is ongoing.
The Overturned Convictions process, Horizon Shortfall Scheme and Group Litigation Order have in total paid more than £120m to 2,600 individuals affected by the scandal.
The Post Office said it welcomed the announcement, but also said the offer is not expected to be appropriate in every case.
Post Office chief executive Nick Read said: “Post Office is making good progress to pay compensation to those affected as quickly as possible and therefore welcomes the news that government has found a way to provide the option of concluding settlements through their upfront offer.
“This will be an entirely voluntary choice and so claimants should obtain specific advice from their independent legal and professional representatives in considering whether it is suitable in their individual case.”
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