Pontrilas Postmistress receives royal recognition for services to rural communities in Herefordshire

Pontrilas Postmistress receives royal recognition for services to rural communities in Herefordshire

Sonya Cary, Postmistress of Pontrilas Post Office in rural Herefordshire, Midlands region, is to receive royal recognition for services to the local community in Pontrilas and 22 other nearby villages.

It was announced in the Queens’ Birthday Honours list today (10 October 2020) that Sonya is to receive the British Empire Medal in recognition of the contribution that she has made to the community as Postmistress of Pontrilas Post Office.

Sonya runs the Post Office, shop, café, gym and weekly lunch club for the local community and those who don’t have family or other pastoral support. People come from much further than Pontrilas to socialise, keep fit and to visit the Post Office.

Sonya runs her branch with a team of volunteers alongside a social enterprise as part of the national charity ‘C.A.R.E. CIC’ which aims to help older residents feel valued and involved in their local community and eliminate fears of feeling ‘socially isolated’ or ‘socially disconnected’. C.A.R.E. CIC Herefordshire sets its social purpose as promoting a sense of wellbeing; a sense of belonging; a sense of feeling wanted, valued, cherished, protected and loved.

The profits from the Post Office are used to fund services and activities that support older residents to continue living independently in their own homes. C.A.R.E. CIC Herefordshire provides preventative support through social inclusion activities to help local people stay physically and mentally well.

Nick Read, Chief Executive, said:
“Sonya works tirelessly for the people who visit her Post Office and there is an amazing range of activities that she organises to enrich the lives of elderly people in this very rural area of Herefordshire for people who would otherwise suffer from loneliness. An annual Christmas lunch has been a wonderful highlight of the calendar for pensioners for the past few years. The regular activities that Sonya has organised have helped to really lift the spirits of elderly people. With the Coronavirus pandemic Sonya has successfully adapted how she can help vulnerable members of the community who are shielding or nervous about venturing out.”

Sonya Cary, Pontrilas Postmistress, said:
“It feels surreal to receive this honour. The community will be bowled over by the news. I have not had a day off in two years as there has been so much that I want to do. The lockdown was stressful. We had to adapt what we could offer as the need was even greater to stop isolation and malnutrition. Many elderly men are not good at looking after themselves. We serve 23 villages in Herefordshire and during the pandemic we were also getting requests from over the border in Wales for lunch and prescription deliveries.

“The Post Office is at the centre of what we do. Without the Post Office we couldn’t have been able to provide the lunch club and gym. People don’t think of what we offer as care, they think about it as a Post Office with social centre and gym attached. Once we were able to open those facilities again our elderly people were much happier as they could socialise in a safe place.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic Pontrilas Post Office has operated services seven days a week, and provided a wide variety of services to all our community residents. She recruited a Post Office clerk, Martina Mula, (pictured right) so that she could focus on the community work to help combat loneliness in challenging times with the help of the local Parish Council and group volunteers.

Sonya has supported her community in a number of ways during lockdown:

  • Arranged deliveries of groceries to the vulnerable
  • Provided Sunday lunches to isolated people (these are still available to collect)
  • Launched a telephone wellness service for people to ring if they want to have a chat
  • Created activity packs which are distributed to the local community on a weekly basis
  • Hosted a weekly quiz with the local community
  • Collecting and delivering prescriptions to people who are shielding
  • The gym provided Zoom sessions to help keep people active and motivated

The community café re-opened in June for lunches on Tuesdays and Sundays and the gym re-opened in July. Sonya is waiting to see if the traditional Christmas day lunch can go ahead.