Postmaster going to the dogs

Dogs have traditionally been cast as the bane of the postal service, slobbering and nipping at the heels of mailmen as they sprint to the letterbox.But a postmaster in Norfolk is hoping to heal the rift by transforming the back of the village shop and post office into a canine training school.

Dogs have traditionally been cast as the bane of the postal service, slobbering and nipping at the heels of mailmen as they sprint to the letterbox.

But a postmaster in Norfolk is hoping to heal the rift by transforming the back of the village shop and

post office into a canine training school.

Flagging trade at Narborough Village Stores and Post Office has forced Martin Wardle, 45, to turn from parcels to pooches in a bid to keep the vital village business open.

Postmen across the region will be able to breathe a sight of relief as Mr Wardle tames tearaway hounds by night while resuming his shop duties during the day.

Mr Wardle says custom for the store has fallen away while interest in his obedience classes for pups and dogs at his Norfolk K9 Training Centre is growing daily.

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As a qualified dog trainer he said the business was the natural choice to help him fulfil the responsibility he feels to keep the post office afloat.

It comes at a time when about 2,500 post offices are due to shut down across the country in the face of mounting losses, with 50 post offices expected to close in Norfolk and about 40 in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Since the UK postal system was opened to rival operators in 2006 the Royal Mail has lost 40pc of its bulk mail business. The service also faces major disruption over the next two weeks during a nationwide strike over pay and working conditions.

Mr Wardle's move follows the recent reopening of the village post office in the Blue Lion pub in North Pickenham and is the latest example of a growing trend for rural businesses to diversify in an attempt to save vital services.

He said: “It was born out of desperation to try to keep the shop going. It was a matter of utilising my skills and experience. Without this I would not be able to carry on. The business is getting very close to shutting down.

“There has been a sharp downturn in trade over the past four years. You have supermarkets such as Tescos offering a free local bus service to and from Narborough, together with home deliveries available online.

“Small local businesses cannot fairly compete. In order to survive other avenues of turnover have to be found to maintain incomes and livelihoods.

“All the locals have been very supportive because they know that I am doing it to keep the shop open and I feel a responsibility back to them to keep the business going.”

Jon Clemo, development officer at Norfolk Rural Community Council, said it was vital for rural businesses to take the initiative to survive.

“We are seeing it go one of two ways for rural businesses, those who innovate and develop new services that benefit the community and draw people in and those that do not,” he said.

“Unfortunately those who do not innovate tend to be the businesses that shut down.”

Mr Wardle has been offering dog training to people in their homes for the last four years but it was only recently he hit on the idea of using the back garden and the old store room for dog training school premises.

“Hopefully the school will help stop a few postmen being bitten and it is nice to see the bond forming between the owners and their pups,” he said.

“I got into dog training on the side when I used to compete in showjumping with horses. It is quite demanding running the shop and doing the training but you get used to it.”

The former veterinary surgery practice manager owns a border

collie Rhia and a German shepherd Max and competes with them in Kennel Club obedience contests.

Mr Wardle is a member of the Institute of Pet Behaviour Consultants and the Institute of Animal Care Education, is a qualified examiner up to silver level for the Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme and working towards applying for a Kennel Club accredited instructor award.

He has applied to Breckland Council for permission to change the store room at the back of the shop into a dog training area.

Mr Wardle offers training at the centre on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings and also carries out home visits. Ring 01760 337338 or visit www.norfolkk9.com

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