A businessman is on a mission to breathe new life into two town centres in the Vale of Clwyd and come to the rescue of bank customers.
Huw Hilditch-Roberts, 41, runs the main post offices in Denbigh and Ruthin where bank closures have left people worried they will be left high and dry and unable to access their services locally.
Barclays have just followed the example of NatWest and axed their branches in both towns.
But according to Mr Hilditch-Roberts, who’s a county councillor as well as a postmaster, most people and businesses don’t realise the post office also provides banking services and a lot more besides.
He currently employs nine people and is planning to recruit extra staff to cope with the increased workload created by the bank branch closures.
A native of Ruthin, he’s come a long way since he graduated with a degree in hotel management and business studies at Cardiff University.
His career first saw him work in finance with NFU Mutual before becoming the National Farmers’ Union’s area manager for North Wales and then being promoted as the union’s UK head of membership and business sales, Based in Stoneleigh in Warwickshire and London, he increased turnover to £26 million.
After nine years there, he was headhunted by Chartered Management Institute to become their director of membership. He continued his track record of successful turnaround and transformed their fortunes.
That job was also based in London and he wanted to return full-time to the Vale of Clwyd.
A fluent Welsh speaker, Mr Hilditch-Roberts was elected to Denbighshire County Council in 2012 and is now the cabinet member with responsibility for Education, Young People and the Welsh Language.
He bought a gift shop called I’r Dim (Just Right) in Denbigh and opened a second shop in Ruthin.
After taking over the post office in Ruthin two years ago and the one in Denbigh towards the end of last year, he’s relocated the other stores into the post offices where the offer includes cards, stationery, gifts and cooking utensils.
He recalled “I saw that the post office, which had a footfall of 2,000 people a week, was under threat in Ruthin and it would have been a tragedy to lose a vital resource to the town.
“It would have ripped the heart of the town centre in Ruthin and the same would have happened in Denbigh.
“Taking over the post offices has involved an investment of more than £100,000, but it’s also about my passion for the Vale of Clwyd and my sense of community spirit.
“The I’r Dim element and the post office sides of the business are complementary.
“I like to think the customer service we give is second to none and it’s bilingual which is important in an area like this. Many of our customers are Welsh speakers and I am committed to providing a bilingual service.
“I envisage we will need to take on more staff once the full impact of the Barclays bank closures filters through because we’ve already seen an increase in footfall after the NatWest disappeared from Denbigh and Ruthin.
“The message for bank customers is that if they bank cash and you have a chip on your card, it’s instant credit to your account.
“Similarly, if you’re a business and you want change you can have a change card at no extra cost, cheques can be banked in exactly the same way as you would in a bank and you can withdraw.
“People don’t need to move bank because they can access their every day banking services here. The post office is your local bank.
“We do all the big name banks and others like including Cahoot, First Direct and the Yorkshire Bank. The only bank we don’t do is Nationwide and we’re working on that.
“We also do things like Instant Savings, ISAs and foreign currency, and you can pay all your utility bills and a lot of others at the post office. The other services we provide is fast-track passports.
“It’s all here and our opening hours are longer than traditional banks, including 9am until 4pm on Saturdays
“The post offices in Denbigh and Ruthin are now the commercial heart of both towns, where you get the highest footfall within the area.
“There are some horrific stories of town centres being turned into ghost towns because of lack of footfall.
“For me, it’s about making sure we keep people in our town centres, it’s about the dwell time so that our customers also go to other shops and helps keep them viable.
“We need to make sure that the offer on the high street makes people want to shop locally and spend locally instead of going to the larger towns.
“It’s about having the customer service, the atmosphere and the right product offer to make sure that it supports the rest of the high street.”