Providing vital shop and post office services for a rural community isn't the only job for Neil and Janet Palmer. Giving temporary homes to lost dogs and finding escaped sheep are all in a day's work for the owners of Wrenbury Post Office & Stores in Cheshire.
The couple have run the store for eight-and-a-half years and their main focus has been to involve themselves in the local community. Both are part of the Friends of Wrenbury School committee (Janet is treasurer and Neil vice-chairman) and they're members of the Parish Council, Village Hall Committee, and regularly donate prizes for local events.
They're also heavily involved in the village's famous Scarecrow Trail, in which villagers showcase all kinds of weird and wonderful scarecrows, attracting 10,000 people to the area each year. This year Neil and Janet had a 'Saturday night at the movies' themed scarecrow on their roof (see for pictures).
"We recognise that we make our living from the community so we've got to put something back into the village," says Janet. "I don't think we realised just how much it would take over our lives; we're involved with everything."
Neil adds that the shop acts as a focal point for the village: "We've become a meeting place for elderly people, who sit outside on the bench for a chat. I've had to help people get escaped sheep into the back of a van, and we've even had people come in asking what to do about an animal that looks a bit sick in the field!"
And Janet adds: "If someone hasn't been seen for a while, we check there's nothing wrong. And we've had phone calls from people who are trying to trace relatives that used to live in Wrenbury, or asking if we've seen someone in particular lately. You couldn't do that in Sainsbury's."
The Palmers' store is the only post office and shop in a six-mile radius, so while Wrenbury has a population of just 1,000-1,400, its wider catchment area is about 3,000. Their business has a seasonal edge, too, with summer bringing customers from the nearby caravan park and canal boats.
The couple also go the extra mile for Christmas, selling Christmas trees, festive plants, holly wreaths and four or five times as much fresh produce as normal. They also source turkeys from the local butcher and take orders to be delivered on Christmas Eve. All the hard work pays off when takings double on Christmas Eve.
Next on the agenda is the completion of the store extension started in January this year, to double selling space to 1,500sq ft. The couple hoped to have the work finished this summer, but it has taken longer than expected, so they now plan to hold off the grand opening until spring.
The new-look store will include a bake-off, rôtisserie, drinks machine for kids and an extensive chilled section. They're also about to complete the conversion of upstairs into a self-contained flat to rent out. "We want to introduce all the things we haven't got room for at the moment," says Janet. "We're aiming to provide everything people need for a full shop."