Living-room postmistress honoured

A postmistress who set up shop in her living room has been recognised by the Queen in the New Year Honours list.

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Diane Bell, 63, in her shop Nettleton Stores, Wiltshire, and who is recognised by the Queen in the New Year Honours List for services to the community

A postmistress who set up shop in her living room has been recognised by the Queen in the New Year Honours list.

Diane Bell, 63, opened Nettleton Stores in Nettleton, Wiltshire, on August 1 1977 after a nearby Post Office serving the parish of 500 people closed down.

Since then, Mrs Bell has clocked up more than 55 hours of work every week to provide residents with "lifeline" services, even in the snow.

Nettleton Stores has expanded over the years and now boasts dry cleaning and shoe repairs, a coffee area and a wide range of produce and groceries.

But it is still based in the three-bedroomed home Mrs Bell shares with husband Frank, 68 - the shop's only other permanent member of staff.

Mrs Bell said she was "amazed" to be awarded the British Empire Medal for services to the community in Nettleton.

"I am so amazed and gobsmacked," she said. "I thought it must be some hoax at first.

"The community here is lovely and everyone has really embraced us from the beginning.

"We really come into our own when it snows because the whole village is cut off.

"We also hold a coffee morning every Thursday, which has been nicknamed 'The Natter Club'. It is really nice.

"We do just about everything here, it is a bit of an Aladdin's cave."

Mr and Mrs Bell moved to Nettleton, which is 12 miles away from the nearest large town, in 1977 to build houses.

"I used to mix the cement and carry bricks but when I reached the age of 27 my husband decided I was too old to be going up ladders," Mrs Bell said.

Mr Bell's father and Mrs Bell's grandfather had been shopkeepers, so Mr and Mrs Bell decided to follow in their footsteps.

"We opened a shop in the sitting-room of the house," Mrs Bell said. "It was really good fun. People embraced it quite well and it really took off."

Nettleton is formed of three rural villages, Nettleton, Burton and West Kington, which together have a population of 500 adults.

The post office in Burton closed as Mrs Bell opened Nettleton Stores, so Mrs Bell decided to take it over and run it from her home.

In 1978, Mr and Mrs Bell moved house and brought the shop with them - running it from what would have been their garage.

Nettleton Stores is open weekdays from 8.30am to 6pm, and on Saturdays from 8.30am until 1pm.

"We made a decision not to open on Sundays so people weren't bothered by delivery trucks," Mrs Bell said.

"Frank helps with the cash and carry and heavy lifting, and on Sunday we're often restocking.

"We also keep the post office open longer than I am paid for. I am only paid until 1pm but we keep it open in the afternoons too.

"I don't like the idea of people not being able to do their post when they need to."

Nettleton Stores picked up the Best Village Shop/Post Office Award from the Countryside Alliance in 2007.

"It was pretty mad to have opened a shop here," Mrs Bell said. "But we have been going strong for 36 years now."

Mrs Bell is now planning to expand the shop further by hiring a local hairdresser to work from a room above the shop.