First class honour goes to Nettleton postmistress

This Is Wiltshire: Diane Bell feels a new hat coming on for her date at the palace Diane Bell feels a new hat coming on for her date at the palace

A POSTMISTRESS who has provided the village of Nettleton with a shop and post office for the past 36 years has been awarded a British Empire Medal.

Diane Bell, 63, set up shop with her husband Frank, 68, in their living room in 1977, after a nearby Post Office serving the parish of 500 people closed down.

Mrs Bell works more than 55 hours a week at Nettleton Stores, now next door to their home and at the heart of the tiny rural community of Nettleton, Burton and West Kington.

With a 16-mile round trip to Chippenham, it has been described as a lifeline, and it stays open even in the snow.

After finding out she was on the New Year Honours list, Mrs Bell said: “I thought it was some elaborate hoax. I’m still a bit stunned.

“My mum Joan Hamilton, who used to run the Castle Inn [at Castle Combe], is absolutely delighted. She’s 93 and quite poorly. She said, ‘this doesn’t happen to people like us. We are just a bit ordinary’.”

Before moving to Nettleton, Mr and Mrs Bell both worked in Castle Combe as labourers.

“I was carrying blocks and putting tiles on, I enjoyed it,” said Mrs Bell.

“Then we moved to Nettleton and opened the shop during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

“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.”

In 2007 she won the Countryside Alliance award for Best Village Shop/Post Office after being nominated by the villagers. She picked it up the following year from the House of Lords and went on to be named as Alan Titchmarsh’s ‘national treasure’ on his television show.

Unlike many post offices, Nettleton’s has defied the threat of closure. Mrs Bell also provides a dry cleaning and shoe repair service and, a few years ago, she added a coffee morning on Thursdays, nicknamed the Natter Club.

“We have about eight regulars,” she said. “I think people can be a bit isolated here, often they don’t get out from their four walls.”

Mrs Bell, who has just left the parish council after 20 years, now plans to expand the shop further by hiring a local hairdresser to work from a room above the shop.

She is very excited about being invited to the Buckingham Palace garden party in the summer. “I feel a new outfit coming on,” she said. “Definitely a new hat.”

Also named in the honours list is philanthropist Robin Clark, who lives in Compton Bassett, near Calne, who has been made an MBE for his work as chairman of the Underwood Trust.

The Underwood Trust, created in 1973, supports UK registered charities and other official charitable organisations which support communities in Scotland and Wiltshire.

Since its foundation the trust has given a total of £31 million to good causes, and in 2007 it donated £50,000 towards the re-opening of the Calne Leisure Centre.

In 2012 the trust donated £1,000,000 to The Community Foundation for Wiltshire and Swindon and £866,500 to the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

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