A huge marquee has opened at the back of Preston’s mail centre to help deal with the demands of the festive season.
More than 300 Christmas temps have been taken on by Royal Mail to join with the regular workforce of 500 to make sure that cards, parcels and letters arrive on time.
Staff at the centre in Pittman Way, Fulwood, handle three million items of post, both incoming and outgoing each day on the run up to Christmas - compared to one to five million on a normal day.
Today and tomorrow are expected to be two of the busiest days that the mail centre will have before Christmas, but mail centre manager, Mark Aspden, admits: “Mail never stops, it just keeps coming.
“It will be relentless until Christmas Eve.”
The mail centre which is classed as ‘large’ by the company, is estimated to be around the size of four football pitches and it deals with post for the PR, FY, BB and LA post codes. When the post has been sorted it is then loaded on to a vehicle and delivered to the relevant delivery office - it will then make its way to the post boxes and hall mats of its recipients.
The expectation that today and tomorrow will be busy, is predicted by people doing shopping at the weekend, ordering gifts online or writing their Christmas cards and posting them out.
Last Monday the centre dealt with 800,000 Christmas cards which has been collected for pillar boxes.
And parcels are a major part of what the centre does now. Parcels make up around 50 per cent of the postal items they deal with - an increase of 23 per cent on last year.
Mark is quick to relay any fears of postal back logs over Christmas. He says “We are well in control. The mail is flowing very well, we are fortunate with having good weather and we haven’t had any problems logistically.”
A lot of planning goes into the making sure Christmas runs smoothly at the centre, they look at forecast to predict how much mail they will be dealing.
“Christmas is going well” says Mark and he has plenty to compare them to - having worked for Royal Mail since leaving school. Over the past 27 years Mark has done almost every job in the business.
“Preston Mail Centre always has a really successful Christmas operation.”
The 300-350 temporary staff come on board to help deal with the demand. They are trained so pick up skills from their month at the centre and some people come back year after year.
They are mixed in with the regular staff so they are able to learn and aren’t segregated from the permanent workers.
They come in at the end of November and work until Christmas Eve. Some are unemployed in need of some money at Christmas, others are semi-retired and work to provide for their family.
One of those casual members of staff is David Thompson, 41, from Walton-le-Dale, near Preston. He said: “It is my first time here, it is different to what I am used to, everybody is really nice. It is going quickly, it has been a different experience for me.
“I spent 22 years in night clubs, it’s a different experience, I lost my job in April.”
Fayaaz Patel, 23, from Frenchwood, is working at the centre for the Christmas period too. He said: “It is gradually getting busier, it is very good and I am getting good experience.”
Mark said: “It is rewarding to give people an opportunity to earn some money for them and their families at Christmas.”
As well as a huge workforce, there’s also a number of machines at the centre that sort Christmas post.
Some of the machines in the centre can deal with 25,000 letters and hour - compared to the 1,000 an hour that a person would handle.
The technology means that post codes are recognised to help figure out where letters and cards should go
Those that don’t have a post code - or the writing is unclear - are photographed digitally and whizzed off to somebody’s computer screen who figure out the post code and give it a bar code before it then goes back through the machines.
Permanent staff member Julie Roberts usually works part time, but over Christmas staff are given the option to go full time, which she has done.
She worked for 17 years at a sorting office in Wolverhampton before transferring to Preston when she relocated.
“It’s very busy,” she says, “There’s a lot more mail. I think people are still sending cards, we have noticed a slight drop.
“You can be made full time for the three weeks leading up Christmas, I have done that every year.”
Customers are being reminded to post as early as possible and remember to sue a postcode.
The last recommended posting dates for First Class Mail is Friday December 20 and Second Class on Wednesday December 18 to ensure delivery in time for Christmas.
Important items can be posting using Special Delivery up until December 23.