A farming couple have won an award for opening a new village post office when hundreds of others were being closed.

Chris and Tania Butler came first in theCountry Land and Business Association(CLA) national rural building awards building conversion category. The couple opened a post office, shop and café less than a year ago in an ancient thatched barn on their farm at Greenstead Green, near Halstead.

The awards scheme, run in conjunction with agent Knight Frank, is to showcase converted and newly constructed buildings of high quality design and workmanship reflecting a wide range of diversification projects.

James Del Mar, a partner in Knight Frank’s rural consultancy department, which specialises in providing rural property advice, was one of the judges.

‘This is an exemplary project,’ he says. ‘This village was set to lose its post office, having already lost two pubs. The Butlers have rescued a historically important building, harnessed technology incorporating an environmentally sympathetic heating system, provided employment and heightened awareness in food quality and miles.

‘All of this is done in a manner that improves community spirit and provides better facilities for the village. On the one hand, it is a very great pity that it takes private initiative – in this case from an entrepreneurial rural businessman – to save villages from losing their public services.’

On the other hand, adds Mr Del Mar, ‘Thank heavens for people like Chris and Tania, who lead the way. Perhaps public initiatives will be encouraged to follow suit and support these communities.’