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The Interview

Satnam Singh

Local writer and storyteller, George Murphy interviews local characters and personalities. More HebWeb interviews


Satnam Singh has been the Hebden Bridge Sub Postmaster since 2008.

Here he reveals how he used his own money to make up for losses shown on the faulty Fujitsu Horizon program. When George Murphy met up with him, he was struck by his dynamism and determination to carry on serving the community.

Here he shares examples of his charitable works and memories of helping his parents in their corner shop, some glorious and tragic events and how he coped with the effects of the Boxing Day flood on his business.

Finally, he considers what he hopes will happen next to those who lied in court and knowingly ruined the lives and reputations of so many innocent, hardworking sub postmasters.

Satnam Singh Q&A

Satnam, thanks to the tenaciousness of former Pecket Well resident, Alan Bates, and the recent ITV dramatisation, not forgetting the determination of Sub Postmasters in the UK, the public are aware of the injustices of the Horizon scandal. Please explain how it has affected you at Hebden Bridge Post Office?

Being the Sub-Postmaster of a Post Office carries many responsibilities and obligations towards one's community, and to pass the selection process takes a lot of resources and time.

I have been the Postmaster at Hebden Bridge since 2008, when it was part of the Royal Group. But the structure was changing at the time I purchased the business, as Post Office Ltd was run by a board of Directors and the Government held the purse strings and control of our investments. The policies and directives were passed down to us with very little opportunity for us to feedback information.

The NFSP (National Federation of Sub Postmasters) was supposedly our voice and representation, the bridge between POL (Post Office Ltd) and Sub-Postmasters to facilitate and communicate on our behalf, which over the years has transpired to be more weighted on Post Office Ltd's side and less on the Sub-Postmasters.

My journey as a Sub-Postmaster really got tested when on occasion I was faced with losses, or misbalances on a Wednesday afternoon after closing the branch and counting all stocks and doing a declaration of holdings.

I remember these occasions very well as I would be sat in the office on my own worrying where the loss had come from, or what the mistake could be that caused this discrepancy, searching through reports and CCTV footage, recounting stock/cash and getting into a state before accepting the fact that my office had lost money and taking the hit on the chin.

At this point I would press the relevant buttons to make good the loss and balance the branch in order to get home before 8pm to see my family. This would occasionally happen on a monthly basis, and would make me feel that I was incapable of running a Post Office, or on occasion suspect one of my staff was making mistakes.

I even at times suspected certain customers may have the wrong intentions. All the time to think of the positive side, that it's only material things and as long as the community and customers are getting our on-going support and services, it happens!!

When we met, I was impressed by your commitment to serving the local community. Can you tell us about that?

Serving the community and operating a sustainable branch are prerequisites along with providing my staff with a job. I truly cherish the role I provide as it's very rewarding and gives me chance to give something back to those in the community that need us. From instances like the elderly customer who forgot her pin number, so we contacted the bank with her to order a replacement pin number. Other instances like dropping off one of our Ladies due to poor weather conditions. The list could go on. These services aren't offered anywhere anymore, due to cutbacks and budgets. It is difficult to put a price on the unpaid services we provide, hence the importance of the community supporting their local Post Office, as our method of earning an income only comes from the transactions done over the counter.

I believe you have been involved in charitable fundraising?

Over the years I did various charity fundraisers, generally challenges to test my limits. A skydive for Kirkwood Hospice, some half marathons for Cancer Research and MS society, the London marathon last year for MS, Orphanages in India, and many other charities, a few Hikes and Walks along the way. With my latest challenge of Everest Base Camp hike, so I have a passion to give back to society where I can by doing something outside my comfort zone.

Your wife, and the Sikh community share your commitment to serving in practical ways?

During the year of 2015 was a particularly difficult time. My wife, who was caught up in the Nepal earthquake and was thankfully only shaken up while in Pokara, was at the time accompanied by her sister who was a qualified nurse, so they both put their skills to use by helping families affected during the quakes.

They purchased materials for temporary shelters and food supplies, and by partnering up with a rescue agency to get aid to those in need. Upon returning back to Kathmandu they were met by Ravi Singh from Khalsa Aid who was looking for a base for aid supplies which they helped with, and they formed a close connection as it was a Sikh based charity operating under the core ethics of Sikhism which are also our core beliefs.

Fast forwarding the Boxing Day Floods in Hebden Bridge and the Calder Valley, which was devastating for so many including the Post Office, the community spirit displayed during those testing times restores one's faith in humanity.

At that time I read a posting on the Khalsa Aid Facebook page that Ravi and his wife were travelling up to Mytholmroyd as they had heard of the floods, and were going to provide Aid. I sent them a message to come to Hebden Bridge, as we had been hit too. Once the Khalsa Aid team turned up, I walked them to the Town Hall where the relief efforts were based. I introduced them to Ralph who was giving out free hugs, and introduced them to Amy and her team. When there, they provided hot food and blankets and vital supplies which they purchased and distributed out via the Town Hall. They also they brought volunteers with them to add to all the others that had rallied together to help the victims of the flood. Food supplies were provided in Mytholmroyd and across the valley from various sources.

What affect has the Horizon scandal had on you over the years?

The Horizon system has been responsible for untold hours of stress and anguish, resonating through the workplace as losses and misbalances would occur on occasion, this over time has an impact on one's self confidence and your own ability to run a business, with bouts of self-doubt and also hinders progression to push the business further. While all the time I was keeping a straight face and not allowing the public to be aware.

I too have been affected by the Horizon scandal and am in the legal process to reclaim my money back that was given by me to cover losses the system manifested which contributed various mental health issues and other aspects of my life.

How have you become involved in the fight for justice?

The current challenges we face is fighting for fair remuneration from the revenue generated by all 11,500 post offices. The management and board of directors pay themselves healthy salaries and big bonuses for achieving achievable targets, and our representatives fight the small battles to secure less favourable outcomes, e.g. the current DVLA contract (which was heavily protested against) ending in a 12 month rolling contract and decline in the service offering, starting with the international driving licence loss, and soon to be all DVLA services in time.

The banking framework agreement is heavily weighted in the banks' favour, giving us an unsustainable income for providing all cash and banking, but yet we persist to enable cash availability to our communities. Government services are being cut gradually via the Post Office and more and more people opt for the convenience of Online Banking, so we need you all to visit your local branch and support it even more.

The future of the Post Office business needs to be a more cooperative model, allowing the investors and business owners to have more control, to reduce or sack the board of directors reducing the drain on our vital incomes, so we can be more sustainable to enable us to serve our communities.

Can you tell us about your childhood. Your parents owned a shop. Did you help them when you weren't at school?

Yes my parents owned a typical corner shop whilst I was growing up, in which me and my two brothers helped when we were not at school, mainly evenings and weekends. This would range from unloading the stock from the van and stocking the shelves. That was where I gained my sweet tooth as when I would work behind the counter, serving the customers I would be surrounded by the penny and half tray so naturally, being a child, temptation would get the better of me.

I also gained my experience of customer service, cash handling, stock control and dealing with the public from a young age.

With it being in a mixed community our customer base originated from all corners of Europe and Asia. It was a very colourful stage in my life being exposed to people from all walks of life, with various social and personal issues.

I particularly enjoyed carrying out the home delivery side whereby I would be delivering the weekly groceries to the elderly who would call in their orders, and I would deliver them and spend time listening to their life stories and occasionally help with putting their groceries away. My parents had the shop for 33 years and retired 5 years ago.

Have you been involved in other enterprises as well being a SubPostmaster?

I have had various roles after graduating from University, a graduate trainee Business Advisor with Business Link, marketing assistant with Xerox corp, engineering with the wide format division of Xerox, various property management and maintenance roles. I currently manage various rental properties for family members and clients, and I also run a Photo booth hire business in my spare time to subsidise my income.

So what's the good and bad of Hebden Bridge?

I would start with the good people of Hebden Bridge and the various personalities that makeup the community spirit. Kindness and generosity shine brightly in Hebden Bridge, and I love the way it's a place where everyone can be themselves, including me.

The uniqueness of Hebden Bridge has a certain magnetism from the quirky shops to the lush landscape surrounding it. The negatives about Hebden Bridge are the rocketing prices and lack of affordable properties available for new families or existing residents. The commercial properties and levels of rent that landlords are charging need addressing, as it's making small businesses struggle to survive and paving the way for larger non local businesses to move in. That would take some of the character of Hebden Bridge away slowly.

How did you cope during Lockdown?

During lockdown we did have some difficult times as we at the Post Office were expected to stay open and support our communities. However, I had to exercise my own discretion as to what was deemed reasonable for me and my staff. I had to consider the level of exposure we had and the health implications it could pose if any of us were to become ill. So I reduced the hours to what I thought would give enough time for everyone to access the services and enough downtime for us to sustain ourselves.

I only received little assistance from Post Office Limited, and minimal government assistance. We supported all the local businesses with their postal needs after closing the doors. I couldn't see any of my extended family due to their health conditions, my mother suffered with asthma and my younger brother is an MS sufferer so I was forced to see them from a distance. Mentally, I was struggling too as I was under various pressures and stress to adhere to conditions. I found solace in taking long walks with my family and Bruce my Labrador, which helped immensely.

When and where did you meet your wife?

I met my wife in Dublin during my late 20s. She was just starting her career in accounting and had relocated from Malaysia where she was born and raised.

We both derive from the Sikh background and of Punjabi roots, which kind of fitted well within our culture. She wooed my with her ability to speak several languages and she fell for my Yorkshire accent, (knowing it to be the proper way to speak)!!

We have been married nearly 18 years now and have 2 boys of 15 and 11. Sadly, we lost our Labrador, Bruce last Xmas which he lived till he was 17 years old and due to his age we had to let him go, I still find it hard to believe he has goneā€¦..

What's your favourite type of music?

Music for me ranges from Soul, garage, dance music, hip hop, reggae, rap, popular artists, Bhangra music (Punjabi dance), Hindi music, anything with an uplifting beat. I never just followed one genre. I kind of went through various phases over the years.

Do you find time to exercise?

I do loads of exercise at a local Gym in Huddersfield. It's a great place and brilliant group of people. We engage in various challenges like walking from Huddersfield to Manchester for charity, Yorkshire 3 Peaks, Ben Nevis, 100km walk in 24 hours from Huddersfield to Blackpool. The latest one being the Scamonden Dam steps challenge as a group of us climbed the steps, equivalent to Everest from sea level to summit over a space of a week during December, 318 climbs of the steps situated on the other side of the motorway at scamonden dam.

On Mondays we do a Cross Fit training session, Wednesdays is circuits and Fridays is Box fit training. In the weekend, we as a family go out walking. So yes I'm very active to say the least. I took up running a few years ago completing the Great North Run and London Marathon too and will be completing Everest base camp hike this year hopefully.

Favourite film or TV series?

I watch various movies from action to comedy, and often I'm forced to watch animated movies with my 11 year old, which I secretly enjoy as it helps escape from reality occasionally. I don't watch any TV series due to time constraints.

What makes you laugh?

I love banter and talking to people of all ages. I get enjoyment from making others smile and laugh. I have been to a few stand-up comedies that I've enjoyed, the most recent was called 'the Asians are coming' held in Leeds by some up and coming comedians from south Asian backgrounds, that were very relatable to my own experiences growing up.

Have you got a hobby?

My hobbies include gardening which developed during lockdown where I started growing a few edible vegetables and some fruits, I will try to get back into it but the weather has not been kind, and going out into our garden is still quite emotional as it has too many memories of our dog Bruce. I enjoy walking, cycling and hiking. As a family we often go up to The Lakes hiking. Exploring new places and travelling about the UK has proven to be very interesting. I especially enjoy parts of Wales and the south coast around Devon and Cornwall.

I have various interests in Crypto currencies and technologies surrounding the emergence of decentralised monetary systems. Doing my bit for charities, raising awareness, fund raising and supporting those in needs is a passion of mine too.

What would you like to be doing in ten years time?

In 10 years' time I would ideally like to be working towards retirement from my current role and sitting on a beach somewhere sipping cocktails!! Realistically I don't think I would want it, as I have never been able to just sit and do nothing, so I guess I would hope to doing something I enjoy.

What's your favourite holiday destination?

I live to travel and see the world, meeting people from all walks of life, my favourite destination Malaysia which has so much diversity and tropical weather and an abundance of natural resources, and the people are quite nice too. I will be travelling back to India soon with my family to the region of Punjab, where my parents were born and raised to visit the relatives. While there we plan to see the significant Sikh Gurdwara's which hold great importance to our Sikh history and Gurus. The most famous being the Golden Temple - Harmander Sahib.

Favourite place to eat?

I have to say at home, there's nothing better than a home cooked Punjabi meal with chapattis, however I do enjoy all flavours from all over the world. Malaysian and Chinese cuisines are regularly consumed in our house as my wife born and raised in Malaysia, so naturally introduced a variety to home cooked meals. I enjoy all the various tastes of Asia, and certain European styles.

Did your premises get flooded in 2012 and 2016? What support did you receive from the post office after the floods? Was your safe affected?

We escaped narrowly from the 2012 floods, but the Post Office got hit quite bad on the Boxing Day 2015 floods. As it was a very busy time of year, all my stock was at max capacity and still on the shop floor. Also, we were holding a large amount of Post Office stock for the time of year.

So from a security perspective the floods caused a lot of damage. Having no insurance for flooding further added salt into the wound, and no support from Post Office headquarters or the helpline made it impossible to know what to do. It did push me to my limits with the management of Post Office. I even considered giving up my position as I felt totally abandoned by them.

After venting out to a contracts manager 5 days after the flood (my first point of contact with anyone from Post Office Ltd), I was so angry I even threatened to expose them to the press for their incompetence, who were looking for stories at the time in Hebden Bridge. And within the hour I received a phone call from the personal assistant of the CEO, at the time, Paula Vennels, explaining not to involve the press and assuring me they would do everything in their power to help. She arranged a visit from Paula to come and see us and Janet in Mytholmroyd. Also, other Post Offices that had been affected in York and other parts of the country. Which she did come and pay a little lip service to ensure I was going to keep quiet, with no offer of financial support to help with uninsured damages caused by the flood.

During this time, I did discover the level of security on the main safe, and how it was bomb proof and fire proof but not water proof, which caused all the internal mechanism to seize up. The only way to make it carry out its cycle was to hit the door with a rubber mallet, so I was tasked to wear these headphones to listen for the timers' movement and if it stopped I had to hit a certain point on the safe to nudge it on. This went on for 3 days in all.

I felt like a safe cracker at the time.

When the current enquiry into the Horizon scandal presents its findings, do you think you will be fully compensated in financial terms? What do you think should happen to those who have caused so much suffering?

I am hoping that the outcome of the enquiry will force the Board of Directors, along with the current government, to pay back all the money that was taken from Sub Postmasters, and compensate us for the pain and anguish the system has caused.

With findings showing there was knowledge of flaws in the Horizon system on initial install, and certain members lying in court to falsely convict innocent Sub Postmasters, and strip them of their investments and livelihood. I think all the parties involved in the scandal should get apprehended and charged.

In my case, I have been in the process for over 3 years trying to claim my money back, the time delays and the offers made to me were terribly low.

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