Mail office sees 200,000 Christmas parcels a day

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The massive surge in online shopping at Christmas has seen the workload at the Capital’s busiest sorting office soar, with around 200,000 parcels a day now passing through the Edinburgh Mail Centre.

Including letters and other mail items, staff at the centre now have to deal with an average of 2.7 million pieces of mail every day over the festive period, and yesterday was the busiest day of the year for the office, which works 24 hours every day except Christmas Day itself.

Elaine Urquhart and Carol Aldridge have their hands full. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Elaine Urquhart and Carol Aldridge have their hands full. Picture: Ian Rutherford

During the festive season the staff are joined by 700 temporary workers to help them deal with the increasing demand.

Stuart Laird, 70, first became a Royal Mail Christmas worker ten years ago after retirement left him twiddling his thumbs.

Mr Laird said: “Our local postie suggested it and now I come every year. You see a lot of the same faces and there’s always a great atmosphere.”

Covering six different postcodes, the Edinburgh Mail Centre, situated just off the City Bypass at Sighthill, has the largest geographic coverage of any centre in the UK.

A hive of activity. Picture: Ian Rutherford

A hive of activity. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Manager Jimmy Jack has been working there for five of the 34 years he has spent with Royal Mail, and happily greets each worker by name as he moves across the massive plant floor.

He said: “We deliver as far down as the Borders and as far up as Fort William. A few years ago people were saying e-cards would make the Christmas post quieter, but people get enough e-mails these days and I think most folk like to have something tangible. When you add in the explosion of online shopping we’ve had to do a lot of upgrading to keep up.”

Since 2010, the centre has introduced nine compact sequencing machines, which put the mail in delivery order before your postman even sees it, and five intelligent letter sorting machines, which can handle up to 42,000 items an hour.

Mr Jack said: “Royal Mail sets a quality service target of 93 per cent next day delivery, but we’re actually averaging 93.5 per cent. That’s thanks to our fantastic workers, who we really couldn’t manage 
without.”

And like the rest of his staff, who tell stories of sorting stamped addressed bananas and the person who posted burnt toast with the address carved out in carbon, he has his own tale of the unexpected.

He said: “Someone once tried to post live bees, but didn’t seal the box properly so they all escaped into the centre, dozens of them. We had to resign ourselves to the fact we weren’t going to be able to repackage that particular parcel and the bees gradually left of their own accord.”

Today is the last recommended posting day for second-class mail, and first-class mail should be posted by Friday at the latest.