Forget the picture of Rudolph, just print the postcode, says Royal Mail

Today the influx of illegible festive cards reaches a peak of 23.5 million

At around 8pm today spare a thought for Britain's unsung army of letter detectives. For it is at this moment that the handwriting sins of a calligraphically-challenged nation will be visited upon them in their millions.

On the third floor of an anonymous office building on the outskirts of Stockport, Greater Manchester, teams have been hard at work trying to decipher poorly addressed and difficult-to-read envelopes and letters. It is a task that falls to them all year round – but at Christmas it takes on Herculean proportions.

The centre's 200 workers will be asked to help direct some 23.5 million items of illegible mail to their correct location today when the UK postal system reaches its annual peak.

Royal Mail quality compliance manager, Julie Normansell, who trains new recruits, explained: "At Christmas you get a lot of people who don't write anything throughout the year. And it may be someone who doesn't have very good handwriting anyway."

During the first 11 months of the year it is estimated that handwritten letters comprise just over half of all mail. In December, this goes up to 70 per cent, including a significant number known here as "undeliverable" – the sort of thing addressed "Grandad".

Ms Normansell's advice to once-a-year correspondents is simple: "Print the postcode in nice block letters."

That means persuading people not to indulge their hidden talent for Gothic script or to decorate their Christmas card envelopes with festive pictures of reindeer or snowmen. Red and blue envelopes are not recommended, nor is writing with a metallic pen on a white envelope. All will end up here at Stockport or at two other centres in Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent.

Each letter sent is initially scanned by a computer at a Royal Mail distribution centre. Those that cannot be instantly read by the electronic sensor are referred to one of the manual data entry centres such as Stockport, where an image of the offending missive will flash up on screen. Staff here have to work fast. Each operative must process 1,000 letters an hour.

They have just six seconds to decode the most illegible before they are fired back into the system for further inspection.

The most skilled workers get through 3,000 pieces of mail an hour. Those that keep up a rate of 6,000 keystrokes an hour are eligible for a £140 monthly bonus.

Peter Honoky, a letter detective for nine years, believes "speed, patience and staying focused" is the key. "We are accused of not delivering stuff but it is not our fault. We run a tight ship in difficult circumstances," he said.

Royal Mail has the biggest recruitment drive in Europe at Christmas. By Monday, 3,400 new workers will have been hired.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project