Santa's little helpers at Royal Mail in Mallusk ensure Christmas is sorted
It was the busiest day of the year for the Royal Mail.
With just a week till Christmas, staff at the sorting office in Mallusk yesterday were sorting through mounds of packages and letters.
"We expect to process 1.8 million items here today - that's double our normal volume," general manager Paul Sweeney told the Belfast Telegraph.
"To put that into context, last year in the month of December, right across the UK, we processed and delivered 130m items of mail, which was 6% up on 2014, so it's a very buoyant market.
"Effectively, it's the growth in online shopping e-commerce - it's people posting their Christmas cards the week before Christmas."
To meet the growing demand Royal Mail employs an extra 500 staff in Northern Ireland during the festive season, although most of the sorting is done electronically.
All letters are put through an IMP (integrated mail processing machine), which can sift about 30,000 envelopes an hour.
"The mail is loaded into the machine, which then sorts it according to size," Mr Sweeney explained.
"There's a camera inside which reads every single address and as it reads the addresses, it sorts every single letter by postcode.
"If the machine isn't able to recognise the address, then it's sorted manually by Royal Mail workers. As long as there is a stamp and the right postcode, we can always make sure it gets to the right destination.
"When mail isn't addressed correctly, because of the local postmen and women, they can often fill in those gaps. So it might say: 'Joe, the green door, third on the left past the Mace'. And somebody, somewhere will know where that is."
There's also a special area in the sorting office dedicated to mail for Father Christmas.
"Every letter addressed to Santa comes here and we have a special postcode to make sure it gets here quicker," Mr Sweeney said.
"Every child who sent a letter to Santa before December 9 will receive a letter from us. We're very proud to do that."
For those who still haven't posted their Christmas cards, you need to send them second class by December 20 or first class by December 21. For special delivery next-day guaranteed, it's December 22.