A presentation evening marked a triple celebration for Winnie Bennett – it was 85 years to the day since Pleasley St John Ambulance Division was launched, 55 years since she joined up and 40 years since she became its Superintendent.
Over the last four decades Winnie (65), has been responsible for teaching valuable life-saving skills to hundreds of young people. And she has no intention of giving up: “My life really has revolved around St John. While I’ve got children coming through that door, I’ll carry on,” she said.
Winnie’s childhood dream was to be a nurse, so in 1957 she went along to the local St John Ambulance Cadets with a crowd of friends – and was able to fulfill her ambition through volunteering.
By 1972 she was the longest-serving member of Pleasley Division. At the age of 25 she was appointed Divisional Superintendent, a role she still fulfills today.
Winnie’s dedication has made Pleasley one of Derbyshire’s most successful divisions; it currently boasts 35 active members.
St John Ambulance is very much a family affair for the Bennetts; Winnie’s husband, Peter, is her Divisional Officer; both their sons have been involved, as are two of their three grandchildren.
And her contribution to the work of the nation’s leading first aid charity has not gone unrecognised. In 1988 she was honoured with admission as Serving Sister to the Order of St John; she has since been promoted to Officer Sister. A highlight of her year is the annual rededication service, exclusively for members of the Order, at St Paul’s Cathedral. She was also awarded an Excellence in the Community Award by Derbyshire County Council in 2010.
Winnie’s leading role with St John Ambulance has had many rewards, she says. She enjoys the challenge of organising meetings that appeal to modern youngsters - regular activities range from first aid sessions and competitions to visiting speakers and trips, like one to the St John Museum in London last summer.
Youngsters evidently respond to her approach. Pleasley Badgers (aged 5-10) won their way to the national finals of the organisation’s annual first aid competition three years in succession, only narrowly missing out on a fourth success last year – when the Cadets (aged 11-16) won a regional competition instead. Pleasley was also named Derbyshire’s Division of the year 2010.
Her influence has paid off in practical ways too. Winnie has used her first aid on countless occasions over the years, from the time she assisted at a serious road accident at the age of 15, to using her skills to help pupils at All Saints’ School, Mansfield, where she is a midday supervisor.
Many of her Cadets have gone on to follow careers in nursing or medicine, as Winnie discovered when she found herself in hospital five years ago: “The nurse came round to check my blood and I realised it was one of my girls! She turned to her colleague and said: ‘This lady taught me everything I know’. That was a proud moment.”
Winnie’s division paid tribute to her during the celebration, presenting her with a bouquet and a ‘thank you’ card.