Hailsham woman's 70 years with St John Ambulance

Margaret Skinner at the celebratory event at the James West Community Centre to mark her 70 years of service with St John Ambulance. Photograph: Mike Jones
Margaret Skinner at the celebratory event at the James West Community Centre to mark her 70 years of service with St John Ambulance. Photograph: Mike Jones

A dedicated Hailsham volunteer has celebrated 70 years of service with first aid charity St John Ambulance.

Margaret Skinner, 85, marked the milestone with an event at the James West Community Centre, on Brunel Drive.

The Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex Peter Field presents Margaret Skinner with a certificate for her service to the first aid charity at the James West Community Centre. Photograph: Mike Jones

The Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex Peter Field presents Margaret Skinner with a certificate for her service to the first aid charity at the James West Community Centre. Photograph: Mike Jones

She was joined by around 60 guests for a buffet and was presented with a certificate and gifts for her service.

Speaking of the occasion on November 13, she said: “I felt like the Queen.”

Margaret joined the nursing cadet division of the Hailsham unit in 1948.

“I was only 15. I wanted to get an interest of some sort so I thought joining St John, learning first aid, I had friends that had done it so I thought it would be worthwhile to do,” she said.

St John Ambulance's Chief volunteer Ann Cable presents Margaret Skinner with flowers at her celebration at the James West Community Centre. Photograph: Mike Jones

St John Ambulance's Chief volunteer Ann Cable presents Margaret Skinner with flowers at her celebration at the James West Community Centre. Photograph: Mike Jones

Five years after joining, Margaret was promoted to corporal and gained her Grand Prior Award – the highest award a cadet can achieve.

She ran the cadet division for 39 years after becoming superintendent in 1960.

“In that time 87 cadets gained their Grand Prior Award. That’s a record I understand in the county,” said Margaret.

Margaret has put her skills to use at hundreds of events, including organising the first aid cover for and attending the speedway and stock car racing at Arlington Stadium for 30 years from 1977 to 2007.

Although she has given a lot more of her time since, from 1948 to 2007 it was recorded that she had given 20,000 hours of service.

Royal recognition came in 1969 when Margaret was invested into the Order of St John as a serving sister – membership is granted by Her Majesty the Queen, its Sovereign Head. She was invested into the Order again as an officer sister in 1990.

In 2011 Margaret was awarded an MBE for her work.

She received the honour from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace in December that year.

Margaret said the news came ‘out of the blue’ and that it was ‘a day to remember’.

Recalling what Prince Charles said to her, she added: “He said to me, ‘You joined cadets the year I was born’”.

From 2005 until it closed due to lack of numbers in 2016, Margaret was divisional president of the Hailsham cadet unit. Now, she is still president of the adult unit, a role she took on in 2016.

Speaking of her 70 years with St John, Margaret said: “I’ve enjoyed it very much.”

She added: “I always say we’ve had the best time with St John.”