Sad day for St John in Royston

FOR the first time in nearly 80 years the people of Royston do not have their own dedicated team of volunteer first aiders.

The Royston branch of the St John Ambulance folded at Christmas but had been in poor health for a number of years - with members becoming increasingly hard to find.

The final blow came when stalwart Sheila Needham was forced to retire after 44 years of service due to an arthritic back sparking further resignations from her fellow members.

She said: “It’s very sad. The division closed at Christmas last year because the membership had dropped to seven, given that there used to be about 30 or 40 in the 70s and 80s.

“We just couldn’t recruit anymore members, we had recruitment campaigns and we talked to people when we were doing collections.

“When you say to people we are a volunteer organisation and you are not going to get paid they lose interest and a lot of the events we do are at weekends.

“People don’t know if they can do it if they have family - I understand times have changed.”

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The cadet division is still running and Sheila hopes the adult branch can be resurrected but thinks it might be hard to find the right person.

“I’d like to think it would start up again but we have got to have somebody who is willing to give up their time, and therefore these days be prepared to go of and do some training.

“Everything is much more difficult due to health and safety and the legal aspect of doing first aid.”

A far cry from when Mrs Needham, of Cherry Drive, Royston, joined the group in 1967 after being persuaded by a friend of the midwife who delivered her youngest son at home - a decision forced by Royston Hospital’s six beds being full.

“She said you only had to 12 meetings a year but I soon found out you had to be here every week!” she said.

Due to her nursing background, having worked at the old Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge, the grandmother soon became the division’s nursing officer and began her long work in the community.

She helped train the public and volunteers with the aid of a real skeleton which was given a Christian burial a few years ago having served the division since before Mrs Needham joined.

Having helped out at countless events, paraded past The Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, and raised an uncountable amount of money the 73-year-old thinks the town will miss out now the Letchworth division will cover the area.

“They are quite a big division but they have a big area to cover, the chances are that they won’t be able to do all the duties that we used to do,” she said.