First aider Gail reaches 54 years of volunteering

editorial image
Share this article

Gail Forrest was just seven years old when her parents decided she should join St John Ambulance.

Her father worked with the superintendent and her mother would soon be giving birth to Gail’s brother.

She said: “My mum found out she was pregnant when I was seven and I think it was something to give me an interest before the new baby came on the scene.”

That put Gail on the path to becoming a first aider and had a big impact on the course of her life.

Fifty four years later, she is now a founder member of Chorley’s Angels first aid group and still devotes much of her time to volunteering.

Gail, now 61, said: “It became a way of life.”

Her efforts have now been recognised by Lancashire County Council’s Volunteer Hub and Volunteer Lancashire, who gave her a Big Thank You award for her lifetime of volunteering.

She won the Supporting Community Development category and was named as the overall winner.

Gail was nominated by her husband David, who is also a first aider.

She said: “It was very much a surprise to me. I can honestly say that if I had known he was going to put me forward, he wouldn’t have been allowed to do it.

“It’s something I have chosen to do, but there are a lot of other people who volunteer as well.

“It’s absolutely wonderful that I have got this award, but I was humbled when I listened to what everyone else did. I hadn’t done any more than they had.”

Volunteering for decades is no mean feat, especially as Gail also has health issues to deal with.

She has five benign brain tumours, which were discovered in 2002.

Gail said: “We went on holiday and I started with violent headaches.

“I developed a lump on the side of my head.

“I went to my GP and had tests and was sent to the hospital for scans.”

Doctors have told Gail they believe the tumours were caused by the contraceptive pill.

The location of the tumours means they cannot be removed, but medication has helped to shrink them.

Gail lives with the tumours, but does sometimes have to rest if she gets tired and her blood pressure goes up.

And she has scans every few months so doctors can check on the tumours.

She said: “It was worrying at first. I was diagnosed in the November and I was convinced that would be my last Christmas. I was 100 per cent convinced of that.

“But it wasn’t. I kept plodding on and seeing the next Christmas.

“I have to be grateful. There are a lot of people worse off than me.”

Gail, who lives in Euxton, collected a host of accolades while serving with St John Ambulance.

At the age of 18, she became Lancashire’s youngest officer when she was appointed to the Chorley unit and she gained the Grand Prior Award – the highest award available to a cadet.

She was Lancashire’s youngest unit superintendent when the Chorley unit became a quad unit in 1981, incorporating the cadets.

Gail was part of a two-man team to win a national competition in nursing in 1987.

But despite considering a career in nursing, there was one thing that put her off.

“I had a fear of needles at one point,” she said.

“In those days, we did what they classed as home nursing and used to have to be proficient at giving insulin injections and practise giving injections into an orange.

“I never mastered that though and thought it wasn’t for me.”

Instead, Gail has spent the past 19 years working as a support assistant at Astley Park School where she also teaches first aid to staff.

And she is committed to volunteering in her free time.

Gail said: “I give an awful lot of my time to it.

“For every year I worked with St John, I did more than 1,000 hours.

“If you added it up, you wouldn’t do it because you would realise how much time you spent doing it.”

Gail was awarded the title of Serving Sister by St John Ambulance in recognition of her service to the order.

She is dedicated to teaching and has trained many cadets over the years.

She was so successful that the Chorley cadet team held the title of Lancashire’s best first aid team every year between 2005 and 2012.

They were also regional winners six times, national trophy winners three times and Young Grand Prior Trophy winners four times.

But after so many years with St John Ambulance, Gail and her husband decided it was time to leave last year.

It followed several disputes with St John Ambulance over policy.

“They changed the way they worked and it wasn’t my way,” she said.

Unexpectedly, her departure led to other members deciding to follow her.

Gail said: “They always called the first aid teams Chorley’s Angels so they decided to set up as Chorley’s Angels.

“It was very hard leaving, but I think sometimes if things aren’t working for you, then it’s the right decision to make.

“I said when we started the Angels that for the first 12 months, we would either sink or swim.

“I would actually say they are doing neither, they are flying.

“We have got duties coming out of our ears at the moment, which is lovely.”

Gail, who is chairman of Chorley’s Angels, says they have been supported by people across the borough.

She is particularly grateful to Chorley Little Theatre, where they provide first aid cover.

Gail said: “We started without a penny to our name.

“We explained to the theatre that we were no longer St John and they said the people doing the duties were us, no matter which uniform we were wearing.

“We didn’t have a uniform and they let us do raffles for the week’s performance so we could get some money for the uniform.”

Gail, who has two sons and three grandchildren, is determined to keep volunteering and believes Chorley’s Angels will continue to grow.

“I think Chorley’s Angels will go from strength to strength” she said. “It’s a very happy, fun-loving group which is what we want.”

And she is as dedicated as ever to volunteering.

She said: “I’m 62 next month and at some point I will have to step back.

“One of our ladies is 73 so I have some life left in me yet.”