Girl Guide stalwart to receive MBE

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A WOMAN from South Tyneside who was a guiding light for girls in South Tyneside for decades is set for a royal appointment.

Katherine O’Neil started as a guide helper with St Mark and St Cuthbert’s Brownies in South Shields at the age of 14, going on to become a Girl Guide Leader at 30th South Shields Girls High School, at the age of 21 in 1968.

She mixed her university studies in Durham with girl guiding duties, and continued to lead her group while working as a teacher in Sunderland.

Mrs O’Neil worked as a girl guide leader in South Shields until 1997 and, after swapping the borough for life in North Yorkshire, has continued to give up her time to both guiding and brownie organisations.

Now the 67-year-old has been rewarded for her dedication with an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list.

Mrs O’Neil, who now lives in Bedale after previously living in South Shields and East Boldon, says she has ‘proud’ to have played a part in the lives of so many young people throughout the borough.

She said: “I found out about the honour in December but you have to keep it a closely-guarded secret until it is announced.

“It can take up to seven months to receive the MBE at Buckingham Palace.

“I am really looking forward to it.

“Being a girl guide leader has given me a lot of pleasure. It has been a lot of fun.

“I am always proud to see the girls grow in confidence and then come back years later and say the things they learned have helped them in their lives.”

After running the South Shields Girls High School group until its closure in 1982, she went on to have a brief spell at St Lawrence’s Church in South Shields then took over guides at St Michael’s Church.

She became county chairman of programme and training for Durham North guides and after leaving South Tyneside she set up County Leadership Scheme, co-ordinating new leaders and mentors.

Since moving to North Yorkshire, the mother-of-two and grandmother of-three has served as parish clerk and a councillor.

But it is her years as a girl guide leader in South Shields that still offer some of her fondest memories.

She added: “Those 14 years were, if anything, my heyday. We held numerous fund-raising events for camp equipment, camped every year with sometimes more than 40 girls, spent weekends working for the National Trust at Wallington Hall, youth hostelling in the Scottish Borders and I took guides for a holiday to Denmark. We had 14 girls gain their Queen’s Guide Award during this time.

“I could never have done all this without the support of my husband, Denis, and children as well as all the adult leaders who have been there to help me.”

Twitter: @ shieldsgazchris