Acts of Service: Mrs Sheenah Davies on St John’s and the Durham Lieutenancy
As part of our Acts of Service feature we interviewed Sheenah Davies – Sheenah spent over 30 years in lovely Teesdale and considers the beautiful green rolling hills to be an idyll within Durham. Sheenah is a former Deputy Lieutenant of Durham in addition to being a retired colonel in the Royal Army Nursing Service – with her continuing her service to others by working for St John’s organisation after retiring.
St John’s organisation is headed by her majesty so we felt it was particularly suitable for our Jubilee focus on those who contribute within our communities.
What initially drew you towards St John’s?
As I was coming to the end of 28 years in Queen Alexandra’s Army Nursing Service, I was approached by the then Lord Lieutenant of Durham, the late David Grant as to whether I would consider becoming the Commander of St. John Ambulance, Durham on retirement of the current incumbent as the Senior Volunteer Operational Manager. Time being 1996.
Having been the Senior Army Nurse in the North of England and Scotland. I had on several occasions during my service to work alongside members of St. John especially in a welfare capacity as well as them demonstrating their First Aid and Nursing Skills but little did I know of the Venerable Order!
Would you explain a little about your roles with St John’s and for County Durham?
After much discussion and the visiting of St. John Ambulance Units as research, I believed that I could contribute to the organisation and service. Mainly in the promotion of their skills and training in addition to bolstering recruitment of a much respected Historic Voluntary Charitable Organisation.
What did you find especially rewarding about these roles?
The Challenges facing us were retention, recruitment and managing the ever-increasing requirements of training the volunteers which had to be balanced with ensuring that St, John Durham was Financially viable. This was achieved by creating a plethora of Fund Raising events including a Major Flower Festival which was held at Auckland Castle in August 2000 which was held in celebration of 900 years of St. John and 2000 years of Christianity. This enabled us to finally build a New Purpose built H.Q. in Meadowfield. The Premises were Blessed and Opened by the then Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright.
During your time serving communities, was there anything you felt especially proud of achieving?
During my tenure I was very keen to raise the profile of St John both in the County and in London ,this I believe to be an achievement especially as I am sure many are aware of the traditional presence of St. John Members providing First Aid at Sporting and major county events but in addition to this there was a significant amount of unseen support given locally to the Ambulance Service and the NHS – something highlighted during the recent (yet ongoing) pandemic. This was only achieved by having the National H.Q. supportive structure at all levels in all counties in the U.K. This raising of profile and awareness was probably one of my proudest aspects.
Do you have any words of advice for young people wanting to become involved with charitable organisations?
In this Jubilee Year and some 100 years ago in Gateshead (then in County Durham) the First Registered Cadet unit of St. John was informed and some 35 years ago the more junior element known as Badgers were formed and will also be celebrating.
They both learn the skills of First Aid, Leadership and Service in and to the community. Such Organisations should encourage all youth to develop social skills for their future and being aware of the support they can give to the community and I’d suggest young people reach out to these organisations to see whether it’s possible to develop your skills and experiences whilst working for a valuable cause.
What is your favourite area in County Durham?
It has to be our special place where we have lived for 35 years – Ingleton, Teesdale – and we miss every aspect of it but mostly the people, my St. John colleagues and our friends.
The Queen has a strong Christian faith with one of her favourite stories being the parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’ which emphasises her belief in the importance of service, in 1985 Her Majesty said the story “…reminds us of our duty to our neighbour. We should try to follow Christ’s clear instruction at the end of the story: ‘Go and do likewise'”. Do you have any favourite Bible verses or stories you feel most drawn towards?
I would agree that this story matches my experiences within St John’s. My work led to promotion in St. John Council Durham as Chairman before eventually moving to the role of Priory Hospitaller to raise the profile, information and fundraising capabilities for the St. Eye Hospital Group, Israel/Palestine an initial initiative of Queen Victoria some 140years ago. In a small way this continued the work of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, especially when I travel the same road on my visits to the Hospital Group which will happen again this September.
Her Majesty the Queen the Sovereign, Head of the Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem, plus many members of her close family being involved with St. John Ambulance work is fantastic to see – of which today is based on the Commonwealth so dear to the Queen which has grown from 8 nations to 53.
Her message of Service not Self so calmly guided to us all by Her Majesty over these 70 years has been inspiring to me.
Many thanks to Mrs Sheenah B. Davies, R.R.C. D. St. J. D.L. Colonel (Rtd.) for her time
St John’s is a fantastic organisation and we’d encourage anyone who is still curious to get in touch and approach them to see what you can do within our communities.
Check out St John’s website for more info