A long-serving and popular playgroup leader has been awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to children and families in the New Year honours list.
Sandra Wevill (66), who has run Broughton Astley Playgroup for 40 years, said: “I feel very humbled and shocked.
“I found out at the end of November and it was very, very difficult to keep the secret until the announcement on New Year’s Eve.
“I did keep it secret, but I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep; I think it actually made me unwell! But it feels wonderful now.
“I feel so proud that people feel like that about me. But the key for me is that I just love my work, and love the children.
“I think they’re funny, and so beguiling really, and that’s honestly never changed for me.”
Trained nursery nurse Mrs Wevill – known to two generations of children as “Auntie Sandra” – took charge of the playgroup when her own four children were young.
Forty years on, she still runs three five-hour playgroup sessions a week at Sutton-in-the-Elms Chapel, on the edge of Broughton Astley.
She believes about 2,400 children have attended her playgroup, including many children of former attendees.
And she still puts in three shifts a week at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.
She worked for 18 years in the baby unit there, helping mums who had post-natal depression.
Her award citation says of her work at Glenfield: “She offers support and understanding, without being judgemental to mothers struggling to bond with their newborns.”
Mrs Wevill admitted: “Yes, I’m pretty much full-time still.”
But she said she is planning to step down from the playgroup in the next year or two.
“Whether someone else will take it on, I don’t know” she said. “It has got quite hard with Ofsted and trying to keep standards high. I am worried the playgroup will close.”
Her citation adds that Mrs Wevill is “a key member of her community and commands high respect from children, their families and professionals”. It goes on to say: “Her inspirational dedication to children’s early learning and development has been paramount in preparing children for school.”
Mrs Wevill said: “The most important thing is that the children come to us and are happy, and can go on to school knowing how to socialise, and feeling settled and secure.”