FOR 12 years Woodgreen resident Gilda Newsham has devoted her time to the New Forest branch of the Alzheimer’s Society, of which she has also been the chairman for the last nine years.

Mrs Newsham, 72, has been awarded an MBE to recognise her services in the New Year honours list.

She said: “I was flabbergasted when the letter came. I thought the envelope looked interesting but then wondered if I’d done something wrong as it looked so official. When I opened it I was speechless.”

She said her husband Edward, a befriender for the society, is also delighted.

“He works hard as well and its support that makes a difference.”

Mrs Newsham worked as a district nurse, nurse manager and patient care manager in community nursing and as a senior nursing homes inspector and registration officer with the South West Hampshire Health Authority.

“During the period I was working I was really concerned about people with dementia,” she said “Some didn’t have family and care standards weren’t as good as they needed to be.”

After retiring Mrs Newsham decided she wanted to do more to help people with dementia and contacted the Alzheimer’s Society.

“Within the New Forest we have done so much but there is a high elderly population. Well over 4,000 people of 65 and older in the New Forest have dementia.

“In the 35 to 65 age group we have got about 100 people with dementia.

“People think it’s about older people but it does affect younger people as well,” she said.

“They can have quality in their lives but they need people to support them as it’s a devastating disease and that’s what we intend to do.”

The New Forest branch has an outreach service with four workers and a befriending service to visit people.

Sometimes a befriender might take someone to the pub or go out fishing.

There are also music groups and art groups.

Mrs Newsham added: “But what we need more than anything is more volunteers to help with teas and coffees, befriending or fundraising.”

Anyone interested in helping the New Forest Alzheimer’s Society can ring the office on 01590 644649 or those living in the West of the Forest can ring Mrs Newsham on 01725 513334.