Guiding the Community

by Josh Swarbrick


Janet Armstrong MBE has risen to become the real beating heart of her community. A self-confessed organiser, her work behind the scenes orchestrating everything from the annual Oakworth Gala to local Girlguiding has cemented her as a key figure in village life, somebody who is always preparing the next event, whether big or small.

Janet, now 79, grew up in Keighley and joined her Brownie pack at age seven – in her words joining “like so many other girls: because your friend goes”. She speaks of the importance of having experience in ‘leadership roles’ for potential careers, and so became a Brown Owl (the leader of the Brownie pack) at age 18. “I think I continued with that Brownie Pack until I was expecting our oldest daughter and then I think I stopped. I had three or four years where I didn’t do anything because I was just really busy.”

Janet leading the hoards at Oakworth Gala

It was during this time when Janet, newlywed, discovered Oakworth, or more accurately Oakworth discovered Janet. “Some friends of ours came to live in Oakworth so we used to come up to see them. When we were looking for a house, the one we happen to live in now, and have since we were married, was the one we liked the best and could afford.”

Since 1978, Janet has aided in organising Oakworth’s famous gala. “There was a sort of hiatus with the gala that restarted with the Silver Parade (for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee) and it was decided that we ought to try to run the gala again as it brings the community together.”


From there, things seemed to snowball, as they so often do. “When our twin girls were seven, I decided I wanted to run a Brownie Pack on my own, which was in 1980. I opened a Rainbow unit at the Methodist Church in 1991, and I’ve run that ever since. Then there was no one left to run the Guide company in Oakworth so I said ‘I’ll run it’ and took over sometime in the 1990s, but now I run all three on the same night.” Combining her time in the Keighley and Oakworth packs, she’s been a Brown Owl for 57 years, certainly a big achievement. “I think Girlguiding is one of the best things that any girl can do, even if it is only for two or three years. It gives them a chance to be a girl in a girl-only space. If they want to continue to become a leader, or a teacher, or in my case a physiotherapist, it gives them an opportunity to fulfil their own potential. An awful lot of famous women were Girl Guides, our Queen herself was a Girl Guide! You know it just gives them a bit of an edge in interviews and on applications, doesn’t it?

“Girlguiding helps to make them people who know the difference between right and wrong, if they carry these morals through with them throughout their lives then eventually, not in my lifetime but maybe some time, we will have a better society.” Unbelievably, Janet’s work doesn’t stop here. Community celebrations continue throughout the winter, most notably the Christmas Fair.

Memorial for the six Canadian airmen

She also aids organisation of annual Remembrance ceremony in November and a memorial service in January for the six Canadian airmen who were killed in a tragic plane crash in 1944 on the village hillside. She recalls how a gentleman, who had been a boy at the time of the crash, brought the event to her attention.

“He said one day that we ought to do something to remember the aircrew. It really went from there because I said ‘yes we should’, and so I did. We had a memorial stone dedicated in 1993, and an amazing event on the hillside where hundreds of people came, we even had a Spitfire fly over!”

Janet Receiving her MBE from HRH Prince William

Though I think it is fair to say her biggest achievement is her MBE, awarded in 2018. “Well, that was a huge surprise,” she laughs, “I was awarded the MBE for over 40 years of work in the community in Oakworth. It included Girlguiding and the village society because I’m the sort of central organiser… though I don’t want to appear to be blowing my own trumpet!”

But it seems that it’s not just the community who benefit from Janet’s work. “Everything I’ve done becomes a lasting memory, a part of who I happen to be,” she says.

And of course, as Janet is eager to emphasise, this is a team effort.

“Obviously on the days of these events I have a team behind me. I can set balls in motion, do any amount of paperwork and formfilling (though I’m not particularly good at email, Facebook and that kind of stuff) but on the days I have a team behind me who take over.”

Oakworth Gala

When asked about this year’s gala, she fondly recounted how, even if they only stayed 10 or 20 minutes, she still made sure people had a good time.

“That’s why I do it. We need this kind of thing to happen.”

She really highlights the importance of togetherness, something evident in both her words and her work. Everything she does is for the community, in her own words doing things because people enjoy them. In a time of ever increasing division, it is clear that we, more than ever, need more people who thrive in bringing their communities together, more people with an infectious passion for what they do, more people who want to celebrate and remember: more people like Janet.

Craven&ValleyLife Autumn 22