GILLIAN Platt has seen Harwood blossom along with her floral art career.

And along the way she has helped thousands of people to enjoy the skill as well as having national influence and being awarded an MBE.

Perhaps with that sort of pedigree you would expect Gillian to be a rather remote figure in the world of flower arranging but nothing could be further from the truth.

This 74-year-old grandmother has managed to use her undisputed skills and warmth to enrich the lives of many people locally, regionally and nationally. As she’s happy to admit: “I’m a people person.”

Gillian was born in Harwood, the middle one of three daughters of Army captain John Monk and his wife Lena. The family had a successful grocer’s and confectioner’s business in Lea Gate, run by her parents with the help of aunts and uncles.

With this extended family around her, young Gillian had a happy childhood. She attended Longsight Methodist Church, went to its primary school and then on to what was then Turton County Secondary Modern School.

Her earliest memories are of the wartime black-out but probably her happiest memories are around baking with her mother in their small kitchen. “She only ever allowed me to make coffee cake alone,” recalled Gillian, laughing at the memory.

Surprisingly given what happened later, Gillian was not very talented at art but enjoyed domestic science because she was good with her hands. She was also a good organiser – spotted at Sunday School when she was made teacher there, a position she held for 20 years.

She left school at 15 and, because she was interested in hairdressing, managed to gain a coveted apprenticeship at Kendal Milne’s posh store in Manchester. Here, she spent several happy years honing her skills, taking her City & Guilds via day release at the city’s Steiner premises one day a week.

In 1965, she married Mike Platt who she had known since she was a baby and the two families were near neighbours. He is part of the family iron and steel business of E Platt and Sons in Waterloo Street.

Gillian gave up her job to look after their home in Hillside Close and she was 23 when she gave birth to son Jonathan, with daughter Melanie following a year or so afterwards. Later, she worked part-time for a hairdresser’s in Hough Lane, Bromley Cross.

It was while her children were still young and going to playschool that Gillian made her first visit to a floral art class. “This was run by Mary Leigh at what was Walsh’s Institute in Harwood,” stated Gillian. “I think I loved it straight away.

“The first flower arrangement I ever did was five irises in a pinholder. I was completely absorbed and knew that this was for me.”

Gillian applied to join Bolton Floral Art Club (part of the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies) but there was a two year waiting list!

When she eventually gained membership, she was soon asked to go onto the organising committee and began an official journey that would eventually take her to become national chairman of NAFAS from 2001 to 2003 and national vice-president and then president from 2012 to 2014.

To get there required not only many years of taking part in competitions – and winning many – but also helping with the organisation of the many NAFAS groups around the country, never neglecting her “home” territory.

As one of the leading figures in the floral art world she helped with floral arrangements on many official occasions including in Westminster Abbey for the Queen Mother’s funeral, for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and her Golden Wedding and for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. “These were wonderful occasions and I was very proud to be involved,” she said.

She and her family were equally proud when Gillian was awarded the MBE in 2015. “But I couldn’t have done any of it without the support of Mike,” she added.

A committed Christian, Gillian firmly believes in the wonder of God’s universe especially shown in the enduring beauty of flowers. She swiftly sees how an arrangement could progress, bearing in mind the colour scheme and place where it will be shown, and admits that she soon “gets lost” in her work.

She still teaches floral art to a small group in Harwood, and still loves it. “I have been fortunate,” she said, “to have had a gift like this which has involved so much pleasure over the years. And still does.”