VAL Singleton’s mantra is that “you’re a guide all your life” and she has spent the last 51 years proving that and sharing guiding values and principles with generations of girls.

She is 71 now, a lively and positive person whose energy belies her birthdays. She is also still active in the guide movement - in fact, she is still active in several areas of local life in Astley Bridge.

Val was born and initially brought up in Great Lever where her father was a tailor-cutter at Burton’s and her mother a weaver with Tootall’s.

“We lived in a new council house which was quite posh really with an upstairs toilet,” recalled Val.

Attending the local church was a normal option for Val and her sister and they went to services at St Simon and St Jude’s Church locally and regular Sunday School. It was a habit that has also shaped Val’s life.

Her home overlooked both the large grounds around what is now the Royal Bolton Hospital and Great Lever golf course so Val and her sister and friends “would spend hours out and about, staying out all day, just enjoying being outside.”

When she was 11, she joined the guide company based at the church “and I absolutely loved it straight away,” she said. The combination of open-air activities, camping, crafts and strong life-principles appealed to her. She became a patrol leader and still remembers fondly the influential guide leader Margaret Walker.

When Val was 15, her family moved to Deane to be nearer her paternal grandparents who were poorly. She started attending Melbourne Road Methodist Church and became involved in the guide company there. By then, her family was enlarged by another sister.

At 16, she left Bolton Technical School to work first for Telebank and then the Civil Service. The organisational skills she had honed in guides stood her in good stead in her new working life and she quickly earned promotion to tax officer.

When she met and married husband Graham, the couple moved to Astley Bridge. They had two children, Andrea, now 46, and Neil, 45.

After a brief break from guiding when the children were very young, Val, who had started attending Bank Top United Reformed Church, joined a new guide company formed there.

In the intervening 41 years she has been guide leader and is now assistant leader in the thriving company of 27 girls aged from 10 to 15.

Val – now a grandmother to three girls and a boy – has loved being involved with guiding and still values everything it gives to youngsters and to the adults involved.

“It’s great fun, very challenging sometimes, but it’s wonderful working with young people and learning so much along the way,” she said.

Guiding, however, has changed significantly over the years although its basic principles and structure remain. Mobile phones, for example, are now collected up at a certain stage of meetings.

Camping has altered, too. The first camp for Val was in East Grinstead and the guides took a train and bus to get there. The Bank Top guides have been to camp in Edinburgh, Paris and Switzerland – where the party climbed in the Alps.

Days out are often equally adventurous and relevant to modern life like learning about endangered species. The guides are also involved in community projects on their doorstep.

For Val, who retired from her working life as bursar at Smithills School when she was 60, involvement with the guides at Bank Top has led to greater involvement all round.

She is church secretary, treasurer, an elder and a Sunday School teacher. She runs an art group and a toddler group, organises Saturday brunch once a month and the village fair each summer.

When we chatted, she had just helped 27 guides create a very impressive Christmas cake each, with Graham helping at home weighing out 27 different sets of ingredients.

Val’s dedication to guiding was officially recognised recently when she joined other guide and scout volunteers at a special service at Westminster Abbey.

She still loves guiding and believes it offers so much to all ages, including adults. “The key with guides is that, to appeal to youngsters, you have to make it completely unlike school,” she said. “They have to want to come and have fun – and they do.”