A FORMER headteacher who has been driven to help children throughout her working and retired life is set to hand over the reins from her position at the head of a group which strives to improve the lives of women and girls.

Soroptimist International Durham (SI Durham) will bid farewell to its president Judith Stirk next month following her two-year leadership - the latter half of which has been conducted in the group’s 70th year in operation.

As part of the worldwide volunteer organisation for business and professional women, current members have dedicated time to making a difference to women and girls locally and across the world.

Ongoing projects have resulted in the continued support of St Cuthbert’s Hospice, in Durham, and four women’s refuges and foodbanks in the county while Mrs Stirk’s devotion to improving the lives of youngsters has given rise to a new focus.

“I’ve got out of my two years all the things that are very close to my heart and they’ve really all come together,” said Mrs Stirk, who worked for her entire 30-year career at Peases West Primary School, in Billy Row, near Crook, and who has been a member of Girlguiding for 40 years.

"All my career has been on children, in school and with guiding.

"My theme was children and young people and I've tried to involve young people.”

During her time as president the group has continued its support to a project with the Aarohi charity - funding a teacher for three years at a primary school in the Himalayas - while Mrs Stirk’s chosen charity of 2017/18 was the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association.

“My goddaughter has MND and I didn’t know much about it until she was diagnosed. As a club we have learned more about it,” added Mrs Stirk, 65.

The organisation has also been behind the bringing together of Evergreen Primary School, a special school in Bishop Auckland, and Prince Bishops Alpacas.

Headlam alpaca farm owner Carole Burn has gone on to work alongside SI Durham - sending her alpaca-themed children’s books to a school for children with autism in Saudi Arabia.

And within Girlguiding the women have joined forces to promote the status of women and girls through the development of a Shared Vision badge.

The achievements recently won the group the Soroptimist International North-East region’s Reach for the Stars Award.

Member-of-24-years Mrs Stirk will remain within the club and she will be succeeded by Dot Hales.

For details of the group email dothales55@gmail.com