On the first day of Lynda Coulter’s retirement last week, she had a little bit of trouble figuring out what to do with herself.
Because for the past 47 years, former NHS worker Lynda, from Upton , has dedicated her life to helping people, first in her work as a nurse, and more recently, by setting up the pioneering North West Human Milk Bank at the Countess of Chester Hospital.
Ever since Lynda set up the milk bank 14 years ago, it has steadily become a vital service, supporting mums and babies with the supply of donor breast milk to babies in neonatal units as an alternative to formula milk when the baby’s mother is unable to feed naturally.
Lynda first encountered milk banking at Huddersfield before moving to Chester, and after firmly establishing herself with the neonatal unit at the Countess, she put forward the proposal that there should be a milk bank in Chester.
But it wasn’t easy, and Lynda faced some initial resistance before being advised she could carry out her vision as long as it was funded independently. It was a challenge Lynda, along with her neonatal colleagues, new mums and the general public, was happy to accept.
Finally, after three years of fundraising, the Chester & North Wales Human Milk Bank was officially opened by the Duchess of Westminster on June 27 2003 and quickly grew to become the largest Milk Bank in the UK whilst still being charitably funded.
“It has just grown and grown over the years. Since this April we’ve processed and distributed 900 litres of milk to more than 40 hospitals, which is just phenomenal,” says Lynda, 63. “Donated milk is second best only to mum’s breast milk. We supply milk whenever it’s requested because we’ve developed a bespoke service. It’s wonderful because it doesn’t just support the premature babies, it supports all babies.
“If for whatever reason, a new mum struggles to breastfeed, this takes the pressure off. I had a great support network, and so many good people working with me. The Countess has got a lot to be proud of.”
Over the years, mother-of-two Lynda’s hard work was recognised through various achievements including being named Cheshire’s Woman of the Year by the NSPCC in 2004, awarded a Special Commendation in the Lifetime Achievement Award by BLISS, the national Special Care Baby charity, and in 2009 she was awarded an MBE for her contribution to neonatal services in Chester.
But it’s now, in her 47th year of work, Lynda now feels the time is finally right to retire.
“It’s time to bring in the new girls,” she says. “The people I work with are all so wonderful and good at what they do. It feels good to have it all sorted now as I’ve been working full time for the past 47 years, only taking time off to have my sons.
“Of course I will miss it enormously. The success of the Milk Bank has exceeded my wildest dreams and it gives me immense satisfaction to confirm we were always able to fulfil every request for donor milk throughout the 14 years.
“There are thousands of people who have supported me in establishing, growing and developing this - all of whom I just don’t even have the room to thank.
“While every financial donation, however small, was greatly appreciated, I really should give a special mention to three major donaters: Pat Daniels MBE and her Chester Childbirth Appeal, which enabled our growth by providing a newly purpose built room on the neonatal unit to accommodate our growing service; the actor Ricky Tomlinson for his £200.000 donation and other substantial donations from him since, and Craig and Barbara Newnes who have tirelessly fundraised in memory of their son Oliver and donated significant sums of money regularly to the Milk Bank. It was their generous sponsorship which enabled the production of the DVD, “Using Donor Milk” in 2012,” added Lynda.
“One of my favourite parts of the job has been meeting the mothers - they’re a truly altruistic bunch. They just want to give - sometimes they might be looking after their own baby but they are still fully aware of how important it is to support others. Just seeing the changing attitudes and acceptance to breastfeeding has been wonderful - the charity has played a huge part in that, in getting the message across to the public about how important it is.”
For now, Lynda plans to focus fully on her retirement, continue her passion for travelling with her husband and enjoy having more time to visit her sons.
“For all these years I’ve just been so passionate about this and had such a belief in what I do,” she says. “Now that the Milk Bank is finally accepted into mainstream healthcare provision and established as a paediatric speciality, I feel that my mission has come to a satisfactory conclusion and I’m happy to hand over the baton to the next generation now.”