A KIND-HEARTED and dedicated woman is celebrating 40 years of volunteering at Southend Hospital.

Pearl Naylor, from Thorpe Bay, will be a familiar face to anyone who has used the hospital’s information desk, because she has manned it for two decades – after coming up with the idea herself.

She began her volunteering career at Rochford Hospital in February 1974 and went on to spend a lot of time on the old stroke day care unit at the now defunct Balmoral Hospital.

Pearl said: “Back in those days, volunteers were very hands on with the patients. I used to help wash them and set their hair.”

When the Southend Hospital sites merged, 20 years ago, Pearl suggested creating an information desk to help people find their way around the new buildings.

She’s been helping out on that desk ever since, with her idea spawning two other desks, one in the tower block outpatients department and the other in the Cardigan Wing.

Pearl now meets and greets patients, guiding them to the correct wards and clinics and answers any questions hospital visitors may have.

She has also volunteered at Fair Havens Hospice, Westcliff, for more than 30 years and wasmade an MBE in 2012 for services to both the hospital and hospice.

Jane O’Connell, the hospital’s voluntary services manager, said: “Pearl is a massive asset to this hospital.

“She is old-school – always immaculately turned out, unfailingly courteous, kind and informative. She really cares about patients and their families. We are very lucky to have her.”

Pearl has no plans to give up any time soon. She said: “I love it. There is a need for it and while I’m able, I’ll carry on volunteering.

I find it very rewarding – long may it last.”