Helen Cowell and group members

Sarah Holt talks to Helen Cowell (pictured in purple) about her group Friends Travel Group, and winning an MBE.

How did you become a GTO?

'It started back in 1979. My husband didn’t want to go off on holidays and my children were grown up so I decided I was going to do it. I have always been a very hands on person with clubs. I ran a baton twirling group and did lots of trips with that. I have also been doing an over 60s club since 1976.'

How do you decide where to go on your trips?

'Local theatres send me their up to date information so I know what shows to go to. I keep my eyes open all the time. I look through magazines quite often. I’ve also got a very good coach company that I use and I talk to them about holidays.'

How do you spread the word about your trips?

'I go out to see people a lot. I also do a newsletter four times a year that lists the theatre trips, holidays and day trips. I put a return slip in the envelope with that for people to send back. I’ve also got someone who comes and helps me send e-mails. But not everyone has e-mails.'

Boat trip on the Thames

Pictured: Helen's group, about to enjoy a boat trip on the Thames.

What trips have you got coming up?

'We are going to Trebah Garden in Cornwall. We’re also going to the Bridgewater Carnival [In Somerset]. We’re going to the Albert Hall for a carol service in December.'

Where is your favourite place to take a group trip?

'I always enjoy London. There’s always something to do there. Austria is fabulous. We went to the lakes area.'

Where would you like to take your group that you haven’t already been?

I’d love to go on the Orient Express, but I know we won’t be able to, to start off with it’s very expensive. I do like a river cruise. Or perhaps I’d like to go to Norway.

What advice do you have for GTOs just starting up?

'You have got to keep yourself quite calm. There’s no need getting ratty with people. I just try to help everyone as best I can and try to make sure everyone gets what they want. It’s not always possible.'

Afternoon Tea at Highgrove

Pictured: Members of the Friends Travel Group enjoying afternoon tea at Highgrove, Gloucestershire.

What do you enjoy about being a GTO?

'I wouldn’t get out anywhere near as much [if I wasn’t a GTO]. I love meeting people. I’ve got my own family, but I still like going out and meeting people and going out with them for the day.'

Your services to the community were acknowledged by an MBE. Tell us a bit more about that.

'It was four years ago. My husband had been ill, and on the Monday morning he passed away. On Tuesday I had a letter from the palace saying I was going to get an MBE. On the day, I went to Windsor Castle. It was presented by Princess Anne. It was very well organised. There were lots of rules about how you walk and don’t walk and whether to courtesy or not. A very nice man in uniform came to put us through our paces before I received the award.'

So did they spoil you after the awards ceremony?

'We didn’t even get a cup of tea.'