Ann Blanking - The Sunday Interview

Ann Blanking is congratulated on her MBE by a St. Mary's College colleague. Photo: Stephen Latimer Photography

Ann Blanking is congratulated on her MBE by a St. Mary's College colleague. Photo: Stephen Latimer Photography

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Ann Blanking laughs and wonders if she will be able to use her MBE when flying with Ryanair.

“A friend told me if you tell the cabin crew on a British Airways flight that you have an MBE they will upgrade you to first class - hopefully I will be able to do the same the next time I fly with Ryanair,” she laughs.

Last weekend it was revealed that St. Mary’s College science teacher, Ann, was awarded an MBE for her services to education and she’ll receive her award over the next few months at an official event in Buckingham Palace.

“One of my colleagues joked with me when he heard the news and he said that MBE stands for My Buck Eejit,” laughs Ann.

“But seriously, I don’t think it has sunk in. I am really happy but I can’t thank Niall Brown from the Department for Education in Stormont and our school principal, Marie Lindsay, for nominating me.”

Ann was born and reared in the Waterside in 1956 and is the eldest of ten children.

Ann’s father, Peter Blanking, met Ann’s mother, Mary Rose, when he was stationed at Sea Eagle after World War II.

In her early years, Ann, moved around England and Scotland with her family but when she was five the Blankings returned to Derry to raise their family.

“I had a very happy childhood. I really enjoyed primary school at the Wee Nuns and at Long Tower Girls but I didn’t enjoy my time at Thornhill College,” she recalled.

Being the eldest of ten children meant a lot of responsibility fell onto Ann and as a result she left school at the age of 16 but after rearing her own three children she returned to education at the age of 27.

“I suppose you could say I fell into teaching by accident. I did a BA Hons degree with the Open University and after graduating I put my name down on the substitute teacher register.

“My first piece of work was as a sub teacher at St. Colman’s in Strabane and here I am still teaching 30 years later.”

Ann has taught in many schools in Derry but for the last 17 years she has been part of the teaching staff at St. Mary’s College.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that St. Mary’s College is the best school I have ever taught in.

“There’s a great atmosphere in the school and there’s a real level of trust. Obviously there is the curriculum to work off but when it comes to extra-curricular activities you have the freedom to introduce the girls to many different things.”

In 2000 Ann set-up the chemistry club. Only a handful of girls attended the first meeting but almost 15 years later and the club is thriving will almost 20 members.

“I thought I would test the water with the chemistry club and it really took off. The thing about the club is that the girls get to explore chemistry through practical means and we are always entering competitions.”

In the last few years, girls from the St. Mary’s College chemistry club have won competitions all over the UK and Ireland.

“I suppose I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t enjoy it. I still get a buzz when I see the girls enjoying themselves.

“My own granddaughter, Laveena, is in the chemistry club so it has a family link too,” she laughs.

It’s clear from listening to Ann’s students that they have great affection and respect for her not just as a teacher but as a woman.

Several months ago Niall Brown from the Department for Education in Stormont contacted St. Mary’s College principal, Marie Lindsay, to suggest she nominate Ann to be included in the Queen of England’s birthday honours list.

Six weeks ago, Ann, received a letter in the post. The letter said she had been awarded an MBE but she could tell no one until the news was officially released on June 13 at 10.30pm.

“It was the longest six weeks of my life - not telling anyone was the hardest thing in my life.

“Initially when I received the letter I thought it was a hoax - I thought someone was trying to take a hand at me.

“I must have taken the letter out and put it back into the envelope one hundred times - it’s all worn at this stage,” she laughs.

“The school hosted an event last week and it was absolutely lovely. I am not used to all this kind of stuff and don’t get me wrong an MBE is great but it will never ever change me.

“I can’t afford to retire. I started teaching late in life and I am also rearing four grandchildren. Even if I could retire I don’t know if I would because I still love what I do.

“The science department at St. Mary’s College is a great place to work. I have amazing colleagues here and the girls at the school are a pleasure to teach.

“In terms of my hopes and ambitions for the future I would like to keep on with what I am doing and continue to see the chemistry club flourish.

“As for myself, I used to be a keen ten pin bowler but between one thing and another I haven’t had as much time to myself as I would have liked but I think I will start making time,” she laughs.