THIS week will see the retirement of a much-loved figure in the Penarth community after close to 50 years’ service.

Jayne Underhill has been an assistant at Ivor Owen pharmacy, Cornerswell Road for 34 years, previously working at Cummins for 13.

“I started working in pharmacies when I was 15, at David Morgans,” said Mrs Underhill. “Since then it’s been a long road across three or four places, with Jan Steen headhunting me as a dispenser for Ivor Owen in 1986. I’ve been there ever since.”

Mrs Underhill has lived in Penarth most of her life, and knows the town well, though things have changed over the course of her career.

“It used to be more relaxed and informal,” she said. “We were a community pharmacy. We knew all the customers, they’d stay for a chat. We’re the last of our kind, knowing customers by name.”

Mrs Underhill was moved to the head of counter 10 years ago. Last year one of her colleagues put her up for a Service Excellence Award. One of 30 UK winners, she went to Dorchester for the awards.

“You have to keep learning, and there’s quite a level of trust built up over the years,” she said. “It’s not enough to just stand at the counter – products change, licences change. People will see things advertised and ask for them but it may not be suitable depending on allergies or other medicines – so we have to ask lots of questions.”

The future is also on her mind. “Footfall is falling. People Google their symptoms before they see the pharmacist. There are higher rates and there are diminishing returns. The independents are dying out, and the chains are tightly controlled. Online pharmacies are growing, and I get the convenience, but you lose local charm and one of the best sources of free professional advice.”

Mrs Underhill, married for 45 years, is excited to retire.

“My new manager wants to keep me on zero hours,” she laughs. “But I’d like to climb some mountains. Go kayaking while I still can. Freedom is calling me!”