They are familiar sights from village fetes to large sporting and cultural events offering vital lifesaving and first-aid help.

But on Saturday, the tables were turned after St John Ambulance members were calling on support for a day-long cycling challenge outside The Forum in Norwich to fund a gold standard award scheme for its junior cadets in Norfolk.

Because of the lockdown the organisation has lost funding, some of which pays for the Grand Prior's Award, completed by youngsters aged 10-17.

The cyclathon challenge saw the first-aid experts cycling the equivalent of 118 miles, the distance between the Norwich St John headquarters to the organisation's London base, on bikes donated by PureGym.

It was also done on the centenary year of the formation of the cadet movement.

Hannah Collin, 34, from Wymondham, who has been part of the Watton St John Ambulance branch, said: "We have to raise as much money as we can because we want to help young people."

The Grand Prior's Award can take between three-six years to complete encompasses life and social skills.

Georgina Holloway, county president of St John Ambulance Norfolk, said: "If you want a career in anything medical, including being a paramedic, nurse or doctor, being a cadet is a good start. Having the Grand Prior's Award gives you that edge when it goes on a CV."

Across Norfolk there are 136 St John Ambulance cadets.

But it costs the organisation to run the course and during the Covid lockdowns, St John Ambulance, which dates back to the Crusades, lost about £5m in funds nationally, according to Mrs Holloway.

It receives no government funding and raises money through manning events, running first-aid training courses and organising open gardens.

Big events volunteers attend include Norwich City football matches, the Royal Norfolk Show, Sandringham Flower Show and gigs at the LCR on the UEA campus.

St John Ambulance members also helped give Covid vaccinations, staffed the A&E department at Addenbrooke's Hospital in the lockdowns and a fleet of around five ambulances belonging to the Norfolk branch were used to transport Covid patients to hospital.

Mrs Holloway said fundraising was "picking up".