Our judges said: ‘‘Mireille’s selfless determination shows what a difference one person can make to their local community.’’
Mireille, 36, from Bristol, enrolled her eldest son, Alexander, at Ridgewood Preschool in Yate, South Gloucestershire. Like many mothers, when the preschool needed extra support, she was happy to lend a hand. Yet after volunteering to be secretary, she became aware that a treasurer was desperately needed to take control of the finances. ‘I noticed all the equipment was old and tired and that the staff never received pay rises. Everything was second-hand or donated.’
When she took on the role of treasurer in 2010, she quickly realised that the school was in financial trouble. ‘I wasn’t qualified, but someone had to do it. As I looked at the books, I started to realise that the funds really didn’t balance. There was a huge deficit and no reserves,’ says Mireille. ‘If something wasn’t done quickly, the school would most certainly have to close.’
Instead of accepting this, Mireille decided to do everything she could to save it. She explored alternative funding, reduced staff hours and worked tirelessly to raise money. While her children were asleep in bed at night she would also go online to source the cheapest school supplies and so reduce outgoings as much as possible.
"Losing the school would have been a disaster," says Mireille. "Seven teachers would have lost their jobs and 40 children – some with learning and social disabilities – would have been left with no education for the rest of the year. I just couldn’t let that happen."
Finally, after a year of hard work and sleepless nights, Mireille successfully secured charitable status for the preschool and ensured enough funds were in the bank to keep it going.
She totally revamped the classroom for the new academic year, despite being heavily pregnant with her third child, and engaged the local community. A local art group created a mural incorporating the preschool emblem and a community association opened a café to provide hot meals for the children, which the preschool subsidises. For some of these youngsters this is the only hot meal they get each day.
Once this was all in place, Mireille then extended the opening hours to offer extra childcare in the afternoons to make the preschool more profitable, and was even able to take on more staff.
"It’s hard work but I enjoy doing it," says Mireille. "I could have just carried on dropping my son off at school and letting somebody else sort it out. But I’ve learnt that great things can happen if someone is prepared to keep going and not give up."
Mireille’s achievements are all the more inspiring given that she suffers from Systemic Lupus, a chronic, and presently incurable, illness of the immune system. Symptoms include fatigue, rashes, joint swelling and pain and she will need medication, including steroids, for the rest of her life to keep these under control.