A LARGS woman has spoken of her delight after being awarded an MBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours List for services to pre-school education and charity.

Jean Shirley Smart, director of Collin Care Group and Head of Mayfield Nursery in Glasgow, became a Member of the Order of the British Empire - two years after her friend put her forward.

The 62-year-old has been involved in pre-school education for decades, and with her brothers Douglas and Crawford, now runs eight nurseries employing over 100 staff across the west of Scotland.

Jean, who lives in Stanlane Place, said: "It has been a bit overwhelming.

"I was nominated by a very good friend, who started the paperwork and form filling around two years ago and I never thought any more about it.

"About four weeks ago I received an email from the Cabinet Secretary which was on headed notepaper format and I thought at first it was a scam, but then I read it again and I couldn't quite believe it!

"I was stunned but was sworn to secrecy until the official announcement.

"Because of the pandemic I am not sure when the ceremony will take place but I have been told that there will be an event in London and a medal and certificate presentation at some point in the future."

Jean started off in education 41 years ago after going to college and university and started out teaching piano to young people.

She became a primary school teacher from 1978 until 1986, when she had her first child, and decided not to go back to formal primary teaching.

She set up Park Nursery in Glasgow in 1987 and also took over Mayfield, running both of them in tandem.

It was in 2008 she set up Collin Care with her siblings, which has supported thousands of children over the years in its eight nurseries.

Jean said: "If I am not helping and supporting the staff and managers, then I am on the floor and working with the children. I am very involved in the professional development of the staff.

"I thought I would back off a little bit and things would slow down, but then the pandemic occurred so that hasn't happened. Now the managers require a lot of support, and a lot of my work involves risk management and policies to support parents, staff and children.

"The pandemic brought a completely new challenge and I hope we've adapted to it."

Jean has also carried out extensive charity and volunteering work, working in a special needs school as well as being involved in charity events for Breast Cancer Care, MacMillan Nurses, Maggies and various other national and local charities.

She said: "I have fortunately been in a very good place most of my life and hope I have given something back to support others.

"I've done everything from modelling to dancing in the name of fundraising and have also set up some sponsored cycles around Millport - then hosted a big barbecue in my garden afterwards."

Sadly Jean's mother, also Jean, passed away in Largs earlier this year, while her father Crawford still lives in the town. Her parents were drawn to Largs by dances at the Marine and Curlinghall Hotel and moved here 34 years ago.

Jean has two grown-up children, a son aged 34 and a 30-year-old daughter, as well as two grandchildren, aged two and one.

Asked about her longevity in the nursery care industry, Jean said: "I learned over the years the importance of listening to others and involve everyone's views - I would never ask staff to do something that I won't still do, from nappy changing to gutting out an attic.

"Although I am involved in a management role, I sometimes return to the floor to work with the children and that also gives me immense pleasure."