“I’ve just looked after and cared, and it’s been a privilege.”
That’s how Margaret McManus looks back on her years as a foster carer.
The mother-of-five, who is also Mayor of Preston, began taking care of young people in the 1960s, fostering until the death of her first husband in 1980.
Mrs McManus, who represents Sharoe Green ward on Preston Council, doesn’t know how many children she has looked after, admitting saying goodbye could be heartbreaking.
She says: “Maybe I have a capacity to love, and I’m a natural nurturer.”
Mrs McManus didn’t plan to become a foster carer, but began looking after a child in the 1960s when her mother was unwell.
She recalls: “It didn’t start out that I was going to be a foster mother. It started out with a little girl who was in the class with one of my daughters, whose mother had cancer.
“The mother was going into The Christie and said, ‘We’ve no one for the child’, and I said, ‘I’ll have her’.
“And that’s how it started.
“I had her stay with me until her mum had her treatment - her father worked full time.”
Mrs McManus and her late husband, Jim, discussed the idea of fostering, before agreeing to take care of a young boy, two days before Christmas.
She says: “He stayed for a while until his mum took him back, and it just went on from there.
“We had a baby who was five days old.
“Having had four children of our own, you’re supposed to love them and let them go.
“This was a new baby. We applied to adopt but his mother took him back.
“For a while, I was never ever going to do it again because I got hurt - we gave him a name and we had him a good few months.
“I held back for a little while after that.
“Then I came home from a Guild Procession in 1972 and a social worker was on the drive and they brought me two.
“And we just go on.”
Mrs McManus only gave up foster caring when her husband died.
She says: “As a one-parent family you have to be better than any two parents.
“Now I don’t need to foster, I’ve got nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.”
Mrs McManus says she took care of “a lot” of young people, but can’t remember how many.
She says: “I don’t choose to, because I loved them.
“It hurts because there were so many, and every time you have to let them go.” She says children may need foster care for many reasons, and encouraged families to consider it.
She joined a campaign with Alpha Plus Fostering, who were supporting Fostering February last month and travelling around the country.
She explains: “You just treat them all as your own.
“I would advise anyone to try it, for a weekend or maybe just a holiday.
“I would encourage people, once they’ve been properly vetted, to look after a child, even if just for a week or two and try it.
“You can step in and just help on a temporary basis.” Despite the care Mrs McManus has offered to young people, she doesn’t believe she has done anything out of the ordinary.
She says: “I don’t think I’ve done anything that different.
“I’m just what I call a normal mum.
“I’m a normal person who goes out to help.
“With fostering, you’re just helping people, when someone needs you to step in, and maybe just do a temporary job for a few days, a week, or a month, or for several years.
“You just care.”
For more on Alpha PLus, see http://alphaplusfostering.co.uk