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Solvent abuse campaigner Pat made an MBE in New Year Honours
6:00am Tuesday 31st December 2013 in News
A Bradford mum who tirelessly campaigned against solvent abuse following the tragic death of her teenage daughter is among those recognised in the New Year’'s Honours list today.
Foster carer Pat Bleau, who set up the Chantelle Bleau Memorial Fund to educate schoolchildren about the dangers of legal and illegal highs after her 16-year-old daughter died sniffing lighter gas, has been awarded an MBE for services to children, young people and families.
Chantelle Bleau, of Horton Bank Top, was a popular teenager who sang in the church choir, worked hard at school and had landed a lead role in a play with an anti-drugs message, which she felt strongly about.
But on December 1, 1997, she was messing about with friends when they decided to sniff cigarette lighter fuel for a laugh. She collapsed immediately and hours later she was dead.
Mrs Bleau, 59, set up the Chantelle Bleau Memorial Fund with her former husband, Richard, with an aim of reducing the number of deaths caused by solvent abuse by raising awareness of the risks.
Her honour recognises her work with the charity, as well as her dedication fostering and offering emergency respite care to countless troubled teeangers across the district.
Last night she said Chantelle would be “smiling down from heaven” knowing her mum had been given an MBE.
“I believe when you experience a tragedy it either makes you hard or soft towards other people,” she said.
“Chantelle’s death really changed me and made me soften towards people because it made me realise how fragile life is. My daughter was only 16 years old.
“I was in a lot of pain, but I wanted to make sure something good came out of something bad.
“It’s humbling to be given this award. I have no idea who nominated me, but it’s humbling to be thought of in that way.”
Since it was formed, the Chantelle Bleau Memorial Fund has successfully campaigned for the age limit for buying lighter fuel to be raised from 16 to 18.
It focuses on going into schools and teaching pupils about the deadly dangers of solvent abuse, as well as training teachers and school nurses.
Mrs Bleau has also been a volunteer visitor in women’s prisons, worked with street children in the US and has helped vulnerable women rebuild their lives after fleeing violence.
In 2005, she was named one of Britain’s bravest women of the year by a national magazine.
Last night, she said she strongly believed in the importance of educating youngsters about dangers in society and preventing tragedies.
“It’s so important to educate children about the dangers of legal highs as well as illegal highs so they can make informed choices.
“There are 80 schools in Bradford and Leeds that have this as part of their syllabus.
“Chantelle was a beautiful girl who made a mistake. I hope sharing her stories has saved lives.”
Meanwhile, the joy of receiving a British Empire Medal has been tinged with sadness for one Bradford woman.
Marilyn Waterman feels bad that her sister, Christine Stead, is not also being honoured, as the pair are equal partners in the Wyke community venture which has won praise.
Both women were nominated for their work in running the Earlswood community centre for elderly people.
But Mrs Waterman, 60, said: “The system won’t allow two of us from the same organisation in the same year.
“It’s such a shame and I feel quite sad about it, especially as Christine is chairman of the group.”
However, a nomination for Mrs Stead, who is 69, will be put forward for next year and Mrs Waterman says her sister will be her guest if she is invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party.
“We will go together,” she added.
The sisters set up the community group seven years ago to plug a gap in services in the area.
“There was nothing,” said Mrs Waterman. “Now, this group is ideal for those who live around here. They are safe and in their own domain and the numbers taking part are rising.”
The sisters provide meals and social activities within a sheltered housing scheme and for neighbouring flats. They raise funds to cover costs and their jumble sales have become so popular, any excess money is donated to other good causes.
“To get this honour makes me feel quite humble,” said Mrs Waterman. “I don’t deserve it when compared to other people who do far more than I do. But it is lovely to be recognised.”
Well-known businessman Barry Whitaker, chairman of the textile advisory board at Bradford College from 1990 to 2005, has received an OBE for services to the textile industry and the community.
He and his family will celebrate at a Thornton pub tonight.
The retired 76-year-old, who is still involved with the Textile Society, said: “It’s a tremendous honour.
“I am really happy to receive it for all the work I have done in the textile industry throughout the world and in Bradford, as well as community work here. It feels good to be recognised.
“But how it came about heaven knows, as there are so many people who have done just as much.”
Former Rugby Football League match officials director Stuart Cummings, who left the sport’s governing body in March after 11 years, was awarded an MBE for services to rugby league.
The 53-year-old, of Ilkley, started working as a referee in 1988, before reaching the top level in 1991. He officiated at the 1995 and 2000 World Cup finals and went on to work for the RFL in 2002.
He now runs his own consultancy business working in different sports, including rugby league and weight lifting.
Speaking from a skiing holiday in Italy yesterday, he said: “It’s a fantastic honour and it came totally out of the blue when I found out in November.
“I’ve had to keep it quiet, which has been difficult, but it’s given me time to reflect on the last 25 years. It’s flown by so quickly, it only seems like five minutes. It’s a real honour and very pleasing. I’m looking forward to being able to tell people so I can celebrate!”
Richard Wightman, a former Lord Mayor of Bradford, received an OBE for services to further education and the voluntary sector.
The chairman of Bradford College and a former president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce served as a district councillor for more than 20 years, was deputy leader of Bradford Council and took up duties as Lord Mayor in 2002.
His chairmanship at the College has seen boosts for education and training in Bradford and a multi-million pound redevelopment is moving towards completion.
In September, Mr Wightman was at the official opening of the Appleton Academy, where he is chairman of governors.
Shipley tax officer Yasmin Shabir Khan has been given an MBE for services to equality and diversity. As an administrative officer, she deals with personal taxation matters at Bradford HMRC.
Kim Milner, of Pudsey, has also been awarded a British Empire Medal for services to fitness and to elderly people through her work with the Active Life Group in Pudsey.
And former Keighley school head teacher Louise Smith has been awarded the CBE for her services to education.
Meanwhile, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer Simon Pilling was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal for distinguished service.
He said: “It is an absolute privilege to lead West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service as Chief Fire Officer and to have been an operational firefighter for more than 28 years. I am very proud of our achievements to date in making the county a safer place to live, work and travel.
“My sincere appreciation extends to the hundreds of dedicated staff whose collective effort and commitment make such a difference to the public and business communities we serve.
“I also wish to thank the elected members of the Fire Authority for their tremendous support, especially over recent years when facing significant financial challenge.”