A woman who moved to North Wales from Italy aged 14 is retiring after becoming “Auntie” to a thousand children.

Maria Sciarillo, 73, says her father always wanted her to have her own business, so she set up The Mill day nursery in Mold in 1990 after his death.

Over a thousand children have been cared for at the nursery over the 27 years, with Maria providing work for dozens.

“My dad, Ernest Izzo wanted me to have a business of my own,” she said.

“Before this I was a housewife, so I decided to do something after my children had all gone to school with the help of my mum, because my dad had passed away.

“They’d given me some money and I thought I’d invest this money and do something. The building we use was just a double garage and we extended and started on day one with 21 children.

“As the years have gone by, we had another unit built for the babies and that’s it, I’ve enjoyed every minute and I don’t know how to thank the people, the support they’ve given me, but obviously I am 73 and I have to give it up.

“Before we started the building was a double garage, and I’m converting it and moving in, only because of the sentimental value.

“My father wanted to see me in business, I said I’m going to do something with my father’s money and that’s what I’ve done, and I thought no, I’m not going to leave the building, I’ll live here.”

She added: “My father came to North Wales from the south of Italy in 1955 and then my mum and I followed in 1958. I was 14 when I moved to Mold, and that’s where we stayed.

“When we arrived here there was snow on the ground and it was snowing, so I thought, oh, wonderful, but as a young girl of 14 years coming from another country, you don’t know the language, you don’t know how to say good morning, you know nothing and leaving my friends and cousins was a shock to the system. I’m an only child, I was thinking what am I doing here?”

Maria, who is married to Eric, 74, only made the decision to close the nursery and retire a month ago and plans to spend more time travelling.

“We’ve had a thousand children, maybe more, we had a waiting list of about 30 even when we started, I didn’t think as a foreigner I’d have been that busy,” she said.

“I’m so proud of what I’ve done, I’m so proud of the children. Some of them are 20 and older, and whenever they see me they shout “Auntie Maria!” so I’m Auntie Maria to everyone.”