A SINGLE mother-of-three who gave a home to five orphans – without any help from the authorities – has been named mum of the year.

Julie Jones, 46, opened her three-bedroom Huntingdon home to the children of her best friend Caroline Atkin after both she and her husband died within six months of each other.

Caroline, who was Julie's best friend of 30 years, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in April 2009 and given 12 months to live.

Julie stepped in to help Caroline's husband, David, care for the children at their home in Lincolnshire, but tragedy struck again in January 2010 when he died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage aged 44.

It was then that the two women agreed that when Caroline died, Julie would take care of Caroline's children, three boys and two girls.

Despite working full time as an administrator at RAF Brampton, Julie agreed and in June 2010 Caroline died.

"I got a phone call to say that Caroline had been rushed in [to hospital], but by the time I arrived she had passed away," Julie told The Hunts Post.

"It was the worst day of my life, and I never want a day like it again. Telling the children was the hardest thing. I told the little ones when I picked them up from school that afternoon - I'll never forget it. They asked me if I would take them to the park - so we went to the park. We've been together ever since."

This selfless act led to Julie being nominated by her mother, Josie, and two friends for the Tesco Compassionate Mum of the Year award. Last week, she found out she had won and has been invited to a ceremony at London's Waldorf Hotel in March.

"I was absolutely shocked and stunned to find out I'd won," she told The Hunts Post. "It's a huge compliment, but it's not a time for me to celebrate.

"If my best friend hadn't died, I wouldn't have the children. What I am doing is something very natural and ordinary."

Julie brought the children back to her home in Rydal Close, Stukelely Meadows, converting her dining room into a bedroom for Julie's three sons, Christian, Peter and Adam. Caroline and David's sons, Michael, 12, Kieran, 11 and James, 10, share one bedroom and their daughters Emma, 8 and Chantelle, 6, another. A sixth sibling, Tim, 17, opted to stay with a relative in Lincolnshire.

The house is too small for the needs of the family, but Julie has been told there is not much the authorities can do to help.

"I love the children like they were my own and would never have seen them end up in care," Julie added. "But I was shocked at the response I received from Huntingdonshire District Council when I enquired about receiving any financial support."

Faced with having to buy five new beds, clothes and feed five extra children, keep up a full-time job and pay a mortgage, Julie claimed she was advised to sell her home, move into council accommodation and claim benefits.

"That's not something I would ever want to do. We have a comfortable home, we just need a bit of help."

According to Julie, her grant application to build an extension on her home was turned down by the council.

"The only thing we wish for is a bit of help," Julie added. "The children are adorable. We talk about their mummy and daddy a lot, we have the support of family and friends and I have a lovely job at RAF Brampton."

An HDC spokesman said: "Cambridgeshire County Council contacted us about the possibility of Julie Jones making an application for re-housing to a larger home. We confirmed that we would be happy to consider such an application, and Ms Jones visited our offices in September 2011.

"However she has since declined to make an application."