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The pioneering Brit who was French town’s first foreign councillor

Cycle campaigning and city pride were a springboard to role in local politics in Albi

British-born Steve Jackson was the first non-French person elected to Albi council Pic: Steve Jackson

British-born Steve Jackson, 67, settled in Albi (Tarn) aged 24 and has been a member of the town council since 2008

My father was a photojournalist who loved driving and caravanning around Europe, so that’s probably why I started cycling around France in my school holidays. 

A kid from Toulouse invited me to a cycle touring event, where I met the club from Montauban in Tarnet-Garonne. 

When I was studying French at university, I requested a placement there for my teaching experience and was sent to Albi. 

I returned after graduating and was lucky enough to get work as a screenprinter and stained-glass windowmaker, then ran a mobile disco for seven years and served in a nightclub bar. 

Life was quite hard but it did me a lot of good! 

Eventually, I built up enough hours teaching English for it to be a fulltime job. 

Love of Albi

Albi was quite run-down in those days and a lot of friends could not understand why I stayed, but I loved the place. 

The people are wonderful – and it’s certainly not run-down now. 

Later in life, I came back to my passion for cycling and noticed that the French cycling federation did not seem particularly active. 

So, in 1991, I started campaigning, pestering people with photos and slideshows, which eventually led to me becoming one of the federation’s national ‘experts’ on cycle infrastructure. 

In 1995, we met all the municipal candidates and got lanes painted on the main bridge, which worked really well. 

Apolitical

In 2001, the new mayor offered me the honorary last place on his electoral list, but I refused because I wanted to remain apolitical. 

However, in 2008, the mayor tried again, putting me 11th on the list so that I was easily electable. 

I asked another politician’s opinion and he said: “Go for it, no one else will ask you.” 

He was right, and I really wanted to see how things worked from the inside. 

During my first election campaign, a local news website received a comment about me being “the one who got people cycling on the left.” 

This regarded the contraflow lanes on our one-way streets, and I saw my name crossed out on a ballot sheet, but that happened to others, too. 

Through my teaching, most people already knew that I am pretty honest and true to my beliefs, and that I genuinely love this town. 

First non-French member elected

I was the first non-French member elected to Albi council and still remember the pride I felt at that first meeting in the historic hall, surrounded by a lot of good people wanting to improve life in the city. 

I am not particularly political. 

I am probably left of centre and obviously the environment is important to me, as it should be for everyone. 

The mayor is centre-right, but the team has a good mixture of views and people generally seem happy to have me around. 

I had always intended to apply for citizenship after retirement but in 2013 my wife, who is from the north of France, asked: “Why wait?” 

It was only after applying that I realised how much I wanted it. 

I have my past, but my present is here. 

The ceremony at the local prefecture was fantastic. 

They invited me to say something and it was the first time I had given a whole speech without any notes. 

I managed to fully express my pride and love of the country that was adopting me. 

French citizenship

Following Brexit, if I had not had French citizenship, I would have been forced out of the council. 

I did not see that result coming and I am still pretty disgusted that the people most affected by Brexit – teenagers, expats and migrant workers – could not vote. 

I was also shocked by the wave of racism that it provoked, and I feel very sorry for people who felt obliged to leave the UK. 

Nowadays, I probably feel more French than British but I still follow the news in the UK, and it’s nice to bring a slightly different point of view to the table. 

However, nobody appreciates someone who continually says life is better where they came from. 

Instead of saying “the French should do this”, it’s better to say “we could do this”. 

All migrants, I think, go through a period of doubt about having made the right choice. 

Things were not better back home, they were just different, and the French do get an awful lot of things right. 

Get involved

If you want to be more involved in municipal life or the community, you don’t need to be a French citizen: go to public meetings, join local associations, maybe volunteer for festivals and sporting events. 

I am now on the board of trustees for the school where I first did my teaching experience, and that must be pretty rare. 

Thank people who help to get things done and give credit where it is due. 

And if you do get on the council, remember that you are chosen because you represent something, not because you are brilliant at something. 

You are part of a team and the mayor is boss!

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