Doctor Chuk Okeke made history by being elected to Cherwell District Council – now he wants his influence to stretch much further.
The Labour party believes Councillor Okeke to be the first black person to be voted on to the district council following his victory in Banbury Cross & Neithrop last week.
His seat was confirmed at Friday’s count thanks to 1,103 votes in his favour, 334 more than his nearest rival, the Conservative Fiaz Ahmed.
He follows in the footsteps of another history maker Surinder Dhesi who served on Cherwell and was Banbury’s first Asian mayor. She has since retired from public life.
Cllr Dr Okeke, who is of Nigerian descent and came to the UK to study a degree and then a PhD in engineering at Oxford Brookes University, hopes his win can inspire more diversity in the corridors of power.
“This is needed, not only in Cherwell but across the country,” he said.
“We need to recognise how diverse the UK is and everyone should be allowed to thrive and be represented in the community, irrespective of your colour, ethnicity or religion. It is important.
“I want to be close to the people of Banbury Cross and Neithrop, the people who elected me. I really want to know what their local issues are and work with them and the council to ensure they receive the services they deserve.”
One of his first aims is to influence a matter that is close to his heart but outside the district’s direct control.
“Although it is not Cherwell District Council’s responsibility, I think the transport infrastructure in Banbury needs radical change,” he added.
“A lot of companies are on the edge of Banbury and people drive out to these places. They shouldn’t do that, it is very close and they could cycle or walk to work but they don’t have good cycle routes or footpaths. They are needed.
“Loneliness and isolation of the elderly needs to be tackled, there were lots of issues that came up on the doorsteps that we need to make sure we address effectively.”
Cllr Dr Okeke shared the plaudits with his agent, fellow Cherwell councillor Matt Hodgson, and thanked the electorate in Banbury Cross & Neithrop.
“I am grateful to them for placing their trust in me to represent them. I will do my best to make sure I play a vital role in Banbury,” he said.
A Cherwell District Council spokesperson said there would be “no way of checking for certain” whether Cllr Dr Okeke is the district’s first black councillor. Councillor Sean Woodcock, Labour’s leader in Cherwell, said the belief that he is has not been refuted in conversations with colleagues across different parties.
Overall, the Tories lost five seats at the Cherwell District Council elections, which means the Conservatives have gone from being one seat short of a two-thirds majority on the council to having the most slender of buffers, holding 25 seats on the 48-strong authority.