The last six months have been a real baptism of fire for new Derry and Strabane Councillor, Christopher Jackson.
Christopher is a Sinn Fein member for the Waterside area of Derry and officially became an elected representative when Derry City and Strabane District Council replaced Derry City Council on April 1 this year.
Thirty two years-old, he is one of the youngest members of the new council but when it comes to understanding families and communities, he has more experience than most.
“I’ve always been a proud republican and I have always had a passion for trying to help the people living in the Top of the Hill area.
“I also have four children and I would not be able to dedicate myself to my constituency work the way I do if it was not for my partner, Sinead - she is just amazing - she is my rock,” smiled Christopher.
Particularly proud of where he is from having been born and reared in the Waterside.
The oldest of three children, Christopher was brought up in Virginia Court before the family moved to Robert Street and then Fountain Hill.
“I am a Waterside man first and a Derry man second,” laughed Christopher.
“Today I live with my family in Tamneymore Park - I think it’s very important for a local councillor to live in the community that he or she has been elected to represent.”
He attended Chapel Road Primary School before moving on to St. Columb’s College. However, when in lower sixth he left St. Columb’s and completed his A-levels at the Immaculate Conception College.
“I loved school - it’s not until you have children of your own that you realise how amazing your own school days were.
“My oldest child is 11 years-old and I took him to his first day at grammar school - I had to pinch myself because it’s not that long ago that I was going to St. Columb’s College for the first time.
“I really enjoyed St. Columb’s. It was there that I developed an interest in computing - it just came naturally to me.
“I left St. Columb’s when I was in lower sixth to go and do a GNVQ in computers at the Immaculate Conception College.
“I also enjoyed my time at Immaculate Conception and I had some great teachers but if I had to pick out a teacher who really stood out for me it would have to be Fr. Mullan at St. Columb’s College - he was an amazing teacher,” he said.
Christopher left Immaculate Conception College to continue his studies in computing at the North West Regional College. However, after a short period of time he secured a job working for the Western Health and Social Care Trust in Altnagelvin.
“I decided I wanted to take a year out from studying and start earning a bit of money - that was around 13 years ago and I have been there ever since. It was a good decision to go and work there because that’s where I met Sinead.
“I am a young father of four, I have a full-time job and I am a local councillor. This means I have very little spare time but I do intend to return to the books and complete a degree in computing,” he claimed.
Politics and indeed, republicanism, was rarely discussed in the Jackson household but Christopher said he started to develop his own political identity when he began to notice what was happening around him in the mid to late nineties.
“My dad comes from a republican family but politics was never something we talked about growing up.
“I was a keen follower of the news growing up and when I was in my teens all the talk of the Good Friday Agreement was in full flow.
“I started to develop republican views and soon after that I started to notice more and more that I wanted to help the local community in Top of the Hill.”
When Christopher became a father for the first time he said he had his “eyes opened” to the lack of facilities in the Waterside area and it was because of this that he decided to volunteer with his local community group.
“It’s not until you have kids of your own that you realise what’s available to families living in a particular community.
“I soon became aware of the up hill struggle the Top of the Hill community were having to endure and I wanted to do something about it.”
Christopher then became a volunteer with Hillcrest House and soon after he was asked to join the centre’s Management Committee.
“My family comes first and foremost but after that, my passion is helping the Top of the Hill Community.
“The inequality in the Waterside is, in my opinion, very clear and as long as I have air in my lungs I will do what I can to help the community.”
Christopher was approached by Sinn Fein last year to contest the first ever local super council elections.
Although the elections took place in May 2014, the new super council did not officially take over until April 1 2015.
Christopher and all of the other new councillors who were elected last year sat on a shadow council until Derry City and Strabane District Council started earlier this year.
“The shadow council year was of immense benefit because it meant that I was able to get real insight into constituency work.
“It meant that when April 1 2015 came, I was able to hit the ground running.
“When I was elected last year I was a little bit nervous but because of the help and support I have from within the party and the community I have been able to enjoy every minute of it.
“Lynn Fleming and Bridget Meehan were Sinn Fein councillors in the Waterside area before me and they have both been really supportive.
“They are sources of great advice. It’s an honour to be following in their footsteps.”
Christopher added: “One of the most important things to happen me during my first weeks as a councillor was seeing that the inequality in the Waterside is not exclusive to Top of the Hill.
“‘The Triangle’ and Currynierin have similar problems and it’s up to us as elected representatives to work together to ensure the people living in these areas receive the same facilities as people living in other communities throughout the city - that’s my only aim as a councillor.”
Understandably, work, family life and constituency works leaves Christopher with very little spare time but when he does manage to make time he likes to spend it with his family and if he is really lucky, cheering on his beloved Glasgow Celtic.
“I love spending time with Sinead, my son and my three daughters - they are my life.
“I was football mad growing up. I played for Moorfield and for the Chapel Road Primary School team.
“I am also a big Celtic supporter but when we were saving for a deposit on a house I had to give up my season ticket.
“I still cheer them on from the comfort of my living room at home, but it’s definitely not the same,” he laughed.