He left school at 15 with no qualifications – but has journeyed to become Bristol’s new Lord Mayor.
Now Councillor Jeff Lovell (63), who was born and brought up in Knowle West, has a simple message for today’s young people in the area: “If I can, you can.”
And after only a few weeks in his new post, he says his “feet haven’t touched the ground.” The Lord Mayor takes on a demanding role which could see him attending over 900 events a year, working seven days a week.
Mr Lovell describes the position so far as “an incredible journey … challenging, but thoroughly enjoyable.”
He says: “One of the reasons I took it on was because I wanted to inspire those individuals in our community who struggle throughout their educational period – who think there’s no light at the end of the tunnel…
“I had no formal qualifications, I spent 31 years in the fire brigade, 10 years as a councillor and now I’m Lord Mayor.”
Unlike the elected mayor, the Lord Mayor is a non-political and civic role that has existed for around 800 years, representing the city on formal occasions and chairing council meetings.
Mr Lovell explains: “Whereas the Bristol Mayor looks after the finances … I look after the dignitaries who visit the city.”
Growing up in Filwood, he attended Ilminster Avenue School and the former Connaught Road Secondary School – where he competed in the West of England athletics championships.
He recalls: “…I loved every minute of it; the youth clubs, the fields, the school was wonderful…”
The closure of Connaught Road Secondary School is what he points to as a cause of some of the area’s issues – which he has looked to tackle as Labour councillor for Filwood since 2007.
He says: “My community of Filwood had lost its identity the day they shut down the school. We lost everything surrounding Knowle West.”
When he joined the council, he says Filwood ranked as one of the worst wards in the country for things like crime and anti-social behaviour, but thanks to the efforts of community champions he has worked alongside – things have improved considerably.
“I’m hoping people will agree the quality of life is tremendously better now and people feel more confident… Don’t look so much at what I’ve done, but look at what I’ve been part of…giving the people a voice and letting them make the noise.”
His wife Bridget, who has worked with him throughout the years in local communities, has taken on the role of Lady Mayoress, accompanying him on official duties – when she isn’t busy being a grandmother.
The couple raised three children as Mr Lovell worked in the fire brigade – which itself he described as a “unique family.” He was the first father to be seen at the local play school, converted the garage into a classroom and gave up smoking for several years to fund his daughter through university.
But now it’s the whole of Bristol he will be taking under his wing. He says: “My family is 460,000 people now.”