THE new ceremonial head of Oxfordshire County Council was one of the country’s first women air traffic control assistants – and said the job spurred her on to achieve.

Gill Sanders is county councillor for Rose Hill and Littlemore and on Tuesday was elected by her colleagues to serve as their chair for the next year.

The position of chair is the equivalent of a mayor at town or city councils. Mrs Sanders will represent the council at events and chair its meetings.

Originally from Swansea, she started work as an air traffic control assistant at Fairwood Airport near the city.

She said: “I was one of very few women in the country to be in the profession. I learned a great deal working with men, many of whom had previously been in the forces.

“It was a really good grounding and helped build my confidence. I thought to myself: ‘if you can do this you can do anything you want to’. It was a good insight into what I was capable of achieving.”

Mrs Sanders has been a Labour county councillor since 2012 and was vice-chair for 2017/18. Until May she was a city councillor, serving on the authority for 26 years. She was also elected its Lord Mayor in 2012.

She said: “My diary is already getting full of various events and the lovely thing about the role of chair or Mayor is that you go to places you wouldn’t ordinarily go to and meet people you’d never ordinarily meet. It’s wonderful to talk to them and find out about their lives.”

Officially the council has a chairman but Mrs Sanders told councillors that she would prefer to be addressed as its chair.

Her husband John is a fellow county councillor. He represents Cowley for the Labour Party.

She has two sons and grandchildren and has lived in Oxford for 41 years.

Mrs Sanders worked in Oxford schools for 25 years and worked as an HR and administration manager. She is now retired.

She will support two charities during her year as chair. She nominated The Porch, the day centre for homeless people or for others who need support based in Magdalen Road, Oxford, and the Rose Hill Junior Youth Club. That helps about 150 children every week.

Mrs Sanders has taken over as chair from Zoe Patrick, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Grove and Wantage. Mrs Patrick., who made more than 160 trips in her role, had been the council’s vice-chairman in 2016/17.

She said: “Every place is different, but the one thing that binds all our communities together is that they all want their own particular area to thrive and do well.

“We are a county of community spirit. Everywhere I have been, I have seen amazing and dedicated volunteers who are passionate about what they do and want to keep working hard because they feel proud of where they live and what they believe in.”