Councillor Chloe Gavin in her office at Periana town hall.. / gfl

The Briton who is a local village's first foreign councillor

Chloe Gavin has lived in Periana in the Axarquía for 22 years after she met her husband during a Thelma-and-Louise-style road trip

JENNIE RHODES

Chloe Gavin was sworn in as a councillor in Periana, a village in the upper Axarquía, two weeks ago. The long-term resident, who is originally from London, has lived in the village since 2000, when she came to visit a friend who was holidaying there at the time.

Chloe, who was then 28, along with her friend Katie, had decided to pack in their "dull" jobs back home and go travelling "Thelma and Louise style".

Part of Chloe's plan was to buy a property, renovate it, rent it out and return to the UK. However, while in Periana she met Rafa, her now husband, so only one of the girls went home and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chloe, who had studied Spanish at the University of Edinburgh, soon integrated into the village and thanks to her husband's large family and then meeting parents of other children when her two boys started school, (they are now 16 and 18), she got to know a lot of people.

Admitting she still needs the occasional "dose" of big city life, having grown up in the UK capital, Chloe says, "I had never imagined living in a rural village but it was remarkably easy to adjust, especially as Periana had so much more than your typical post office and pub village."

Move on to 2015 and the local elections, when Rafael Torrubia was elected as the village's Socialist PSOE mayor. (Not Chloe's husband, who is also called Rafa.) The former estate agent and bank manager asked Chloe and fellow Briton, Angela Karlsson, to set up a 'foreigner's office', initially on a voluntary basis.

The village, and indeed the Axarquía, was growing in popularity among Britons and other northern Europeans. In fact, according to Junta de Andalucía statistics, in 2021, 11 per cent of Periana's population were non-Spanish. Of this percentage, 29.6 per cent were British.

Integration

Torrubia wanted to bridge the gap between the Spanish and non-Spanish communities and through initiatives such as a Christmas market, then a weekly market, excursions, Spanish classes and other activities; the hope was that the foreign community would start to integrate more.

Of course, an element of the work, like in any town or village with a foreign community, is helping out with the bureaucratic side of things and this has been no more so than with Brexit and the pandemic.

In order to secure the future of this service, in 2019 Torrubia asked Chloe if she would be interested in becoming a councillor whenever the opportunity arose. While the next local elections are not due in Spain until 2023, Chloe got her opportunity earlier this year when another PSOE councillor stood down for personal reasons.

On Wednesday 13 July Chloe was sworn in as councillor in the same room of the town hall where 19 years earlier, she and her husband got married. "It's a great honour," says Chloe, adding that she hopes she will "be able to pay back the kindness and generosity to the village" that welcomed her 22 years ago and, "continues to make me one of its own".

Chloe is the first foreign resident to become a councillor in the village. As well as being the councillor for citizens, which includes foreigners, she is also responsible for the town hall's environment department.

For Chloe, Periana is "the perfect size village". With around 3,000 residents she says it has all the services, plenty of restaurants and a good social life. She adds that she likes the village environment, "you can always stop and have a chat with people," she explains.