Time for a new career? You bet!

PUBLISHED: 11:12 10 May 2007 | UPDATED: 12:28 04 May 2010

HORSE SENSE: Alan studies the racing form before putting on a bet to mark his retirement.                                                                 Photo: HELEN DRAKE

HORSE SENSE: Alan studies the racing form before putting on a bet to mark his retirement. Photo: HELEN DRAKE

ALAN Stevens went to his school careers teacher at 16 and said he was good at drawing and wanted a job. That brief meeting led to a 44-year career in local government with Alan rising through the ranks from office junior, to chief draughtsman and finally

FOR more than 40 years, Alan Stevens has been the solid, reliable face of local government. Since joining East Cambridgeshire District Council on its launch day in 1974 he has moved through the ranks, raised a family and even built his own home. But yesterday (Wednesday) Alan swapped his council job for the role of professional gambler. LESLEY INNES met Alan and found out more about his plans to top up his retirement pension by betting on the horses.

ALAN Stevens went to his school careers teacher at 16 and said he was good at drawing and wanted a job.

That brief meeting led to a 44-year career in local government with Alan rising through the ranks from office junior, to chief draughtsman and finally retiring yesterday (Wednesday) as facilities manager in charge of East Cambridgeshire's assets and open spaces.

In those 44 years, Alan, of Lynn Road, Ely, has married, raised three sons and built his own home.

He has even been arrested for suspected smuggling by the French gendarmerie during a town twinning trip which led to him spending hours in a foreign police station.

Now, at the age of 60, he has left his desk at East Cambridgeshire District Council with no intention of pulling out the pipe and slippers.

He plans to launch a new career as a professional gambler and indulge his passion for horse-racing.

The sport has been his love since he remembers sitting with his grandfather as a teenager watching the horses.

When he was 18 he picked the winner of the Champion Hurdles, Saucy Kit, and he was hooked.

"I've never been to a gambling casino, I just like the horses," said Alan. "I do believe I can make it pay. I study form. But there are no worries about me gambling away the inheritance.

"I will start off with a ceiling and once that's gone it's gone. It can be a fairly conservative budget and if it fails I will give up. When I was working it was difficult to keep up to date with what was happening with a race. I always said I would wait until I retired."

Alan began his career with Cambridgeshire County Council, training as a junior draughtsman after he was recommended for a post in the planning department by his career teacher's wife.

When local government was reorganised in the 1970s he was headhunted to become chief draughtsman at the new East Cambridgeshire District Council.

His job involved drawing up plans for building applications and maps, and in those early days he would often drive around the region for up to two days at a time noting where buildings had been demolished and the landscape changed.

The council kept filing cabinets full of Letraset letters in all different sizes which were used endlessly by Alan and his colleagues in the days before modern publishing techniques.

The introduction of computers changed Alan's work, making it quicker and more efficient and consigning the pencil and drawing pad to history.

In those early days council budgets were just as tight and Alan remembers his chief executive warning his managers to hold onto the purse strings. "One man over budget is another man's job," he would warn.

But it's not been all plain sailing. Twenty-five years ago Alan was sent with a colleague to the French town of Orsay to cement twinning links with Ely.

The pair loaded examples of arts and crafts into their car, along with some ornate silver car mascots designed by a Wilburton villager, to show to their French friends.

But Alan and his workmate were seized by customs officials before they could board the ferry and were accused of smuggling.

The Gendarmerie moved in, and when the pair couldn't produce satisfactory paperwork they were arrested and held in the local police station.

"They phoned the council chief executive to try to sort it out," said Alan. "In the end I think we became quite an embarrassment. They weren't sure what to do with us and after a number of hours we were released."

During his career, Alan has helped to organise a number of royal visits, playing host to the Queen and Princess Diana when she came to open the city's Princess of Wales Hospital.

He has watched the construction of Ely bypass, the Cambridge Business Park and Jubilee Gardens, which he has been responsible for in his latest role.

Despite a full-time challenging career, he found time 22 years ago to build his own home.

Consigning his wife, Linda, and their three small children, the youngest one just 18 months at the time, to a caravan, he spent evenings and weekends on the project.

"I'm very practical at DIY," said Alan. "My grandfather was a carpenter and my father an electrician. But I wasn't very good with heights and I was clinging on for dear life while my 71-year-old father was walking between the roof trusses.

"One of the council architects advised me not to move in until the house was finished. But when the central heating was installed in the house and with winter approaching we left the caravan - it took me seven years to finish the place!"

Apart from the gambling, Alan's retirement will be spent travelling and playing golf.

"I'll miss the people at work," said Alan. "They've been a good crowd. But I've got to retire sometime.

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