Interviews

Interview with Steve Masters

Steve Masters is chair of Eight Bells, a Newbury charity that supports people with mental health issues.

Steve is about to embark on a month-long cycling trip in France to raise funds for Eight Bells, in which he will attempt to cycle from the Atlantic coast across the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean. This will require climbing many of the mountain passes in the French Pyrenees. In addition to this, he will also be cycling from Newbury to the start, which will make a total of almost 1000 miles.

To donate, visit mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/stevemasters1 or text EIGHTBELLS to 70660 to donate £3. Texts cost £3 plus network charge. Eight Bells receives 100% of the donation. Charity No 1144706.

To find out a bit more about Steve, who is also chair of the West Berkshire Green Party, we interviewed him before his departure.

Q: What is your background?

A: I grew up in West Yorkshire, left home at 16 and joined the Royal Air Force. School was OK, I was able but looking back I don’t think they engaged me sufficiently. I left school after gaining 5 O-levels (Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering Drawing and Technology). I recall being a bit of a reader, computer geek during the early 80’s but joining the RAF was inspired by my late grandfather who served as a gunner on a Lancaster squadron from 1943.

During my time in the RAF I was a keen cyclist and led/managed the RAF team to victory in the transcontinental relay across America in 2000 and 2002 before making a BBC documentary in 2004 with a civilian team member parachuted in. I also featured in a documentary about the Race Across America when I managed a solo rider in 2004.

I am a divorced father of three boys, 23 (end August) 18 and 16, and grandfather (Pop) to Cayden and Avery (My eldest is married and lives in Germany).

I served for 19, almost 20 years before leaving the RAF in 2005 and joining an early internet TV channel that broadcast live cycling races on the web. Initially this was a great, almost dream job. I was the first employee and a modest shareholder and got to mix with the top cycling teams across Europe and the US making short films and selling advertising to the cycling industry. Cycling as you can see is a huge part of my life.

Q: What brought you to West Berkshire?

A: After leaving the RAF, my family and I settled in Thatcham so I could commute into London.

Q: How did you get involved in politics? Why did you chose the Green Party?

A: I have always been politically aware, kept up on current affairs but being a serviceman wasn’t politically active. I was always a bit of a Green and known as the Ecowarrior towards the end of my service by my comrades. I had an allotment, managed a formally abandoned orchard behind my last married quarter and kept bees for a few years.

After leaving Cycling TV I had, in part because of the pressure of working in London and a very pressured commercial environment, a down-turn in my mental health that eventually led to my marriage breaking up in 2009. I spent 10 months homeless living on the floor of my office. I pretty much lost everything and was stripped back to just existing. I was very depressed and it was a very difficult time.

Eventually I was helped and supported by friends and the British Legion into a flat out in Bradfield Southend where, slowly I managed to get my life back on track. There were many dark moments along the way but I remained optimistic throughout. My children were a source of hope and anchored me during that period.

During 2011, I enrolled on a foundation course at Ruskin Collage in Oxford and won a bursary to study History with social science, that then became a full degree course from which I graduated in 2014 with a 2:1 BA (Hons) after winning the prize for ‘Best Dissertation’!! This was a surprise as I had never written anything before starting the course.

My dissertation was an examination of the lack of visibility and representation of women in the history of Thatcham, focusing on the life of Feminist campaigner Anna Munro. I do occasional talks about her life from time to time.

It was after graduating that I became a member of the Greens, as overall their policies made more sense to me than other parties. Recently, I was nominated for the ‘Inspiring Candidate’ award after the campaign we ran in the Thatcham South and Crookham by-election in June 2017, which achieved the Green Party their fourth best result in the country in terms of vote share.

Q: How eco is your own lifestyle?

A: Living on a narrowboat allows me to be pretty eco. I am totally self sufficient for electricity via solar, and at present I move the boat by hand as I am in the process of changing the engine. I am looking at electric options but that maybe some time away. I try to minimise single-use plastics where I can. I don’t drive so cycling is not just a sport for me but a means for transport. I routinely do 20 miles without thinking about it just going about my daily routine.

Along with public transportation, cycling will be key in the fight for the environment. I do what I can but don’t preach about it (well, hopefully not).

Climate change is a real and present threat to our species existence and we are hell bent on the exploitation of the environment. This is a social issue and changing this holistically presents a huge challenge, but the nature of our consumer based lifestyle is unsustainable. We should be developing alternative, sustainable economy or it will end in a catastrophe.

Q: What do you feel your role is?

A: My role locally is to challenge the current regime, encourage discussion and try to get them to be part of the changes needed. Change often comes from the bottom up and grassroots movements, so highlighting poor descision making over recycling and other local issues that impact people’s lives directly.

Q: Keeping those in power accountable?

A: Absolutely yes. Power and people in power rely on apathy and the perception that people aren’t interested. I recently and continue to canvass many of the constituents in the ward I am standing in next May and people are far from uninterested and often tell me I am the first political activist to actually ask their views and concerns. I am greatly encouraged by this. I think politicians forget who they are serving at times. May 2019 will be very interesting indeed in West Berkshire.

Q: What do you think is most important – changing government policy or persuading consumers to change their habits? Or do they go hand in hand?

A: They go hand in hand and public pressure from the bottom up often can force the top down changes to legislation and policy that are needed. Single-use plastic is an example of this. The government have been slow to act and the planned total ban is too far in the future so public pressure is growing and they will have to bring the target nearer. However the industry still hold sway and are lobbying hard. The local groups that have sprung up since Attenborough showed the extent of the problem are central to this grassroots movement.

Q: How did you get involved with Eight Bells?

A: I was asked to be a trustee over a year ago and while I knew of them I didn’t fully understand what they did. The members run the group and organise activities and offer support to each when they can’t always depend on hard-strapped professionals. I became chair in January and my aim is to build a more financially robust organisation that will allow the members to continue to provide a wonderful and growing service.

Q: Have you had personal experience of mental health issues?

A: As I mentioned earlier I have had some depression issues and that has undoubtedly shaped my outlook towards both government policies and my passion for Eight Bells. Many of us will experience some form of mental health issue in our lifetime so I am determined to challenge the stigma and encourage an open and honest conversation about it.

Q: Do you think it is difficult for people who haven’t had this experience to really understand the issues and the support that is required?

A: Possibly yes, however the lack of understanding is probably down to people feeling awkward about prying and worrying about upsetting the person. Talking about things certainly helped me. The best thing we can do is listen, the simple act of being there for someone is so valuable.

1 Comments
  1. An excellent article by an excellent man who came to 8 Bells for mental health and has certainly done a great deal to support the group and is liked by all the members also Steve’s involment with the Green Party is welcomed in Newbury and Steve is always ready to voice his views and those of the Newbury Public , I’m sure this latest adventure cycling trip to France will be a challenge Steve will carry out well and raise the money he hoping to raise for the charity .
    Raymond Fox 8 Bells members chairman .

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