A gay couple in Hartlepool are making history by becoming the first civil partnership in the country to hold the positions of council leader and civic mayor.

Labour councillors Christopher Akers-Belcher and Stephen Akers-Belcher have been in a civil partnership for seven years.

Christopher, who is Labour group leader, will become leader of Hartlepool Council from Monday while partner Stephen, who is currently chairman of the council, is set to be confirmed as ceremonial mayor next week.

“We are really proud to be the first civil partnership in the country to hold both roles and it just shows how progressive Hartlepool has become,” Christopher told the Hartlepool Mail.

“It has got to the point where nobody really cares about our sexual orientation, all people are really concerned about is whether we can do the job.

“People assume we morph into the same person when you are a couple, but the roles are very different and we are both really looking forward to the challenge.”

The 45-year-old dad-of-four and grandad-of-one added: “The LGBT [community] is an integral part of the community in Hartlepool and no longer just perceived as the minority.”

Hartlepool is known for its interesting political history.

Gay former Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson was the town’s MP until 2004.

Stuart Drummond, football mascot H’angus the Monkey, was the “joke” candidate to be mayor of Hartlepool in 2002.

Some 11 years later, with three election victories under his belt, Mr Drummond leaves office on 5 May.

A referendum in November signalled the end for the town’s mayoral system and Hartlepool Council will instead be governed by committees.