A man has been given the chance to fulfil his childhood dream of being a zookeeper after he was nominated for the mayor of Oldham’s Truly Wished project.

Stephen Exton, a direct nurse who lives in Lees, has dreamt of working with animals since he was 14 when he applied for a role at Chester Zoo.

Now, he will get the chance to live out his dream after he was recently surprised with a "Keeper for the Day" experience at Blackpool Zoo by borough mayor, Cllr Zahid Chauhan.

Mr Exton, 58, was put forward to the Truly Wished project by his family and friends in recognition of his dedicated support and involvement as a cubs, scouts and beavers leader for the last 40 years.

Cllr Chauhan recently gave a presentation to Mr Exton in front of applauding families during a weekly beavers gathering at St Edward's RC Church in Lees.

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Mr Exton said: "I’m very honoured to receive this from the mayor, I cannot believe it.

"I don’t do what I do for awards or any plaudits, I do it because I enjoy it but I’m truly overwhelmed.

The Oldham Times: Stephen Exton being presented with his wish by Mayor of Oldham Cllr Zahid ChauhanStephen Exton being presented with his wish by Mayor of Oldham Cllr Zahid Chauhan (Image: Oldham Council)

"I’ve always had a strong love for animals and since the age of four, I’ve always had dogs, cats, and fish.

"I’ve loved visiting the zoo too, so I’m really looking forward to this, especially seeing the elephants."

As part of his day as a zookeeper, Mr Exton will support zoo staff in caring for the animals, as well as helping to prepare and deliver food for wildlife including monkeys, penguins and tigers.

District Commissioner of Oldham’s Scouts, Chris Hadfield, who Mr Exton led many years ago, said: "Stephen’s been there not only for my family but everyone’s family over the years.

"I can’t express my gratitude to Stephen and he’s definitely the first person who I looked to pick, to become my right-hand man as we move forward with transforming scouting,

"I couldn’t think of anyone better and I’m sure he’s going to do us proud again."

The Oldham Times: From left to right: Stephen Exton's wife Michaela, Mr Exton, Cllr Zahid Chauhan and Chris Hadfield.From left to right: Stephen Exton's wife Michaela, Mr Exton, Cllr Zahid Chauhan and Chris Hadfield. (Image: Oldham Council)

Mr Exton has also helped to organise the annual Whit Friday Band Contest in Lees and events at Leesfield Primary School.

Cllr Chauhan said: "Oldham is full of inspirational people like Stephen and I am delighted, through my Mayoral Committee, to have granted his wish of becoming a zookeeper for the day.

"It was wonderful to see the happiness in his eyes, and he is so deserving of this after many years of devotion to his local community and the children of our borough.

"This is what Truly Wished is all about - giving something back to our residents - and I hope this inspires others to come forward too so we can bring even more joy to the people of our borough."

People in Oldham can put someone forward that they know from the borough to Truly Wished who they believe warrants their wish to become a reality by visiting www.trulywished.org.