A passion for São Brás de Alportel

An exclusive Tomorrow interview with Marlene de Sousa Guerreiro, vice president of the City Council of São Brás de Alportel.

It’s not easy getting time with a high-ranking council official. They’re busy people, dealing with financial challenges and numerous competing priorities: How do we care for the most vulnerable in our society? How do we best support existing businesses and attract new business? How do we preserve our heritage?

These are all challenges facing council leaders worldwide, but for Marlene de Sousa Guerreiro, vice president of the city council of São Brás de Alportel, it’s far more than work alone: it’s a way of life.

We met in Marlene’s office in the council HQ in the heart of the city. As with many council offices in the UK and elsewhere, it is somewhat austere but is livened by Marlene’s warm welcome. On her meeting table sit flowers, a gift from an appreciative resident. “We’re one family here in São Brás,” says Marlene. “I want nothing more than to make a difference and improve people’s lives.” Is this political rhetoric? I think not. São Brás is first and foremost a mountain town, where everyone knows everyone else. People can’t hide and this is especially true for high-profile council officials. As Marlene said, “I now work and care for the people I shared my childhood with. My work is a question of love.”

The city has over 5,000 inhabitants, the municipality over 12,000. As with many places in the Algarve, its population increases during the summer but, even at its height, it never becomes too busy, which is part of its charm. Marlene knows the locality well. Born and bred in São Brás, she only left for a brief period to further her education in Lisbon, where she graduated in Political Science and International Relations. 

Marlene started working for the council as an employee in the communications team before being encouraged to apply for a role as a councillor, something she achieved in 2005. She’s been in the elected role of vice president since 2014, representing the Socialist Party. Her four-year term involves managing a wide-ranging portfolio that includes housing, heritage, tourism, entrepreneurship, equality, social care, and more.

A typical day involves meetings with council officials, councillors, the general public and business representatives. She’s often out and about meeting local people, getting feedback, listening to any concerns and addressing issues. The senior leaders of the council meet fortnightly on Tuesdays in meetings which are open to the public. Thursday mornings are reserved for the public, providing the opportunity to book face-to-face time with council leaders. I asked if this access applies to foreign nationals too. “Of course,” said Marlene. ”They make an important contribution to our community, with the choir, the theatre and fundraising especially. We feel blessed they’re here and have chosen São Brás as their home.”

In fact, many people are now making São Brás their home. Marlene told me that “the population growth in the municipality since the 2011 census was one of the most significant in Portugal”. And this is not just foreign nationals either, but people relocating from Porto and Lisbon for a better quality of life. São Brás offers good schools, beautiful countryside, and a more relaxed pace of life, yet it’s still only a 30-minute drive from Faro airport.

If you are planning your first visit, then you’re in for a treat. Easter Sunday would be a great time to go as it’s a chance to see the renowned Flower Torch Party, a time when the whole community joins together with a colourful procession, singing, and a gorgeous carpet of flowers adorning the streets. As I walk back to my car through these cobbled streets, I pass the council-run Cineteatro, the delightful cafes, museums and independent shops. The streets are clean and the shops are busy. It’s clearly a place people take pride in. Marlene’s words echo with me as I walk: “Looking after São Brás de Alportel is a question of love.”



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