Miss England Final 16-17 May:
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Life so far Story by Mary Jennings 

Photo by Saul at Solar Content Creations

My Miss England journey started back in June last year when I applied for the Miss Lincolnshire contest. I had no idea that of course, I’d go onto win the title in October.   Taking part in Miss Lincolnshire was solely for myself my motivation behind it to show myself how far I had actually come.

Photo by Saul at Solar Content Creations

My mental health battle started at an extremely young age, by the age of 10 being told there was a high risk I would die due to an eating disorder called anorexia.  I weighted just over 4 stone at the time and was essentially skin and bones, constantly unwell and back and forth to the doctors. It was an absolute terrible time in my life and one that I still sometimes struggle to talk about. Going through something so life defining at a young age had a huge impact on me. I went on into recovery of my eating disorder through secondary school; only to then be diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. It was one battle after another. I enjoyed learning, but the school environment was extremely difficult and challenging for me

By the time I joined year 11, my attendance was so low I was being told by the school welfare officer that my parents could risk going to jail. There was absolutely no support system coming from the school for me – and the people who were supposed to be there to help just had no idea of how mental health problems affected young people.

I ended up essentially not attending school properly for the entirety of year 11, very rarely attending school and when I did so, I was placed in ‘the unit’, where the misbehaving children were placed, which only made my anxiety worse at the time. I was fortunate enough to meet a wonderful lady who was part of the SEN support staff, and she got me back into school. This was the first breakthrough I had had in a long time; and although I still didn’t attend lessons, I attended and went in my own private room to educate myself. I actually ended up achieving extremely high GCSE grades and was invited in early to receive an award from the school principle.

    My life blossomed after leaving secondary school and heading into college, where I chose to study law, sociology and photography, as well as taking up an EPQ in my spare time. Once again, by the time I had finished college, I had achieved fantastic A-Level results that I was extremely proud of. During my college years is also when I became a police cadet for Humberside Police. This was a voluntary role that I enjoyed very much, we got to attend many events, including attending Lincoln Cathedral by special invite of the then High Sherriff.

 Now in the Miss England final, which is sponsored by Watermans Hair , I have realised my full passion for the competition and aim to do my very best to showcase my Beauty with a Purpose project, which is to inspire, educate, empower and advocate for women and girls to have the same opportunity to join the emergency services as their male counterparts.

Whilst also maintaining my advocacy for better mental health awareness in schools and pushing the war on fast fashion by being the first Miss England Finalist to wear all ethically sourced, second hand clothing and accessories in the final .

My Career:

When I discovered the fire service, it first started off as another pipe dream as I thought I would be held back again because of my mental health experiences, but they welcomed me with open arms. I had a mentor called Cassie to start with, and she was absolutely brilliant.  I still see her from time to time, but she moved onto another station.

I began doing some training here and there and discovered that I really needed to work on my fitness! I couldn’t even lift 10kg above my head let alone 30kg (which is one of the fitness tests for firefighting). I have been helped along the way by many people down at various fire stations in Humberside and have only ever been supported by this wonderful fire family. Everyone wants you to succeed and that is one of the things I love most about this career.

About a year on from training, I came across a job at Humberside Airport and briefly worked as an Aviation Firefighter, yet I still felt it wasn’t the right fit for me and I also wanted to further work on my fitness, even though I passed the fitness tests for this role, working in it is completely different. I left this role after a brief stint, but it has given me an invaluable experience and I met lots of lovely people on station. I was also the only female working on station, out of all 3 watches and this was another difficulty that I faced, as I so desperately wanted to fit in with the guys! I didn’t mind being the only lady on station, don’t get me wrong, but I could definitely see from my experience how it becomes so male dominated; the work is extremely hard.

Long hours and strenuous activity made up every single shift, and I realised I had to be more prepared for this.

 I went back to training after leaving the airport, and still stayed in contact with lots of the firefighters throughout the Humberside and Lincolnshire areas. I came across and opportunity a couple of months later to join the brigade in a different capacity; a fire cadet leader. This role is right up my street, having experience working with children and young people, and of course in fire fighting itself, I was an ideal candidate for the role! I started off volunteering for a couple of sessions, but it wasn’t long before I was presented with the opportunity to join as a paid role for my continued work, organising and delivering sessions to our cadets. I am so proud to say now that I work for Humberside Fire and Rescue Service as a part time Fire Cadet Leader.

    My role is so interesting and each week we do something different; myself and the other instructor, Craig, decided that I would be in charge of ant fitness sessions we have to plan. So at the moment this is my forté, but it doesn’t stop me getting involved in every other session, where more technical aspects come into play, such as using the BA chambers, looking around the engines or even acting out drills in the yard. We have a very even number of cadets who are female and male, as well as also being extremely supportive of young people who have learning disabilities. We are inclusive as that is what we, as a service, want to reflect in our potential future firefighters.

    Of course, in the future my aspiration is still to work for the service as a full-time firefighter, and this will come along for me when the time is right. I continue to work very hard on my fitness, having ran my first 10k race and also now being able to lift heavy equipment and weights in the gym! I constantly get told in the gym by the gents that I’m doing better than them, so if you’re in need of any gym inspiration, I’m living proof that us ladies can do just as well as the men! (If not better).  I cant wait for the Miss England Sports round run by former marine Lee Stuart .

I am so proud to have gained the title of Miss Lincolnshire and that the judges saw the potential I had to  show my story to hopefully inspire other young women and girls in to the fire service.   Id like to thank my sponsor Champagne and Lace for supporting me in the competition who I have modelled for during the past few months .

The Miss England final:

Going into the Miss England final, as well as entering the key rounds such as the Watermans Hair Round where I show off my haircare routine on social media , the Ethical fashion & sportsround  , I have a specific objective to show. 

I have a 4 point ethos, one of inspiration, education, empowerment and advocacy. I have exciting meetings set up with Humberside’s CFO, Phil Shillito and Lincolnshire’s CFO Mark Baxter. Both of these meetings will consist of a short interview to further understand how each brigade is operating to increase their EDI and how other people can help to do this too, as of course, its not just the service itself that needs to work on this, its educational systems, current crews and the media.

My plan is one of five points, and one which is to be presented to both CFO’s in our meeting with solid solutions as to how they can support me in my vision. I strongly believe in being in this for the long haul, as my passion for the fire service and advocating for them is not going to end. The fire service is a career for life, and therefore so will my mission. I believe being in my current position, I have the brilliant opportunity to make a difference and this is what my Beauty with a Purpose mission will be.

 My five point plan is:

  1. a) Educational visits to schools, colleges and fire stations.
  2. b) To be the face of a new and inclusively envisioned recruitment campaign.
  3. c) To be the official ambassador for the Fire and Rescue Services
  4. d) To take my speeches country-wide and educate every brigade to inspire them to make positive changes.
  5. e) To start up my own positive recruitment campaign, including a new positive action scheme called SWIFS (Supporting women into the Fire Service)

I completely believe that this plan is achievable and I cannot wait to present these ideas to both named CFO’s above, and the solutions and ways in which they can support me on my mission to make a change.

 Many may ask why this is even important and why should we care? You should care because your fire service and other emergency services, are meant to be representative of our communities. And at the moment, they just simply aren’t. If we don’t have representative communities within our services, we cannot effectively provide our services to each member of society. Women especially, being one of the most underrepresented groups in the service. The number is increasing; but not at the rate that it should be, this is across the board in every single brigade. Around 8 percent of firefighters are women, a shockingly low statistic, my mission is to change this throughout my 4 point ethos and 5 point plan. Taking this mission into the Miss England final is an opportunity I am so thankful for, this discrepancy in percentage is something that needs to be addressed and I am not afraid to be the person to do that.

I have many other meetings and projects set up, one of which is to work with the prestigious organisation WFSUK, Women in the Fire Service UK. We need strong women to pave the way for other strong women and I really believe in my mission to inspire, educate, empower and advocate for women and girls to have the same opportunity to join the Fire Service and other emergency services as what those already working within the service have had.

What is it like working in a male dominated work force?

They aren’t the cleanest – just as a prior warning. But honestly, all of the guys are absolutely lovely. But on a more serious note, don’t let those words scare you ‘male dominated’, whilst it is a fact that it is like this in the emergency services, not just in the fire service, women can be just as strong and powerful as men and you need to have the right mind set to see past that fact. There are so many positive aspects that come from working with a male workforce, you have to be prepared that in the current climate it would be likely you could be the only female on a watch, or even on a station, as I have been before.

But if you are strong enough to do this job to start with, you’re strong enough to work alongside your counterparts. There’s huge stereotypes that the men will treat you differently, but that’s just simply not the case, you’re expected to do just the same things as your male counterparts and at the end of the day, all they want to do is support you in your career.

I heavily discuss my fire service career and aspirations, as well as my voluntary emergency responder work with the British Red Cross, on my social media account on Instagram @mary_jennings05.

You can support my mission by following my account and if you’re considering the emergency services as a career, please don’t hesitate to get in contact! “

Mary promoting the Miss England Headline sponsors Watermans Hair

Mary will be representing Lincolnshire in the next Miss England national final taking place at the Grand Station Wolverhampton  on the 16th & 17th May 2024 sponsored by Watermans Hair.

For tickets to support Mary at the event visit the Grand Station Website to find out more 

If Mary wins , she will be the first fire cadet to ever win the title which qualifies for the 72nd Miss World .