A Heritage Lottery funded project which will uncover and celebrate the stories of female fire-fighters in Leeds will be launched on Saturday 15th June at a special event at a former fire station in Gipton.

One woman in particular, Penny Rowntree, will be sharing her memories of being West Yorkshire’s first ever female fire-fighter, at the age of 18, back in 1987.

The project will be led by arts and social change charity Space2 working in partnership with Leeds Beckett University. Over the next three years they will work with local volunteers to uncover women’s stories within the fire service. They will uncover the heritage of Gipton Fire Station and the role women played both as fire-fighters and as the relatives of the firemen who worked there. The end result will be a series of online story maps which people can click on to discover artefacts, facts and figures, photos and stories of women’s role within the fire service in Leeds.

There are also plans to produce a one-woman performance, based on women’s stories, which will be toured to community venues across the City.

Penny Rowntree, from Wetherby, is delighted to have been invited to take part in the project and to share her stories of working in Bramley, Wetherby and Gipton:

"I was working as a swimming instructor back in the late 1980s and I remember watching the first pilot showing of London’s Burning on the TV, which included a female fire-fighter,’ she said.

"A friend of my brothers was a fire-fighter so I asked him whether they were recruiting women. I applied straight away and had to do a range of physical tests and entrance exams before being accepted.

"Some people thought the idea of women wanting to be fire-fighters was a bit strange at first, but once they’d met me we got on really well and I had an amazing time. Every job was different and they all had their challenges."

Penny will be sharing her stories of working for 32 years in the fire service as part of the Heritage project run by Space2 and Leeds Beckett University.

Coralie Datta, heritage co-ordinator for Space2, said: "This is a really exciting opportunity for the community to share stories about Gipton Fire Station, and its community role since 1937, and learn more about their own local heritage -with an emphasis on women.

"The Fire Station is surrounded by former fire-fighters’ housing which led to a very close community of fire-fighting families in this area.

"There is now an urgent need to capture their stories for posterity. As part of this project, we will be recruiting a team of 10 volunteers and offering them oral history and archive training to record people’s stories."

The heritage project will be officially launched as part of Fire Engine Day at The Old Fire Station in Gipton on Saturday 15th June from 11am-4pm. The event will include workshops with Professor Shane Ewen, from Leeds Beckett University, exploring the role of women in the fire service plus an opportunity to see footage of Penny Rowntree, who will also be available on the day to answer questions.

There will also be opportunities for visitors to get up close to several vintage fire engines. Former fire-fighters will be on hand to talk about their role in the fire service and there will be a range of memorabilia. Killingbeck Fire Station is also providing one of its new state-of-the-art engines for families to explore.

Fire Engine Day is being organised by The Old Fire Station, including a group of retired fire fighters and fire service enthusiasts, and supported by Space2, which has its base at the fire station.

The former fire station was converted in 2017 and now plays host to several charities, social enterprises and a community cafe.