Leeds hotel manager's switch to RAF career was triggered by Covid lockdown

The Covid-19 lockdown led to a radical career change for former Leeds hotel manager Jenna Fairburn.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 6th May 2021, 10:19 am

Jenna, 23, of Seacroft, had been working at the Cosmopolitan Hotel on Lower Briggate for four years - including two years as a duty manager - when Covid struck in March 2020.

Jenna stayed on working behind the scenes at the hotel while it was temporarily closed during lockdown as she weighed up her future career options.

Jenna loved her job and the people she worked with at the hotel, but said her life being put on hold due to Covid meant she ran out of excuses not to start the RAF career she had dreamed of from being a 12-year-old air force cadet.

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Jenna Fairburn Photo: Steve Riding

The former Wetherby High School student said she had wanted to join the RAF when she left at 16, but her parents wanted her to go into further education first.

Jenna ended up working at the hotel and life got in the way of her plans.

"I got a little bit content and scared to move on," said Jenna. "It was never the right time to go away for 10-weeks of basic training.

"There was always something going on, either a holiday booked or something happening at home.

Jenna Fairburn pictured during her RAF training

"When the pandemic hit it triggered me to apply."

Jenna had to undergo the full application process, which included taking an airman selection test, interviews, medical examination and a fitness test.

Now Jenna has completed her RAF basic training and was due to travel to Portsmouth at the weekend to start 22-weeks of training for her chosen career in the Royal Air Force Police.

She could then be deployed to any RAF base in the UK or overseas.

Jenna Fairburn and her brother Jake - now a qualified pilot - pictured in 2011 at North Leeds Air Training Corps.

"It's the best decision I've ever made," said Jenna. "The air force is such a rewarding career and you feel like you have got family outside of home.

"There are so many opportunities within your career in the air force to enhance your education with different roles."

Jenna said she was nervous ahead of starting the 10-week basic training at the end of January at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire.

"It was really exciting and probably one of the most challenging things I have ever done," she said.

Jenna Fairburn (third from right) on parade with the RAF

"I never thought I would be firing weapons, avoiding smoke bombs and sleeping outside on basic training exercises.

"I thought that would be the part I would hate, but I loved it - it is just a different world."

"It is very disciplined in the RAF and seems really strict to begin with, but then it just becomes the norm.

"I will see the world and there are opportunities to progress as the RAF will pay for your education. You are constantly cared for and looked after.

"I'm glad I didn't join at 16. I have had a little bit of life experience now."

Jenna said she first joined the North Leeds Air Training Corps at Oakwood aged 12 and stayed until she was 19.

Jenna Fairbnurn pictured winning a trophy while at North Leeds Air Training Corps.

Her older brother Jake was in the air cadets and she had seen him enjoy flying lessons and visits to RAF bases.

Jake, 26, is a qualified pilot who worked for Ryanair before the pandemic and is currently a flying instructor working out of Leeds Bradford Airport.

Jenna said: "In the air cadets you visit summer camps and different RAF bases and get the opportunity to go flying and go shooting at firing ranges."

After leaving school at 16 Jenna started a two year Craven College aviation operations qualification at the aviation academy at Leeds Bradford Airport.

She then started a two year degree in air transport management with Craven College.

In her spare time, Jenna worked as a part time ambassador for Leeds Bradford Airport and a Jet2 passenger service agent.

When she was 19, Jenna started working part time as a waitress at the Cosmopolitan Hotel before joining full time as receptionist and later being promoted to duty manager.

Jenna wrote a blog about her experiences during basic training for Leeds City Council's Leeds Girls Can website.

Active Leeds and Leeds Girls Can are working to inspire local young women to get active and pursue careers that might not necessarily be deemed the norm.

On the morning of her graduation from basic training last month, Jenna wrote on the blog: "I have had so many emotions throughout the course and genuinely feel like a different person coming out of Halton.

"My mindset and the way I see things have changed for the better. I feel like my self discipline in all areas including fitness, organisation and my situational awareness has improved massively.

"My leadership and teamwork skills have enhanced too. I’ve met so many people on my course that I honestly will remain friends with for the rest of my life and couldn’t have got through the course without them, which is something I am so thankful for.

"I would also like to personally thank every single one of my Instructors for their quality of teaching and level of support for me and other recruits, it has been beyond compare."

For information on RAF careers, go to www.raf.mod.uk/recruitment/ or on Instagram at @rafcareersnortheast

Jenna Fairburn Photo: Steve Riding