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THE hopes and dreams of a bank worker went up in smoke when she was suddenly made redundant.

But Penny Robins showed she has fire in her belly by setting out to become Southend’s first accredited female chimney sweep after Lloyds bank axed her just before Christmas.

The sweep, who trades under the name “Penny Poppins” in a nod to Disney classic Mary Poppins, which features chimney sweep Bert, wasted no time after learning she had lost her job. She dusted herself down and retrained as a “master sweeper”.

The 39-year-old from Fleetwood Avenue, Westcliff, said: “I had toyed with the idea for a while and then when redundancy came up I thought, why not look and see if there is a need for it or a niche for a lady to do it.

“It has been really good so far. I’m loving it.

“I’ve managed people in an office for 25 years, so it’s just nice to get out and meet people.

“But I went to one job and a little girl of about three was really upset because she was expecting the real Mary Poppins!”

Miss Robins, who was one of almost 900 staff who lost their jobs after Lloyds closed Essex House in Southchurch Road, realised the demand for chimney sweeps after waiting five weeks for one herself last autumn.

The former team leader from the lost and stolen cards department guessed work would increase as more people buy log burners and biomass boilers, but also thought the industry could do with a woman’s touch.

She said: “There is a huge market for women in trade positions, such as plumbers and electricians.

“Sometimes ladies prefer women to come in their home rather than men. They feel more secure.

“As far as I’m aware there are no other women doing it in this area, certainly not those accredited by the Guild of Master Sweepers – in fact there are only nine in the whole country.

“There are absolutely no reasons why women should have any problems doing this. If anything, women are a bit cleaner and tidier!”

Miss Robins underwent ten days of intensive training for the role, including on-the-job training with a master sweeper, and had to pass a series of exams.

Chimney sweeps still work in the traditional way, using rods and brushes, along with more modern equipment, including rotating brushes powered by drills.

Miss Robins had to do some training to improve the strength of her grip.