Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is an organisation on a mission – determined to continue breaking down the stereotypes that have haunted its past in a bid to create a more diverse future.

Matt Maguire is the Service’s Policy and Research Manager as well as being the current Chair of Firepride, the organisation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans staff network.

“Many people still retain quite an outdated image of what a modern day fire and rescue service is all about,” explains Matt. “We have worked really hard over the past few years both internally with our staff and externally within communities to change some of the stereotypes in order to break down barriers and create a much more inclusive working environment.”

The work that has gone on within the Service is reaping some great results. This year saw the organisation make it into the list of the top 100 organisations in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index. Stonewall also heralded the Service as the North West’s Most Improved Employer after it climbed 101 places to claim the 45th slot.

“This was a really great achievement and something we are proud of, however, more than that, it has instilled a real drive across the organisation to build on what we have achieved,” adds Matt. “We are totally committed to developing an inclusive working environment where our staff feel valued regardless of their background or sexual orientation. Our aim is always to deliver an excellent fire and rescue service, ensuring that the communities of Cheshire remain safe. This is best achieved when staff feel supported and can be themselves at work.”

The Service was praised for its LGBT employee network group, Firepride, which was the only fire and rescue service group to have been accredited as a ‘Star Performing Network’ and its ‘Straight Allies’ programme, which promotes a more open workplace culture.

Matt explains the impact that the latter initiative is having on the wider organisation,

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“The Straight Allies’ programme is a really interesting initiative that I am delighted to say has already delivered fantastic support. It was set up as a means of engaging people from all areas of the organisation and showing out LGBT staff that they were not alone – that they had a network of people here who wanted to support them and create an organisation that values everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.”

A database of Allies is readily available on the Service intranet where every member is profiled. Each profile includes contact details and a quote outlining why the individual is involved.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has, like many other public sector organisations, got some testing times ahead. However, it is convinced that its ‘team Cheshire’ ethos and its commitment to valuing the diversity of its workforce will be at the forefront of seeing it through these difficult times.