Taking the plunge - Jennie Mills of Rainbow International Derbyshire

Jennie Mills Photo: Sarah Marley

Jennie Mills Photo: Sarah Marley - Credit: Archant

David Marley meets Derbyshire entrepreneur Jennie Mills, who swapped a Hollywood-movie scuba-diving career for a business restoring homes and properties devastated by water and fire

Filming 'Secret Service', Jennie assisted in the underwater scene Photograph by Alice Pennefather

Filming 'Secret Service', Jennie assisted in the underwater scene Photograph by Alice Pennefather - Credit: Archant

Two women are fighting for their lives as water gushes into a pub cellar where they are trapped. The water has reached a gravely high level when one of the women finds her leg is entangled, compelling the other to dive down to try and free her.

And to make matters worse a psychotic murderer armed with a gun wants to harm them. As they struggle to break away from the killer's clutches it's not looking good for the ensnared pair - and it's hard to imagine how they will escape.

Then unexpectedly the tension is broken. A reverberating hum relays a message from a producer to a team of divers in the water, instructing them to take action. On hearing the command Jennie Mills swims to aid the women, and with perfect precision places a scuba-regulator into their mouths. Seconds later and the women are safely above water.

This was autumn 2013 and Jennie, a commercial scuba-diver, was masterminding safety precautions for the filming of an underwater scene at the Woolpack set as part of an hour-long special of ITV's Emmerdale.

A worker wearing protective clothing while clearing the hazardous substance, asbestos, from an old attic - one of the...

A worker wearing protective clothing while clearing the hazardous substance, asbestos, from an old attic - one of the tasks performed by Rainbow International Derbyshire Photo: Alistair Forrester Shankie/getty images - Credit: Getty Images

The intense action was recorded at the underwater stage at Pinewood Studios, near London. 'I worked at Pinewood for two years as a freelance, self-employed media diver and it was an amazing experience,' says Jennie. 'For many actors filming underwater can at first seem a bit surreal and dreamlike but being part of those dramatic scenes with the actors Charley Webb (who plays Debbie Dingle), Lucy Pargeter (Chas Dingle) and Dominic Power (Cameron Murray) was very special.'

When Pinewood Studios opened their gigantic underwater stage, they were quickly inundated with requests to film television programmes, commercials, pop videos and photo-shoots. 'The tank holds over a million litres of water, filtered using an advanced ultraviolet system - creating the perfect conditions for cast and crew to work in,' she explains.

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Jennie operated as part of a specialist media diving company, called Diving Services UK, and she also assisted with underwater safety measures on a number of Hollywood blockbusters, including the Mission Impossible and Kingsman global film franchises. 'I suppose it was an extraordinary way to earn a living - there's probably not that many girls from Codnor who can say they have worked on a movie starring Tom Cruise,' she grins.

Working in the Hollywood movie industry must have seemed a world away from Jennie's childhood. She attended Waingroves Primary School, then Tibshelf Community School, where she became head girl.

Diving training

Diving training - Credit: Archant

'I suppose I was a bit of a bossy-boots at school. I was never really that academic and preferred to be more hands-on,' she recalls. 'My parents ran businesses in Jacksdale, Nottinghamshire. Mum managed a Post Office and Dad had a butcher's shop.'

When Jennie left school, she went to work for a transport company in Nottingham but struggled to settle in her new role. 'As a youngster I'd always enjoyed going scuba diving, so I thought I would see if I could use my hobby to gain better life experiences.'

She packed a bag and set off for Egypt and a specialist course to gain a Professional Association of Diving Instructors' (PADI) open water diving certificate. By the time she was 18, Jennie had passed the course and become one of the youngest British sub-aqua instructors in the UK. She spent the next four years travelling around the world teaching people the art of diving.

'It was an amazing period of my life. I visited Greece, Australia and spent a summer on a 45-foot catamaran in the Caribbean Sea as part of a holiday school,' she recalls. 'I also had seven months in Iceland, and even had the opportunity to dive with the American actor Ben Stiller.'

Jennie with her team at Rainbow International Derbyshire

Jennie with her team at Rainbow International Derbyshire - Credit: Archant

By now in her early twenties, Jennie was missing Derbyshire, her friends and family so she bought a home in Chesterfield and sought employment as a commercial diver, travelling to Scotland to train. On passing the training, she began work at Pinewood Studios as a safety diver in the film industry but after two years of the weekly commute to London she decided to look for something nearer home. 'The decision to move back on a permanent basis was very difficult, especially as I had worked so hard to get where I was,' she says. 'Then a family acquaintance mentioned an opportunity to buy a business franchise as part of Rainbow International, a company that operates in the insurance sector, providing restoration and cleaning services to people whose homes have been affected by fire and water damage. The franchise covered Dronfield, Bakewell, Matlock, Belper and Ashbourne and beyond - and that was really appealing to me.'

With the support of her mother Fay, Jennie secured finance to buy the business and they became business partners.

'Senior management at Rainbow International's head office were wonderful and gave us so much encouragement,' she explains. 'They told me the skills I'd acquired through my scuba-diving years showed I could follow rules and guidelines which made me an excellent person to adopt their standards.'

Jennie and Fay quickly needed to set up an office and recruit a team of specialist administrators and technicians. A significant portion of the work done by Jennie's Rainbow International Derbyshire franchise is sent to her by the head office of the company which holds a number of central contracts with major high-street insurance companies.

'On a daily basis we receive calls from head office advising us of properties that have sustained water ingress or fire damage,' she says. 'And it's our job to inspect the extent of the problem before reporting back to insurers and starting the process of restoring the home or commercial premises back to its original condition.'

No two days are the same for Jennie and her team of skilled restorers and office clerks. 'One day we can attend a property that has seen a water tank burst in a loft space. We will need to test how damp the walls are, as well as providing dehumidifiers and fans to begin the drying out process,' she explains. 'Then the next moment we can go out to a commercial property devastated by a fire.'

Although fire-damaged items are often beyond repair, there are many occasions when Jennie's team of specialist French polishers have been able to restore furniture to its original condition. 'When this is not possible, we make sure to dispose properly of any destroyed items,' she adds.

Jennie has also started to develop her own clientele, which takes the team out to a variety of projects. 'We've helped a landlord with a deep clean and restored a kitchen and bathroom after a neglectful tenant departed.' She has also forged new partnerships with insurance providers such as the National Farmers' Union.

Recently, Jennie was even asked to don her old diving equipment for an unusual cleaning request. 'My client asked me to pop on my scuba gear and dive to the bottom of a lake he owned to remove a build-up of algae - and it was great to use my diving skills in my new business,' she remarks.

Jennie oozes passion for her franchise, and by hiring a team of professional and hardworking staff, she has managed rapidly to expand and grow her business. In the first four years she has enjoyed triple-digit business growth year-on-year - enabling her to repay all the money borrowed from her mother.

'When I started out, I set myself some very tough performance targets,' she explains. 'So it is so pleasing to know I have met these challenges, as well as exceeding many of them one year earlier than forecasted. By doing this I have been able to pay off my business loan within three years, rather than the full five-year duration of the loan.'

Her impressive financial acumen has also brought industry recognition and praise. She has twice won the prestigious accolade of franchisee of the month with Rainbow International. And back in 2017, Jennie's administrator, Katie Russell, was named as the young achiever of the year at the company's annual conference held in Nottingham.

Earlier this year, Jennie was nominated as Young Female Franchisee of the Year 2019 at the 2019 British Franchise Association Awards, run in partnership with HSBC bank.She also has big plans for the coming years. 'We aim to move to new offices in 2019 - and we've just taken the keys for new storage and restoration premises in Langley Mill,' she says. 'I'm really looking forward to the future.'

Having made the transition from the world of films to setting up an expanding commercial franchise, Jennie puts part of her success down to having an open mind. 'The industry I work in is traditionally dominated by men or couples working together, but as a female leader I would say that has often been an advantage for me,' she says.

'By literally taking the plunge and being flexible, with no preconceptions of what to expect, I have been able to say "yes" to so many things others would have turned down - and that has been very rewarding and great fun.' All the more impressive, when you consider, that this talented Derbyshire entrepreneur is still not close to her thirtieth year.

For more information about Rainbow International Derbyshire call 01623 443109