Smartworks Reading is celebrating helping more than 400 women back into work. The 400th is Deborah Lane, 48, who recently got her dream job in children’s education. Deborah had struggled to find work, with long periods of unemployment, and her confidence had taken a knock. Then she heard about Smart Works in Reading, a charity which helps women back into work, by styling them, giving them interview experience and providing a smart outfit.
Deborah says: “I went to see them and it felt a bit like winning the lottery; they took time to talk to me and helped me find my style, little things like choosing the right colours. They gave me interview experience and helped me find my confidence and play to my strengths”.
The charity, which started in London, opened in Reading two and a half years ago and has just passed an amazing threshold. A professional team of more than 65 volunteers with a wide variety of experience offers support and practical help to the most vulnerable women.
Many of the women seeking help are single parents – almost 40 per cent – and some are unpaid carers, long-term unemployed or victims of domestic abuse. They have all been given invaluable support since Smart Works opened its doors just over two years ago. Almost half the women helped by the charity have been out of work for over a year – and more than two thirds succeed in getting the job they go for after seeing the team.
Building confidence in the women is vital – among those helped have been women up to 67 years old, refugees, long term unemployed, ex-prisoners, vulnerable young people, and women with mental health conditions.
If successful, they are offered a capsule wardrobe to see them through the first few months of their new job. This is vital, practical, non-judgemental help for women whose budget goes on the children and food first. Some of the best-known names in fashion are behind Smart Works, including Hobbs, M&S and Bobbi Brown. Many of the women work in retail and marketing, the caring professions and technology – but Smart Works has also helped a female engineer, a planning officer and a company director.