Smart Works Reading have been awarded RVA’s Safe + Sound Governance Mark. We spoke to Sarah Burns MBE, Chair of Smart Works Reading, about the charity’s work and the process of Safe + Sound accreditation.
Tell us a little about Smart Works Reading and what inspired you to get involved
The work we do at Smart Works Reading is truly transformational. We give women the confidence, self-belief and practical tools they require to succeed at interview and start a new chapter of their life. We offer practical, non-judgemental advice in a welcoming and safe environment. I am reminded every day how privileged we are and how fragile life can be: in a moment life can change and throw you a curve ball; it could happen to any one of us.
I was a senior manager in professional services teams for large software organisations. I had worked and commuted for over 15 years, when I finally realised I wasn’t getting any joy out of it any more. I wasn’t learning and I seemed to be working more hours than ever before, so I made a change. I left, got a coaching qualification, and started volunteering at Smart Works in London. Then in 2014, there was an opportunity to set up a Smart Works centre in the Thames Valley – as this was my area, I thought: let’s do it. After a year of research and writing business cases, I opened Smart Works Reading and we saw our first client in October 2015.
What encouraged you to apply for Safe + Sound?
Having no real experience or background in setting up a charity and seeing the amazing work RVA and Reading Community Learning Centre were doing, I spent much of the first year learning, and pulling information from them. From my days in technology and professional services, I knew how important processes and procedures were. I also soon realised that RVA’s Safe + Sound was local but highly recognised and was something we should aspire to achieve.
What did the process involve for the team?
We took a while to actually complete the award – this was mainly down to resources and time at our end. The process and application is simple and clear, but you do need consistent resource to manage it from start to finish. Our team, which at the time was one full-time employee and the board, needed to gain a detailed understanding of what was needed and where we needed to make change.
What benefits can you see for Smart Works Reading?
The process of completing RVA’s Safe + Sound award gave us clarity on our processes and procedures, and ensured that we asked ourselves detailed questions about why and how we do things, and the effect on the charity, clients, and volunteers. This meant we had good conversations about having everything in place for a strong, stable and sustainable charity. Being able to display the award on our documentation, especially on funding applications, gives us credibility and gives the potential funder assurance that we have met high standards from an external body.
What were the highlights for you this year?
We have had many highlights, but the most important one is that each year we are seeing more women, and continue to meet our target success rate of 60%. In fact this last year we achieved a 68% success rate, which is amazing.
The other highlights that come to mind are that we have managed to increase our team to 2 full time members of staff, which will allow us to focus on continuing to raise awareness and see more women from across the Thames Valley. The next is that we have been honoured to have several key local organisations and bodies choose us as their charity partner this year – BBO PA Network, Women in Business, Guards Polo Club, Knomo and Hope – and they have provided us with donations, campaigns, networks and our biggest fundraiser yet (a Guards Polo Club fundraising event which raised £21k). Finally, I was honoured to receive an MBE for the work I have done at Smart Works Reading. I found out just before we celebrated our fourth anniversary which was hosted by Alok Sharma MP and held at the House of Commons – a truly proud moment for me and all involved.