Smart Works Birmingham Launch Event

It’s been an exciting summer as Smart Works launched in Birmingham in August 2016. In just four months, Smart Works Birmingham has supported over 80 women and achieved a 54% success rate in our goal to help unemployed women across the second city get a job and become financially independent.

Smart Works Birmingham Manager Joanne Penn – our only salaried employee – is responsible for recruiting her own team of volunteers and now heads a force of 25 people from all over the West Midlands.

Joanne says: “With extensive knowledge of the problems that our clients face, Smart Works Birmingham volunteers are trained to help our clients to feel confident and look fabulous. Our stylists provide advice and expertise to help each lady to select a top-to-toe outfit to wear for their interview.  We make sure that they feel truly comfortable in the clothes they have chosen, and that they have everything they need, from a winter coat to a pair of tights.

“Following the dressing session, our skilled and experienced volunteer interview coaches work one-on-one in a compassionate and supportive way. This gives the ladies the chance to practice both asking and answering questions – some of which they may have found difficult in previous interview scenarios.

Joanne says “We work with our clients to ensure that we are not only helping to boost their confidence but we are empowering them so that they start to believe in their own ability to succeed and they can move on to a better life.

“We’ve seen the transformative effect that smart clothing has on the ladies we work with. There is an instant change in posture and the way our clients carry themselves – they look in the mirror and feel that they can take on the world. We should never underestimate the power that clothes have on self-esteem and together, we can harness the positive power of fashion to help the people that use our service to look and feel the best they can be before their interview.  The interview coaching is equally empowering for those with low self-esteem or lack of confidence.

“A visit to Smart Works can change the course of a woman’s life.  As one of them said recently: ‘I was quite nervous on arrival but made completely at ease by the two friendly staff members who made me feel like I was special. We tried on various outfits and styles – the girls tirelessly restyled me until I felt confident for my interview. Looking good, feeling good thanks to Smart Works.’

“Nationwide, 59% of women go on to get a job.  My team of volunteers is just amazing and I am thrilled that we have achieved a 54% success rate in helping to get our Birmingham clients employed.  That’s a fantastic achievement for our first four months.”

One of Smart Works major retail partners, Hobbs, hosted a reception at their Birmingham store to celebrate the scheme’s initial success on Tuesday 29th November.

Hobbs Chief Executive Meg Lustman says: “It’s a privilege to support Smart Works, a fantastic resource for out-of-work women who need an extra boost of confidence to help get them back into the work place. Smart Works’ clients speak of feeling valued, cared for and positive in their abilities – thanks to the expert training and clothes the charity provides to help them at interview. Hobbs is delighted to contribute to help these women feel prepared and confident.”

Corporate supporters and specially invited guests attended the celebratory event and were given the opportunity to meet Smart Works CEO Kate Stephens and Rebecca Debenham, Chair of Smart Works Birmingham board of trustees and her colleagues.

Rebecca Debenham said: “The Smart Works Birmingham team has been particularly successful in getting this project off the ground in the West Midlands. Joanne’s energy, enthusiasm and commitment makes her the perfect motivator for her team of volunteers who each bring their own skills and talents to the job in hand. We are hugely grateful to them and to our commercial partners and wider funders whose support is also crucial.

“I am confident that Smart Works Birmingham will continue to grow and the Board are very proud of the work that has been achieved during its opening months. We look forward to welcoming more women from across the West Midlands to help on their journey to sustainable employment.”