Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, has visited the Reading office of local charity Smart Works. Smart Works Reading, which opened in October 2015 and covers the whole of Thames Valley, provides free work place clothing and styling advice, 1-2-1 interview coaching and confidence-building to help unemployed women prepare for job interviews. The charity is supported by a team of professional skilled volunteers who provide practical & non-judgemental advice to their clients. Smart Works Reading helps over 400 women every year and just under half of these women are referred to the organisation by local job centres. Local charities and organisations , such as Elizabeth Fry, Reading Community Learning and Princes Trust, also refer clients.
Over 60% of the women who have come to get support from Smart Works Reading over the past year have gone on to find employment. The organisation hopes to build further on this success rate.
To make female jobseekers aware of the free service from Smart Works, the organisation has two mannequins on display at Reading’s Jobcentre and these are re-styled once a month. Jobcentre work coaches recommend the Smart Works offer to women they are supporting to find work.
National and local organisations supporting Smart Works with clothing and accessory donations include Electric Hair, Hope, Marks & Spencer, Primark, Knomo Bags and Hobbs. Around 40% of the clothes donated are brand new. Members of the general public and local organisations also make donations to Smart Works and the charity welcomes good quality work wear donations.
Funding is received from organisations such as NESTA, local grants such as Berkshire Community Foundation and through fundraising events. Smart Works will host a stand and “Smart Talks” event at the upcoming Henley Literary Festival where admittance will be in the form of a brand new lipstick, which will then be used for clients of Smart Works.
Sarah Burns, Chair of Smart Works Reading, said: “It is true that first impressions are made in an instant. It is so difficult for those women returning to the work force after a lengthy absence, as often the rules of work appropriate clothing have changed. By providing practical, non-judgemental advice, guidance and the perfect outfit for that extra confidence boost, we enable more women to reclaim their independence and rebuild their lives with a new career. It was an absolute pleasure meeting Alok this week, showing him around and discussing the challenges local women have in gaining employment and sharing an understanding that “life” really can happen to anyone at any time and the service we provide in the community is needed and has a real impact.”
Sarah McGowan, a volunteer with Smart Works Reading, said: “Smart Works immediately struck me as an amazing idea. It’s something practical and simple and I fell in love with the ethos of the company. I found the idea really compelling and I wanted to follow-through with it on an individual level which is why I began volunteering.”
Alok Sharma said: “It was fantastic to visit Smart Works and understand the great work the team does in supporting women on the journey to moving into the work force. I had an opportunity to meet both the brilliant staff and volunteers at Smart Works, as well as one of their clients who had just moved into employment. Smart Works has an wonderful team doing inspirational work in supporting female job seekers. I really wish them well and, in my role as Minister of State for Employment, am keen to encourage even closer working with local job centres.”