A new charity has launched in Reading with the aim of helping unemployed women in Berkshire transform their lives through coaching and clothing. Smart Works Reading opened its doors in October and has already benefitted from the generosity of dozens of Berkshire people and businesses who have donated time, clothing and furniture to get their London Street offices up and running.
Sarah Burns, Founder and Co-Chairwoman of Smart Works Reading explains why she believes her charity is all set to make a positive difference:
Where did the idea for Smart Works Reading originate from?
“I originally came across Smart Works in London, where I volunteered as an interview coach – I had managed teams for many years and was looking for a way to ‘give back’. I was so struck by the positive impact that Smart Works had on the lives of the women who came through their doors that I decided to put together a plan to set up a branch in Berkshire.”
How does Smart Works work?
“Women are referred to us by an agency such as the Job Centre or a specific women’s service. By this point they will have an interview lined up but may lack confidence, experience, or appropriate clothing. By providing professional interview coaching, and quality work clothing, our aim is that every woman who comes to us feels ready and able to approach her interview confidently.”
“As one of the major towns in Berkshire – and a fairly central location – it seemed the right place for us to be based. This way we can help women from across the Berkshire area from a location that is easy to reach.”
What makes this charity different?
“I think it appeals to people who want to make a direct difference to someone’s life chances locally. Many of us know how it feels to suffer from low self-esteem and many of us realise that just one event such as illness, redundancy, or a bereavement can have a profound impact. We also understand the power that employment has to lift people out of disadvantaged circumstances, and our services offer a powerful, practical step in the right direction for our clients.”
How does the donation process work?
“There are three key areas:
- Time: People can volunteer to help with any part of the interview and dressing process. We have HR and training experts offering their services as interview coaches, retail workers providing styling advice and people who may not want to coach, but want to help, donating their time to help arrange stock.
- Clothing: People can donate directly, or arrange to hold a ‘suit drive’ at their workplace. We are always looking for smart clothes and accessories – pre-loved or new. Currently we are struggling for sizes 18+ and size 6. We are also hugely grateful for donations of handbags, shoes and tights.
- Money and equipment: We’ve had a wonderful response from local businesses who have helped us by providing office furniture, signage, clothing rails and computer equipment.”
How can people donate?
“The simplest way is to email [email protected] or call us on 0118 959 4245 – let us know what you’d like to donate, and we’ll make the process as easy as we can for you.”
Any early successes?
“We’ve already helped a number of ladies to get the jobs that they applied for – we’re so delighted! It’s been a brilliant experience getting the premises set up, creating some great relationships with local referral agencies, and there have been some incredible acts of generosity. We’ve had a fantastic response in particular from The West Berkshire Athena Network – a networking group set up specifically for women in business. Our proposition matches perfectly with their aim to empower and support working women and I have been thrilled with the generosity of the women who are part of this network – they’ve provided clothing, gifts, offered their time and connected us to other people.
We’ve also had excellent support from some large local employers including Oracle, Verizon, O2 and Grant Thornton. They’ve held suit drives on their premises where female employees can donate their pre-loved work wear which has massively boosted our stock. It’s brilliant to see big business supporting a small charity like us in this way.”
“If you’re having a wardrobe clear out then please send us your work clothes! We also really want to reach out to more women – if you work for an agency that you think could refer women to us, work for an organisation that could hold a suit drive, or know someone who is struggling to succeed at interview, let us know.”
To find out more about SmartWorks Reading, you can visit their page www.smartworks.org.uk/reading, find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/smartworksreading or follow them on Twitter at @smartworksRDG