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Location: Birmingham
Date: August 30, 2021
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We’re continuing to celebrate five wonderful years at Smart Works Birmingham by hearing from Jo, one of centre managers, who shares her highlights with us.

“I started at Smart Works Birmingham before we had even opened our doors, back in June 2016. My job was working with the trustees to set up the office in our original base in the south of the city and launch the service. Throughout the past five years I’ve had so many highlights – too many to mention but there have been a few standout moments that I look back on so fondly. From our launch party in July 2016 at which we were joined by guests from local community organisations, along with local councillors, to our first clothing sale in summer 2017, our first birthday party and speaking at a fashion show over in the East Midlands to share details of the service. Celebrating our 1,000th client in October 2019 – our record-breaking month in which we supported 97 women preparing for interviews to welcoming cohorts of clients when we doubled our capacity to accommodate up to 12 clients per day. Our centre would come alive and be a hive of activity!

But the biggest highlight has been seeing our clients come through our service and witness the change in them in just the few hours that they are with us. Often from shy, nervous, and not sure what to expect; so many leave us full of confidence, laughing and giving out hugs (pre-covid!). It makes me so proud to know that I was part of their journey back into work. I love seeing the feedback we get from our clients; it means so much to know that they’ve enjoyed their time with us and feel empowered and more confident.

We see women who are unemployed for many reasons. It amazes me seeing the strength of the women who come through the service, hearing what they’ve overcome to get them to this point and how positive and excited they are for the future.

Sarah* came to visit us back in 2017 and there were clear signs that she was a survivor of domestic abuse. She arrived trying to conceal visible bruises on her face, hunched over as she tried to hide and cover herself. I did the dressing session with her to find her an outfit and slowly throughout this session she began to relax. After her coaching session she walked out of the coaching room like a different person – brimming with confidence, a huge smile on her face, laughing and with her shoulders pulled back, head held high. I was amazed and so in awe of her. She had decided to take back control and not let what had happened to her hold her back. Sarah walked into her interview and got the job, and I was so incredibly happy for her. She turned her life around and was able to financially support her children and move on with her life. There have been so many stories like this, but I still think of her, about the dramatic transformation which happened before my eyes in just two hours! I wish I had a photo of her.

What a fabulous first 5 years we’ve had at Smart Works Birmingham. I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years brings!”