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Location: Birmingham
Date: October 17, 2023
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Happy 10th Birthday to Smart Works image

September marked a special moment for the charity Smart Works. It has been ten years since we first became Smart Works, founded with a mission to take our London dressing and coaching service to help women across the UK. ​Ten years on, and there is much to be proud of. 32 000 women helped, 11 centres opened, and 69% going on to the get the job. ​

“The reason I first fell in love with this charity is still the reason I love it now. It is very easy to explain what we do clearly – we dress and coach unemployed women for their job interview so they can fulfil their potential and change their lives. And yet this simple sounding intervention has a profound and positive impact on everyone around it.” Kate Stephens, CEO of Smart Works.

We were thrilled that earlier this year, our founder and Honorary President, Juliet Hughes-Hallett was awarded an OBE in the King’s Birthday Honours in recognition of services to unemployed women. Jules founded Smart Works in 2013, driven by a vision for tackling the difficulties women face in the workplace, and a deep understanding of the difference that fashion and coaching can have on women’s lives. Her passion for our service, our volunteers and above all our clients has inspired our growth. Her legacy could not be more profound. The need for our service has never been more pronounced, and we will double in size by 2025, helping over 10,000 women and ensuring that at least 65% go on to get the job.

​The Birmingham Smart Works team is led by Chairwoman Philippa Pickavance and her board of professional female trustees, inspiring future planning and providing invaluable support and direction. The operational team of 3 are Lilly Clements, Fundraising and Partnerships Manager; Emma King, Outreach Assistant; and Ann Powell, Outreach and Centre Manager. Birmingham. The Smart Works Birmingham core interview preparation service is delivered by 40 dedicated and passionate volunteers.

“I felt safe with my coach, and I was happy to share some of the stuff I’d been through with her. I came out of the coaching session thinking I am going to go for it. I absolutely know that without Smart Works I wouldn’t be where I am now. Women helping women is powerful and the way you do it with such kindness and respect is amazing.” Fiona, Smart Works Birmingham Client Champion

Smart Works Birmingham was founded in 2016 and celebrated its 7th birthday this year. In this time, they have supported over 3,000 women in need from the West Midlands to get into employment.

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Location: Birmingham
Date: May 31, 2022
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Lunch at Chapter a Success image

We successfully held our very first Charity Lunch & Designer/Vintage Clothes Sale since 2020.  It was fitting to host it at Chapter Restaurant in Edgbaston which evolved as a result of lockdown.  With a full house we were delighted to welcome our supporters back to enjoy an excellent lunch amongst friends and colleagues.  Thanks must go to Harrow Green who supported us by bringing the clothes rails with designer/vintage clothes – needless to say they didn’t have as much to take back with them due to the purchases made by our guests.

Thanks to all table hosts and guests for making the day such a success, we managed to raise £5,500 which is really important to us as it goes towards the running of our centre to support disadvantaged women back into work.

Thanks must also go to all those that donated raffle prizes, Unity Trust Bank who sponsored the arrival drinks and John Price Printers for the menus.

We look forward to hosting the next event – let’s hope there won’t be such a gap!

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Location: Birmingham
Date: April 22, 2022
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Ladies Lunch image

We are delighted to be hosting our first event since ‘you know what’ occurred. Not knowing when to resurrect events we decided to host our Charity Lunch & Designer/Vintage Clothes Sale in May and we need not have worried as the event sold out really quickly.

Supporting a new local business, Chapter Restaurant in Edgbaston, we can’t wait to meet friends, colleagues and supporters who are keen to join us.

We have some great clothes to sell and we look forward to welcoming everybody to have the opportunity to catch up and have fun whilst raising funds to support disadvantaged women back into work.

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Location: Birmingham
Date: February 17, 2022
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It’s Great to be Together Again! image

It was great to say goodbye to the virtual Trustee’s Board Meeting this month and see each other in person.  There was lots of catching up to do – two years is a long time when you haven’t seen people in person, and it was timely as it coincided with our Annual Planning meeting which needs lots of brainstorming.

We were also delighted to welcome three new Trustees who were all appointed during lockdown.  Alison Armstrong, Bernadette Coughlan and Susan Noyes, who will replace Ruth Paulin as Treasurer in March when she steps down.  These ladies have a wealth of knowledge and experience between them so will compliment our existing Trustees.

It also gave us the chance to say goodbye to Ruth Paulin and Caroline Wilkie who have been Trustee’s for over four years.  They were instrumental in setting up our first centre and we have all enjoyed working with them over the years.  They may have retired as Trustees but we do know that they will continue to support our fantastic charity.

As for planning, it’s an exciting time for our charity as there has never been a more crucial time to ‘help unemployed women back into work’ as there is now.  Fundraising is always key to our endeavours so if you can help in anyway this would be appreciated as our service will only go from strength to strength in the coming years.  Please visit our ‘Get Involved’ page of the website if you would like to see how you can help or hit the ‘donate’ button.

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Location: Birmingham
Date: December 2, 2021
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Smart Works Birmingham Christmas Campaign image

This festive season we’re asking you to support Smart Works Birmingham by putting together a Christmas stocking filled with the things we need to help our clients feel like the best version of themselves when they come to see us.

We’re looking for the following items:

    • Smart handbags – The perfect bag is like the bow that finishes the present, it can pull together an outfit.
    • Unopened cosmetics – finding time for yourself and a quick pamper ahead of your interview can put you in the right frame of mind and make all the difference
    • Flat shoes – putting your best foot forward in a great pair of shoes is exactly what our clients need.

With high levels of unemployment and a rising need for our service, your help and support is needed more than ever.

We’re open at our centre to accept donations throughout December, until Thursday 23rd. Come and join us for a mince pie, a cup of tea and to drop off your donation. Thank you!

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Location: Birmingham
Date: October 18, 2021
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She Got The Job – A Client Case Study image

Meet Mireille, a client of Smart Works Birmingham in Summer 2021 who was referred to our service for her forthcoming interview to be a Senior PA in the NHS.

Mireille came to the UK from Cameroon in 2012. An educated young woman with a master’s degree, she wanted a better life and to be able to make the most of her potential and education, she left her home and family with hopes for her future in the UK.

The last 4 years in the UK had been difficult for Mireille, she had lost her job, lost her financial independence, been made homeless, abandoned by her partner whilst pregnant with their child and was struggling with depression. She was an unemployed single parent, at an all-time low and had lost confidence that she could ever rebuild her life.

She decided to pursue further education and employability training over here, started volunteering in the NHS and was eventually offered an interview for a senior PA role in the summer of 2021. Her job coach referred her to Smart Works to help her with an outfit and interview preparation.

Mireille beamed when she recalled her experience with Smart Works. She said she “felt loved” as soon as she entered the building, supported by women who “lit up the light in me again” with their positivity. She said of the stylists that they were professional and kind, encouraging her to be a bit bolder with her outfit. She ended up with a suit, an eye-catching shirt, a jacket, and a bag, all of which made her feel amazing. “I just knew I was going to smash the interview when I looked at myself in the mirror,” she said.

Her interview coaching was done remotely, via a separate zoom session. Mireille had already received some coaching from another organisation, however she said, “it felt different at Smart Works.” The coach at Smart Works gave her feedback on how she was coming across, including the pace and clarity of her voice as well as feedback on the quality of her answers when they practised some typical questions. She realised and believed in her capability again and said, “it felt a privilege” to have that one-to-one attention and help with her interview.

Mireille was successful at her interview and was offered the role, commencing early September 2021. This opportunity will be life changing for Mireille and she firmly believes that Smart Works helped her get the job. “It’s like magic at Smart Works,” she said. “Something happens when you step through that door and it’s beautiful.”

We were delighted to hear from Mireille in October 2021 to say that she has won the Volunteer of the Year at the Volunteer Awards for her work with Birmingham and Women’s Children’s Hospitals. We wish her all the best in her role!

Thank you to Elaine, one of our interview coaches, who spoke to Mireille about her experiences with us.

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Location: Birmingham
Date: September 15, 2021
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A Client Success Story image

Meet Nikola who accessed our virtual service of a dressing session and telephone interview coaching during lockdown in spring 2021. At the time Nikola was a final year student at Aston University, which is one of our referral partners. She was applying for graduate jobs and was in need of support for her forthcoming interviews.

In her words she was “afraid” to have an interview and had already a number of interviews that hadn’t gone well. These experiences had dented her confidence and so she was referred to Smart Works to help her.

Nikola was invited for interviews with two companies and got through to the next stage for both. After accessing our service she was then offered a graduate role for a pharmaceutical company and started her new job in June.

She remembers making an instant connection with her coach because of the professional knowledge and expertise she had in the sector that Nikola was looking to work in. Nikola and her coach worked through the Smart Works Interview Guide and focused on practising some of the more common questions she was worried about that she thought were likely to come up. She was given advice to carefully study the content in her CV and aim to remember it off by heart. Knowing her CV would enable her to pinpoint specific examples of her successes and achievements that she could use in her interview. She was given feedback by her coach on how she came across, how clear her answers were and what she might say to make her answers even better. Nikola took notes to ensure she captured the advice as she went along. She remembers her confidence building after each practice question. “During the session with my coach I realised how unprepared I had been before and how important it was to rehearse. There’s something about saying it out loud and getting instant feedback that helps you get better at interviews.”

Nikola had a separate styling session with Smart Works to provide her with an outfit suitable for her job interview. Again the session was conducted remotely due to the pandemic, so she had a telephone call with a stylist to establish the type of outfit she was looking for, talking through style preferences, size, colours, shapes, fit etc. As a student Nikola didn’t have anything suitable to wear to an interview. “When you’re a student you’re always in casual clothes so it’s difficult to know what to wear for an interview.”

Looking back at her experience with Smart Works Nikola says, “There’s absolutely no doubt that Smart Works helped me get this job. I felt the part and looked the part. Because of the coaching I realised where I’d gone wrong with my interviews before and I was determined I wouldn’t be caught off guard again. When you’re a student at university it’s such a big leap to get into the world of work. It’s all new to us so we need all the help and advice we can get. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me at Smart Works. They were all lovely and I know that without that support I would have struggled.”

Nikola is pictured here at her graduation ceremony with our centre manager Ann, who also works at the university when she isn’t at Smart Works.

We wish Nikola all the best in her new role! If you’re unemployed and looking to access our service, please ask your job coach or organisation supporting you to find work to contact us.

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Location: Birmingham
Date: August 30, 2021
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Highlights from our first five years – Jo image

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!”

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Location: Birmingham
Date: August 26, 2021
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Celebrating 5 years of Smart Works Birmingham image

As we celebrate five incredible years here at Smart Works Birmingham, we asked our Chairwoman Philippa to share her top five highlights from her time with us. Philippa joined us in summer 2018 and we’ve seen huge change since then.

“I was drawn to the charity after seeing an article about how the seemingly small intervention of supplying women in need with interview clothing and coaching for their job interviews had helped many women into a job, bringing financial independence for them and their families.

We’ve seen the numbers of women we help dramatically increase year on year with a 147% increase in 2019/20, supporting over 600 women that year. Over the past year and a half we’ve seen reduced numbers as our centre had to close due to the pandemic, but conversion to online support for our clients meant we still helped the most women of any regional Smart Works centre outside of London.

As we are totally reliant on our own fundraising abilities, I was delighted with how the commercial business sector embraced the charity after our targeted approaches. We held very memorable sell-out lunches at Opus Restaurant, raising over £12,000, helped by high profile speakers of Jane Shepherdson and Isabel Spearman who are both patrons of our umbrella charity in London.

I truly believe that the ladies that we have helped can tell others, far better than we can, how our services have helped transform their lives. I particularly liked the coverage we got from two clients being willing to speak to a BBC online reporter and the resultant coverage we received and another two clients who agreed to be filmed for our amazing current case study video, thanks to Shuut. (www.vimeo.com/515709278)

Finally, last but not least, our amazing staff and volunteers have made a real impact on me. Their continued dedication and hard work and joy in seeing ladies they have helped get their job and turn around their lives never fails to impress. Thanks Joanne and Ann for your dedication and hard work and a huge thank you to our many volunteers past and present, and our volunteer Board of Trustees for their support and hard work to keep our charity thriving.”

Thank you to Ruth from Shuut for the image of Grace, one of our clients which is used here.

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Location: Birmingham
Date: August 2, 2021
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We are 5! image

In August 2016 Smart Works Birmingham opened its doors to support women from across Birmingham with our interview preparation service for women. With just one member of staff, a handful of trustees and volunteers in place; we began seeing clients almost straight away delivering our dressing and coaching service. Just 6 ladies came through the service that first month and we’ve gone from strength to strength. By the time we got to August 2019, we had two members of staff, an incredible team of 50 fabulous volunteers and trustees and were supporting women from across the West Midlands, seeing a record-breaking month welcoming 84 women preparing for their job interviews.

Whilst the last 12 months have been a challenge, we’ve powered through and supported 294 clients since last summer. A phenomenal achievement and we couldn’t have done it without our wonderful team who worked with us to adapt our service.

We can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

This month we’re celebrating turning 5 by showcasing some of our team, referral partners and the clients we’ve supported. Look out for some behind the scenes posts, our highlights and reflections on our first glorious 5 years.