In July 2019, Jan Iceton, a former business development director and investor was appointed Chair of Smart Works Greater Manchester.

Based in Stockport since 2015, this was the charity’s second of eight UK-wide branches helping disadvantaged, often vulnerable, unemployed women aged 16 to 70 years old prepare for job interviews. Boasting a 70%+ success rate, Smart Works Greater Manchester is life-changing for at least 380 women annually and since opening, has guided over 1,000 women into employment.

The need

Interviews are scary enough if you’re already working. But after long-term unemployment, illness, imprisonment or umpteen rejections, the prospect is nerve-wracking. What to wear? What to say? How to sit? How to hide the lack of confidence?

Since 2013, Smart Works – the brainchild of Lady Julia Hughes-Hallett – has provided jobless females with a styling service that offers interview-appropriate clothing and interview coaching. This has benefitted some who, despite possessing a relevant and up-to-date CV, might previously have been refused a post. Interestingly, the minority whose first interview is unsuccessful nonetheless regard their Smart Works’ experience as positive.

 Jan says, “98% of these clients feel assured and confident of success at their next interview and that the desired job will be soon be theirs.”

The process

Full-time Business Manager Fiona Gunnion organises 49 highly trained volunteers, whose past or current experience in fashion and retail or recruitment and HR is crucial. Dedication is such that one volunteer even spends her one day off at Smart Works.

Jan continues: “We work with over 50 referral partners. They range from Job Centre Plus, care leaver services, councils, housing associations and HM Prison Service to charities such as The Prince’s Trust and women’s refuges. Our one-to-one service entails two one-hour sessions. The stylists gauge each woman’s requirements for work clothes, which she will select and take home. The second hour is spent training and improving interview techniques. Any woman securing her job returns for her second dressing. Obviously, she can’t wear the same outfit every day and payday may be weeks away. So, she can choose another five to seven items to pad out her working wardrobe. Individual donors coupled with our amazing retail partners, including John Lewis, M&S, Whistles, Burberry, Evans and Hobbs, give us the lovely suits, pants, skirts, dresses, accessories and tote bags, which our stylists carefully tissue-wrap once clients have made their choice.”

Meaningful

The cause rings true. The Duchess of Sussex’s endorsement of Smart Works in January kick-started media attention. In 2019, Caroline Roberts-Cherry, MD of Saffron TV production company, and television broadcaster Michelle Ackerley became local ambassadors. 

Spin for Smart Works and celebrate International Women’s Day

Do you fancy a new year challenge? Help Smart Works Greater Manchester support even more women and get 2020 off to a flying start by registering your interest for your annual Spin for Smart Works fundraising event. 

Teams of five will be spinning and cycling 500 miles in the week leading up to International Woman’s Day (Sunday 8th March) to raise the essential funds they need to support women at a crucial moment in their lives.

Jan concludes: “Its costs around £2,000 a week to keep our doors open and Spin for Smart Works is our major 2020 fundraising event. Please pedal for a purpose and join our regional effort to make 2020 our 5th and best year yet.” 

More information can be found at smartworks.org.uk/spin-smart-works or by emailing [email protected]

Smart Works 0161 974 0669         

Open weekdays from 10am-4pm

65-81, St Petersgate, Stockport SK1 1DS