Press release

Fashion charity Smart Works wins Big Society Award

Smart Works, a charity helping unemployed women, has been recognised by Prime Minister David Cameron with a Big Society Award.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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As London Fashion Week hits the capital, the Prime Minister has commended a London-based charity whose patron is top UK designer Betty Jackson. Smart Works has been singled out for its innovative work helping unemployed women prepare for job interviews, providing them with business clothes to boost their confidence and giving them the interview skills and advice they need to feel work-ready.

More than 50% of Smart Works clients secure a job within a month of their visit to the charity. A team of more than 70 dedicated volunteers offer fashion and styling advice followed by one-to-one interview training and confidence building support. The charity’s volunteers are trained stylists and senior recruitment consultants. Each client leaves Smart Works with a complete interview outfit including shoes and handbag. The charity’s extensive selection of high quality workwear is donated by other professional women and by retail supporters including The Outnet, Evans and Whistles. The majority of Smart Works clients have been out of work for over a year, almost half are single parents and they include ex-offenders, victims of abuse and homeless women.

Smart Works, currently based in North London, is expanding with a new West London centre opening soon to cope with the growing demand for its service. In the past year Smart Works has:

  • helped a total of 1,261 women, up 31% from the previous year
  • built a team of more than 70 regular volunteers to support the programme, providing niche skills for the individual needs of the clients
  • developed an innovative programme of workshops with corporate partners as well as a popular job retention programme called the Smart Works network

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

Smart Works helps their clients approach job interviews with the skills and training they need to sell themselves and the confidence they will look the part.

Their team of volunteers have provided invaluable support to over 1,000 women taking their first steps back into the world of work. I’m delighted to be recognising Smart Works’ achievements with this Big Society Award.

CEO of Smart Works, Delyth Evans, said:

Everyone at Smart Works, including our fantastic team of volunteers, is delighted to receive this vote of confidence from the Prime Minister. We are looking forward to extending our impact into communities across the UK in the years ahead.

Smart Works offers additional programmes throughout the year to help women improve their chances of getting work. These include a Monday afternoon open house session for women who need extra help with their CV, career choices and job applications, professional development days where clients spend a day in a corporate setting where they meet other professional women, a mentoring scheme to help clients who need ongoing support and motivational workshops for young women in schools, prisons and other settings.

Notes to editors

Images available on request.

Contact: Delyth Evans, Chief Executive, Smart Works on 020 7288 1770 or delyth.evans@smartworks.org.uk

For more information about Smart Works please visit www.smartworks.org.uk

Case studies:

Vivine’s story

When Vivine came to Smart Works she had been unemployed for over a year. Vivine was going for an interview as a cabin crew member with Virgin Atlantic. Vivine was successful at her interview and she was looking forward to starting her training with Virgin Atlantic.

My experience has been a positive and rewarding time. I had an interview with Virgin Atlantic and one of the requirements was that candidates had to look the part by dressing in professional and business attire. This led me to Smart Works and the two female stylists really went out of their way to find an outfit that would work for me. As I’m not used to dressing up, the final outfit that I tried on made me feel and look confident.

I had my interview a week later and I was successful. This was also due to the interview volunteer taking the time to prep me beforehand and running through a series of potential interview questions.

I contacted Smart Works and was really pleased they were able to dress me again before starting my training with Virgin Atlantic in October. Again, it has been a fantastic experience with a friendly and supportive team.

Helen’s story

Helen came through to Smart Works a day before her interview for the post of PA at a property development company. She had no suitable clothes to wear and she felt very negative about her chances of success. She is now enjoying her job as a PA.

When I first attended on Wednesday 23rd March I had a job interview to attend the next day. I can truly say that without visiting Smart Works I would have been less confident, less prepared and wearing an old jacket of mine that I did not feel good in.

I really do not think I would have got the job without having visited Smart Works.

What Smart Works did was kindly let me try on lots of suitable clothes for interview and I came away with clothes and shoes I really felt good in. They also subtly and covertly helped my general confidence by gently challenging some of the negative statements I made about myself and all of these things really boosted my confidence in the interview the next day.

And crucially I also had some time with a volunteer who helped me with interview questions and techniques. After generally giving me advice about the job from the job specification she gave me help with some interview questions I had been unable to answer satisfactorily in a previous interview. She gave me great advice and also confirmed and clarified some thoughts I had about what employers ask currently and why. She gave me a great way of answering a difficult question which came up in the interview the next day near the end of a long exhausting interview and I really do not think I could have answered well without this lady’s help the day before. She was brilliant, very clever and experienced.

The Big Society Awards

The Big Society Awards were set up by the Prime Minister in November 2010. The aim is to acknowledge individuals and organisations across the UK that demonstrates the Big Society in their work or activities. In so doing, the aim is also to galvanise others to follow.

The award focuses on 3 specific areas:

Outstanding contribution to community

  • people, projects and organisations that enable communities to drive change themselves
  • projects and organisations that allow the community to identify solutions
  • people, projects and organisations that inspire others to contribute to their community

Improving lives and society through innovation, collaboration and new partnerships

  • people and organisations taking new approaches to public services
  • successful collaboration and partnerships between public, private and voluntary sector - working together to benefit communities

Engaging in social action

  • people, projects and organisations taking action in their community
  • working together for social change (eg through creating groups, campaigns, movements)
  • generosity of time, money, skills and other resources – in support of social action

Launching the awards, the Prime Minister said:

There are some amazing projects and remarkable voluntary work going on in towns and cities up and down the country, by all kinds of organisations from large enterprises to tiny grassroots schemes and inspirational individuals.

These awards are a chance to pay tribute to those making a valuable contribution to their community, the real champions of the Big Society, but perhaps more importantly, I hope they will motivate many others to take action, get involved and drive change in their area.

Nominations come in from the general public after which there follows a process of scoring and short-listing by civil servants and a further short-listing by a panel of ministers and independent external experts. This panel makes recommendations to the Prime Minister who makes the final decisions about who to make the award to. 12 winners are decided each quarter meeting and then announced once a week throughout the year.

Big Society Awards - inspired by 2012: keeping the Olympic flame burning across the UK

The Olympic and Paralympic Games last summer enthralled the nation and inspired more than 70,000 people to volunteer their time and energy. Since then, people have engaged with their local sports clubs, tried a new sport, implemented community initiatives, ignited whole towns and villages to commit to keeping the spirit of 2012 alive.

To celebrate the anniversary of the 2012 Games, a number of awards will be announced for innovative groups, individuals and organisations whose work exemplifies the Big Society and whose Olympic-style achievements are making a real difference in communities.

Enquiries: Lucy Windmill 07795 445 197

Previous Big Society Award winners include:

City Gateway: Runs programmes that train, support and give opportunities to young people and women.

M&S Shwopping initiative: Buy something new, bring in something old. This clothes recycling initiative reduces landfill, helps us think differently about clothes waste and the money raised goes to Oxfam.

Linklaters LLP: Learn for Work is an international scheme which Linklaters runs in 16 countries working with over 7,500 children in 80 schools. In Hackney the firm is now running its second three-year scheme, with each scheme being backed by £1 million in funding. Every year over 400 staff give 3,500 hours of their time to support 2,500 young people in more than 50 schools. Linklaters staff benefit from the scheme as it offers them the chance to share their skills and inspire the next generation; over 75% of the firm’s volunteers have greater job satisfaction after taking part in the scheme and 20 have gone on to become school governors.

Why Not Change: Founder Melanie Bryan has given her time to inspire and work with hundreds of women, young people, social enterprises, charities and businesses. Her achievements include setting up an enterprise event for women across the North West, providing practical enterprise support to students and setting up a consortium of charities and social enterprises to win public sector contracts.

For more information and a full list of winners visit the Big Society Awards website

Published 13 September 2013