She got the job: Supporting Smart Works

This summer I had the chance to work with Smart Works Leeds, supporting unemployed women back into work across Yorkshire. It was an amazing experience, and below documents my highlights and challenges of my six week placement.
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For my Leadership in Action project this summer, I had the great opportunity to work with Smart Works Leeds.

 

A national charity operating in cities across the U.K, Smart Works aims to help unemployed women back into work, by giving them the confidence they need to succeed at interview.  Through collaboration with key referral partners such as job centres, charities and community groups, Smart Works offers Career Coaching appointments to women during their job search, followed by Interview Coaching and Dressing appointments for those with a scheduled interview. The service is heavily supported by volunteers who dress and coach clients, and sustained by dedicated, paid members of staff who work hard to build outreach relationships and manage the daily requirements of the centre, generating success as 72% of women who use the service are successful at interview.

 

Having the opportunity to work in their Leeds centre for six weeks was an extremely positive experience, presenting both challenges and opportunities daily which I have reflected on below. However, it is paramount to recognise that the most important stories at the centre of Smart Works are the women they help every day and not my own. The below reflections have been written in the hope of showing the positive impact organisations can have across the U.K.

 

One key moment of my placement was when I witnessed Smart Works Leeds deliver 41 first dressing and interview coaching appointments in one month, as well as 28 career coaching appointments. This surpassed their internal target, reaching more women than they have been able to before, with increasing numbers returning for their exciting second dressing. To be part of a team who work so hard to deliver these numbers was a privilege and saw months of hard work pay off.

 

Working in the Centre. Credit: Smart Works Leeds

Within my placement, I had two key project areas to focus on. Alongside daily admin and service delivery, my projects focused heavily on outreach to corporate companies and charities, as well as outreach to local, elected representatives. The first project had the aim to source donations of hygiene and beauty items for the Leeds Centre to provide to women in ‘goody bags’ as an extra bonus to allow them to feel supported and confident as they approach their interview, as well as providing, free, essential items like shower gel, toothpaste, and sanitary products. A key point in this project was when I was able to secure 17 crates of beauty, hygiene and sanitary items, redistributed from Leeds North West Foodbank after having a few project knockbacks. Building this relationship triggered the process of registering Smart Works to become a centre to distribute foodbank vouchers when needed, as well as receiving relevant client referrals from Leeds North West Foodbank, allowing the centre to continue to support women across Yorkshire. The project has continued to evolve and is currently awaiting responses from local businesses within Leeds who may be able to offer support.

 

The second project I undertook related to outreach to Members of Parliament across Leeds. This was an indiscriminate project, reaching out to MPs to enquire if they would be prepared to be referral partners through their casework system, as well as inviting them to visit the centre. At the time of writing, two MPs had confirmed visits only two weeks after project launch, showing a successful outreach project to reach more women within Leeds with hopefully further success to come.

 

Overall, Smart Works has allowed me to develop my understanding of the necessity and demand of the U.K charity sector, while having challenging conversations with clients who were vulnerable or needed additional support. While challenging, the outcome of this placement was incredibly rewarding, helping clients, outreach and fundraising to help sustain and expand services further.

 

Working with Smart Works Leeds has been an amazing, exciting, and challenging experience. Balancing service delivery, outreach, and my own projects, while ensuring brand compliance and supporting clients who require our help was a challenge I would have never expected, but thoroughly enjoyed. Smart Works remains in an exciting period of growth, exploration, and challenges as they continue to push forward their three-year plan to see 10,000 women nationally by 2025.

 

It is impossible to note everything I learnt and experienced while at Smart Works, however I have been able to learn what a truly ethical organisation looks like from the best- and I would like to thank them for offering me the opportunity to work with them to achieve their goal.

New fundraising 'Swap For Smartworks' Material.
Credit: Smart Works Leeds

You can learn more about Smart Works and their goals, as well as how to support them, online here or find more information on social media, @smartworkscharity. 

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