Interview: Michelle Robson from Smart Works Newcastle

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Smart Works
Smart Works is a UK charity providing women in need with interview clothes, styling advice and training to help them get the job of their dreams. Following the launch of their Newcastle branch in April, we speak to Lead Manager Michelle Robson

We’re a national organisation with seven centres across the UK, always on the lookout for new locations where we can help even more women get into work. 
Smart Works held some events in Newcastle towards the end of last year to find people who were interested in setting up a local branch. They managed to pull together a group of founding trustees by the start of this year, which is when I was recruited as Lead Manager. It’s all happened very quickly because of the enthusiasm for the service in the North East, and the clear need for bringing it here. 

Smart Works was founded in London, with the vision to support as many women as possible getting in employment, using clothes and coaching. 
A lot of the women that we work with are some of the most vulnerable in society, including those who have become homeless or are recovering from drug addiction. We give them clothing and support to really make a difference when they have a confirmed job interview – we all feel amazing when we’re wearing a great outfit. Combined with that, we provide an hour-long coaching session with one of our trained volunteers, who are all professional working women. 

The women that come to us already have an interview lined up, and need a boost to help them get into work. 
They’re referred to us by other organisations that are supporting them, which include the Jobcentre or a housing association. Everybody who walks through our door has a different life story – 50 percent that we see are single mothers and at least 30 percent have been out of work for 3–4 years.

We’re a very successful, award-winning charity. 
Smart Works won Social Action Charity of the Year at the Charity Awards 2017. It’s still early days for our Newcastle branch, but it’s already echoing the 60 percent success rate across the whole organisation, and five ladies have got jobs within a month of using our services. 

There are a number of ways that you can support us. 
We accept clothing donations, and work with a number of organisations in the city for larger office donations. We also have some fundraising events coming up, including an Afternoon Tea at Jesmond Dene House on 28th September, where we’ll have some inspirational female speakers promoting our work. Volunteers are central to what we do – we need stylists and interview coaches who can give up some time within their busy schedule to help out. It’s a really rewarding experience – you can see the transformation of each client within two hours, and you’ll often know whether they’ve got the job within a few days. 

We have some fantastic key supporters. 
Hobbs are our main corporate sponsor – they’ve filled our dressing room from top to bottom with brand new clothing. Burberry also provide us with regular suits, jackets and shirts. The quality of clothing we offer makes this a luxury experience for each lady, so she can feel beautiful and confident – and ready to go and get that job. 

Smart Works Newcastle
MEA House
Ellison Place
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 8XS
0191 255 1906
www.smartworks.org.uk

Published in: June 2018

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