As we walk into the Smart Works Newcastle HQ, there’s a feeling of instant comfort about the place, of course it helps that the full room is filled with colour coordinated clothes and shoes and complete with sofas, cushions and wall decorations, there’s a real homely feel.
Headed up by Lead Manager Michelle Robson, the service which officially launched in April, has already helped and supported over 100 women with their upcoming job interviews.
Each woman that has been referred to the service receives a personal styling session, a one-to-one coaching session and then an outfit and goodybag to take away for their interview, all within a two hour free session.
“It’s simply inspirational” says Michelle, who joined the company to launch the Newcastle branch earlier this year. “The transformation is the most incredible thing, no matter what background, age or financial status, every single lady has had the same transformation.
“Usually the lady can be quite nervous as they walk through the door, sometimes withdrawn and quiet and not quite sure where to look, but after the experience it’s hugely empowering and a massive confidence boost for them, you can see their head is held high, shoulders back and there’s a real smile on their face.
“You can really see the physical transformation as well as the mental one. It’s the most magical thing to see. There’s quite often a lot of hugs and kisses and happy tears at the end.”
Any individual who identifies as a woman that has a confirmed job interview can access the service through a referral and if successful in securing a role within the next six months can return for another dressing session, to pick out some more pieces and create a capsule workwear wardrobe.
Michelle said: “There’s a particular lady we welcomed back for her second dressing appointment, she’d had an incredibly difficult few years, she had lost her previous role due to redundancy, lost her children to social services through a difficult time she’d had being involved with an abusive partner and then had spent a lot of time caring for relatives and friends with cancer. Understandable her confidence was at the lowest it could possible be.
“For a long time she’d wanted to help other people with cancer, so she’d applied for the role of a carer on a teenage cancer ward, she was convinced she wouldn’t get the role but we knew she would.
“Coming to Smartworks was a real transformational experience for her, she realised she had value and that she had dreams to go after. We just helped her to awaken that confidence. Her work coach that referred her from the job centre said that she has such a different attitude now than before. Honestly there are countless stories like this I could tell you.”
The Newcastle branch is run by a team of 50 volunteers, many of which are Directors, Senior Managers or working in HR. All the volunteers are women who give back their personal time to help other women get back into work.
Michelle added: “We’re always reaching out to people and there are a number of ways to help. You can become a volunteer, make a clothing donation or donate money. Whether you hold a fundraising event at your workplace, want to nominate us as your sponsored charity of the year or want to invite us along to one of your events to host a pop-up shop. We’re always open to ideas so get in touch.”
To learn more about Smart Works Newcastle visit the website http://smartworks.org.uk/newcastle-smart-works/