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Meet the charity helping hundreds of unemployed women in Glasgow back into work

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Smart Works Scotland, a charity that provides free, high-quality interview clothing and coaching to unemployed women, is marking its first anniversary in Glasgow.

In the past 12 months, staff and volunteers have helped hundreds of women to secure jobs, helping to change not only their lives but having a ripple effect on the lives of their families.

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Even my untrained eye can spot some of the better known labels hanging on the rails – there are Nobody’s Child dresses and various Marks and Spencer brands.

Smart Works Scotland has multiple UK-wide partnerships with fashion outlets which donate stock surpluses or clothes just at the end of the season.

There is no fast fashion here – everything is good quality and designed to last.

Women who are referred to the service – a welcoming and bright space in the Merchant City area – are giving a dressing session during which an outfit is chosen to reflect their tastes and personality and give them the confidence boost they need to ace any job interview.

They also meet with a career specialist who helps with CVs and applications and talks through job interview techniques.

Bronagh is one of the Trustees for Smart Works Scotland and, since retiring as the Head of the Business School for the Open University in Scotland, she has volunteered as a dresser – a role she is clearly passionate about.

“Clients will come out of their interview and we have the first phone call – they ring us right away to tell us how they’ve got on and we celebrate with them,” she said.

“We feel passionate about women. It’s so lovely to be able to engage with women.

“All of us, even the most confident, have felt at times in our life that you’re a bit wobbly whether it’s through caring responsibilities, you’ve maybe been out of work for a while, everybody knows that feeling and sometimes what you need is a hand up, rather than a hand out.

“It’s just being able to say – you can do this.”

If the woman is successful in gaining a job then they are invited back for a second dressing where they are fitted with a capsule wardrobe of five or six more pieces to see them through to their first pay cheque.

And the success rates are high: of the women helped last year at Smart Works Scotland 69% of women secured a job within one month of their appointment.

Due to close work with partnership agencies, Smart Works knows the woman’s background and can tailor sessions specifically to her, particularly if there are any vulnerabilities.

And fitting sessions can often be an emotional experience.

Bronagh added: “Sometimes there are tears when women come in but often those are are happy tears.

“We take such care in ensuring that as soon as they walk through the door it’s like a big hug.”

Volunteers are also trained by outside agencies to ensure they are sensitive to specific needs, such as modesty dressing or the needs of transgender and non-binary clients.

Bronagh said the service is working to be inclusive of all gender identities and will be undertaking training with the charity Gendered Intelligence to learn how best to support trans women who need the service.

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Smart Works was founded in England in 2013 and opened a centre in Edinburgh a year later.

It took almost 10 years for the charity to expand to the west coast but the need for its service became clear during the pandemic when a virtual service launched online saw huge demand from women in Glasgow.

In October 2022, Smart Works Scotland opened its doors in the Merchant city for the first time.

Since then, it has supported 296 unemployed women – and held nearly 400 appointments – to give them the help they need to go on to employment and financial independence.

These include 157 Career Coaching Sessions, 163 First Dressings and Interview Coaching Appointments and 65 Second Dressings.

Women are referred into the service from Smart Works Scotland’s 78 partner organisations, including Jobcentre Plus centres, the mental health charity SAMH, Amina Muslim Women Resource Centre, Making Work Work, a women returners programme, and the charity One Parent Families Scotland.

Women may also come from the prison service or be referred by domestic abuse charities.

It is important, Lucy says, for staff to build strong relationships with other charities and organisations to ensure help goes where it is particularly needed.

Thanks to its work with Jobcentre Plus, Smart Works Scotland has helped 45 Ukrainian women in its Glasgow centre since opening and volunteers were on board the floating accommodation housing Ukrainian refugees in Glasgow and Leith.

There’s a double celebration for the charity too – Smart Works Scotland has been chosen by Women’s Enterprise Scotland to be its charity partner at its upcoming Awards event on October 26.

And Smart Works Scotland has also teamed up with Princes Square to hold a pop-up boutique in the Glasgow shopping centre from October 27 to 29.

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Pre-loved, vintage and designer pieces will be on sale at discount prices from brands such as ALIGNE, Saint & Sofia, Nobody’s Child, Boden, The Fold, Biscuit with all proceeds going back to the charity.

Smart Works Scotland said its work is particularly necessary now due to the cost of living crisis, which is seeing families pushed further into poverty and placing financial pressures on employers in what is already a strained job market.

Despite the wider challenges, the charity has plans to increase the number of women it is helping to 400 in the coming year.

It also aims to grow the number of women it helps to 1000 per year across Scotland by 2025.

Lucy Hannay, Head of Fundraising, Partnerships & Communications, said: “It’s been an incredible 12 months and we’re so proud of the number of women we’ve already supported into work. “We’ve seen exceptional demand for our service, which is needed now more than ever as the cost-of-living crisis pushes women further into poverty and rising costs for employers affect an already difficult job market.

“Our service is transformational.

“Our mission is that any unemployed woman in need of our support is able to find her way to Smart Works.

“Together we will help empower more women to job success.”

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