Having enjoyed a fabulous fashion career and created an eponymous designer label, Bacup-born Betty Jackson, CBE, knows what it means to be a successful woman in business.
However, she is acutely aware that many women have not been so fortunate, with some facing difficult circumstances including periods of unemployment. That’s partly why she agreed to become a patron of Smart Works, a charity that offers unemployed women the support they need to get back into work. This involves providing smart work wear, along with interview skills with the aim of building confidence to be successful in the recruitment process
MediaCom, the world’s leading media planning and buying agency, is among the businesses which support Smart Works in Greater Manchester, raising money and helping to spread the word about the way that women can get involved.
With their Manchester office ideally located in Spinningfields, MediaCom hosted the most recent Smart Works event this week, where Jackson explained to a packed room, full of local business people looking to find out more about the charity, why their work is so important.
“We are all only one wrong turn away from being unemployed and losing confidence,” she said. “So many women get side-tracked and side-lined through no fault of their own and some can’t find a way back.”
Nearly 50 years after leaving the north west for London to establish her well-known fashion brand, Jackson was joining a crowd of fashion-conscious business women from across the region to celebrate Smart Works’ achievements to date and find out how they too can help in the process of empowering women in need. As well as clothing donations, Smart Works is also seeking mentors, trustees, and corporate and retail partnerships.
The charity offers a styling service, provides women with a complete work outfit and mentors them to boost the chances of a successful job interview. And it works: out of the client’s Smart Works Greater Manchester have been able to contact, 70 per cent have secured a job.
Speaking about the success of the charity, Jackson added: “We had one woman who arrived at the charity with a plastic bag full of her stuff. We worked with her and gave her the confidence to go to interviews and she is now a secretary at Buckingham Palace. We are a small but incredibly effective charity.”
Fellow fashion industry icon Jane Shepherdson MBE, whose CV includes impressive roles as the Brand Director at Topshop and CEO of Whistles, is also a Smart Works patron.
“We support women with a full outfit including handbag, shoes and coat,” Shepherdson told the MediaCom North event.
“The charity reaches out to women who may have left the workplace to have children and can’t afford new clothes and the charity gives them confidence.”
MediaCom North hosted its first Smart Works event in May 2016, raising £600 for the charity. Women who attended donated 19 full bags of clothes and four bags of beauty products.
Nicola Marsh, Deputy Managing Director of MediaCom Manchester, says she would encourage other companies to support Smart Works, explaining that MediaCom opted to back the charity following a discussion about the best way to support women in need.
“We gathered senior members of staff together to see how we as a business could make a difference to promoting women in business and diversity,” she explained.
“We knew that in our industry women spend a lot of money on clothes and recycle them often to keep up with fashion trends. We used our contacts in the industry to make a substantial donation of clothes to Smart Works.
“We knew that it was something we could help with and we could escalate their voice across the region.”
Originating in London, Smart Works established its Greater Manchester branch in June 2015, the first to open in England outside of the capital. Since its launch, Smart Works Greater Manchester has helped over 500 women with the clothes and the confidence they need to succeed at a job interview.
Smart Works liaises with over a hundred referral agencies, including Jobcentre Plus, Work Programme providers and other charities.
To enhance the success of Smart Works in the region and meet the demand, the charity is seeking dynamic and entrepreneurial individuals from the Greater Manchester area. Volunteers need to be passionate about the charity’s work and have the time and skills to commit.
Louise Parrott-Bates, Chair of Smart Works Greater Manchester, said: “Being unemployed is very hard and demoralising. Work can determine who you are.
“We want to reach as many women as possible across Greater Manchester. You can’t beat the feeling that women have when they leave us. It is incredibly important.”
To find out more about supporting Smart Works Greater Manchester, contact Laura Dalby on firstname.lastname@example.org