Smart Works Leeds celebrates its second birthday with a designer fashion sale at the Corn Exchange

The charity, which has so far helped more than 160 unemployed women find a job, despite the pandemic, is raising money by selling donated designer items. Stephanie Smith reports.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 12:23 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 2:40 pm
Smart Work Leeds client Esther at the centre at Mabgate Mills. Esther has found a job working for the NHS after succeeding at interview with the charity's help. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Smart Works Leeds, the charity that dresses and coaches unemployed women for job interviews, is to hold a fashion sale at the Corn Exchange in Leeds next month, offering some of its donated designer and luxury clothing at massively discounted prices.

The event marks the second anniversary of the Smart Works Leeds centre, which opened at Mabgate Mills in Leeds in November, 2019, and has so far helped more than 160 women in Yorkshire find work, despite the challenges of Covid-19.

Centre manager Amy Harrison said: “Opening just four months before the pandemic began, we have learned to diversify our service and were able to support women virtually throughout all of our lockdowns, sending beautiful interview clothing in the post and offering coaching via video call.

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Smart Work Leeds clients, volunteers and staff at the centre at Mabgate Mills. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

“This has allowed us to help women from a wider area, and we are continuing that vital service. Nonetheless, we were delighted to reopen for clients in April and have offered our in-person service to more women than ever before in the last month.”

There are more than 40 volunteer dressers and interview coaches at the Leeds centre, many with years of experience working in the retail and business sectors.

Smart Works helps some of the most vulnerable women in society enter or re-enter the workplace. To use the service, clients have to have a referral from a Job Centre or from a partner organisation, including the prison service and organisations and charities for care leavers, the homeless, refugees, and survivors of addiction and domestic abuse.

Chair of Smart Works Leeds, Helen Oldham, said: “We offer unemployed women in West Yorkshire, and beyond, the knowledge that they are backed and supported by our team.

“Every month since we first opened, the number of women we help has been growing, and our largest challenge is in meeting the needs of unemployed women in our region. Sadly, this is a situation which is unlikely to improve in the near or mid-term as we slowly pull out of the pandemic.”

Smart Works has the support of many prestigious names in the fashion and beauty industry, with retail partners including Burberry, John Lewis & Partners, Marks & Spencer and Hobbs. It also partnered with Bobbi Brown Cosmetics on the Pretty Powerful campaign.

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, became the charity’s patron in 2019, and other patrons and ambassadors include Jennifer Saunders, Emma Barnett, Samantha Cameron, Alexandra Burke, Betty Jackson CBE, Jane Sherpherdson CBE and Lulu Guinness.

* The Smart Works Leeds Fashion Sale will take place on Friday, November 12, from 6pm at the Corn Exchange. It will offer donated designer and high-end high street pieces in all sizes, at hugely discounted prices, alongside beautiful items donated by Yorkshire designers and fashion brands. Taking part on the night will be Bo Carter, Moon Muse Vintage, The Pod, Katherine Manley, Zara Mia Ava, Glitter Glamour Boutique and Katie & May. Proceeds will go to Smart Works Leeds. Tickets are £5 and include a glass of fizz per shopper, available via this Ticket Tailor link or by emailing [email protected] Yorkshire designers and retailers please email [email protected] if you would like to donate stock for this and other Smart Works Leeds events.