Suited for Success is a UK charity that collects and provides donated work-wear clothes for unemployed men and women to wear to job interviews. The charity exists to support people at the margins of society who experience significant barriers to employment and social inclusion, including: long-term unemployment, homelessness, alcohol/substance misuse, criminal records, low self-esteem, disabilities, mental health problems and victims of human trafficking.
The charity began life as ‘Project 14’, an initiative brainstormed and launched by Gowling WLG and other professional services firms located in the West Midlands. Gowling WLG convened the programme with the help of David Richardson, regional MD of Lloyds Banking Group and Nick Venning, then marketing director at PwC, by writing to CEO’s and senior/managing partners of professional services firms in Birmingham and inviting them to nominate some of their junior/mid-ranking rising talent to take part.
Lorna Gavin, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Corporate Responsibility at Gowling WLG, issued the brief alongside David Richardson and Nick Venning: “Go and learn about the city you are working in, find out about the ‘underbelly’ of the city, find a need that isn’t being met, engage with the charities that are tackling the agenda and find a way (preferably sustainable) to meet that need. You have no budget, off you go.” The volunteers were encouraged to spend as much time as they needed to establish the need and the solution, before going into implementation mode.
The goal was simple – bring together a small group of young professionals to form a volunteer consortium and identify a need for a disadvantaged community or group within the region. The members of Project 14 had to implement a scheme to meet that need and deliver a solution for it.
The team, which alongside Gowling WLG included members from Lloyds Bank, Anthony Collins solicitors, Deutsche Bank AG and others, held a brainstorming session around the themes of homelessness, addiction and unemployment. They realised that one major barrier preventing homeless and long-term unemployed people returning to work was a lack of appropriate interview clothes.
Collaboration was the key to the project’s success. The companies involved provided meeting rooms, pro bono IT assistance to develop the organisation’s website, and brand and logo design. The Gowling WLG team also provided pro bono intellectual property, real estate and planning advice to help Suited for Success become a registered charity with premises of its own. The referral centre is based in the heart of Birmingham and provides a one-to-one service for clients, with space for fittings and a consultation in readiness for their job interviews, together with gently worn, high quality suits and interview-suitable clothing.
For Lorna Gavin, the programme was just an extension of what has always been the Gowling WLG culture:
“We’ve had full time Corporate Responsibility resources in place since the late 90’s, which is a reflection of the investment the firm’s leaders are prepared to put into this. Our volunteering rates (for lawyers and business services staff) have always been pretty healthy – typically above 25-30% volunteer in any year and it has been known to tip over 50%. We have core priorities for our volunteering programmes (homelessness, education and inner city needs) alongside our pro bono work which is much wider reaching. We always have a menu of volunteering opportunities for people to choose from, ranging from one-off sessions through to long term mentoring programmes.
There are a range of factors that make up a strong business case. It starts with it being the right thing to do, of course, but we also recognise the benefits to our colleagues in terms of the skills they acquire. Wider employee benefits are that it meets their expectations – they want to work at a law firm that gives them opportunities to volunteer and contribute to the community. Our Corporate Responsibility strategy definitely aligns with client expectations too and Project 14, which became Suited for Success, is a prime example of the benefits of collaboration with clients, and indeed competitors.”
The charity now works with a number of referral organisations across the West Midlands, including BITC’s Ready for Work Programme, BVSC’s Talent Match programme, foodbanks, job clubs and advice agencies.
Testimonials from Suited for Success clients:
Howard was referred to Suited for Success through Birmingham Central Foodbank. He had been unemployed for over two years after having to leave work due to stress after the death of his mother. After being given a suit to wear to a recruitment open day he commented: “I felt so confident on the day, other people attending the recruitment day thought I was one of the managers. I felt great.” Howard was offered a place on a pre-employment training course.
Andrew was referred through unemployment charity Jericho Foundation. He was living in a homeless hostel after going through a challenging time of addiction recovery. Andrew had been offered an opportunity to become a support worker for the hostel he was living in and wanted to look the part. After putting on a suit he commented: “WOW I haven’t looked this smart in a while, thank you so much for all your help.”