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Skills and Employment

This theme explores the issues surrounding employment and skills for women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It is being led by Expert Group member Baroness Stedman-Scott, Chief Executive of Tomorrow’s People. Read the theme round-up here.

In her blog, Baroness Stedman-Scott writes “The potential for meaningful occupation, training and employment to boost self esteem and help women’s recovery from homelessness cannot be underestimated. We, therefore, need to get it right.

“Throughout the Rebuilding Shattered Lives Campaign so far, the debate about women only versus mixed services has been evident in every theme. Within the employment and skills sector we know there are good women only support services out there, as well as mixed programmes that are gender aware and recognise the particular needs and ambitions of their female clients. We need to gather this evidence together to influence policy and practice and improve the training and employment support available to homeless women.”

If you have already joined the campaign, please log in to submit evidence. If you are not already a member, please click here to register.

How do we make sure women get the right help, at the right time? We want to hear from practitioners on the ground and from women using services themselves, about what works and what support is missing.

In particular, we want to hear about:

  • Specialist employment and skills support for women at risk of or experiencing homelessness
  • Literacy / numeracy support
  • Services that support with childcare
  • Programmes that build confidence
  • Mainstream training and work schemes that encourage and facilitate access for homeless women

Please also submit any relevant research so we can gather this together to improve the support out there for women. 


Theme started on: 09 Sep 2013

21 Submissions

  1. Esther Sample

    As part of St Mungo’s Women’s Strategy, in July 2013 we worked in partnership with a range of organisations in the Homeless Employability Network to hold a women’s employment and training fair at South London YMCA’s Conference Centre. The fair was set up following discussions at the network about ETE services in the homelessness sector being generally male dominated. The event was open to women accessing homeless services across London and was attended by around 80 women, who had the opportunity to network with employers and training providers as well as attend skills workshops. Stalls included Marriot Hotels, Women in Construction, KPMG and City Lit. Popular workshops included self employment by St Mungo’s and assertiveness and self esteem by Eaves. One woman said of the day: ‘I thank everybody for today, I have been made happy today’, and others commented: ‘I was able to look at setting up my own business and how achievable it may be’ and ‘I liked that it was aimed at women specifically’.

  2. Delyth Evans

    Smart Works offers high quality second-hand interview clothes to women who have a job interview lined up and no suitable clothes of their own to wear. The charity also offers one-to-one interview training. To book an appointment at Smart Works, you need to have a confirmed job interview lined up and you must be referred by some other agency, which could be St. Mungo’s, Jobcentre Plus, or another support organisation.

    The phone number for appointments is: 020 7288 1770. For further information please go to: http://www.smartworks.org.uk

  3. Jocelyn Hillman

    Working Chance was set up in 2007 to assist women offenders in making the transition into the world of work and employment.

    Employment is proven to help reduce re-offending and break the cycle of disadvantage and offending that is so often transmitted from generation to generation. Women offenders tell us that on release from prison their aspirations are to get their children back, live in a secure environment and to earn a living wage.

    However, most of the women feel that, without support on release, the barriers to employment are too great and they see themselves as set up to fail. We at Working Chance don’t believe it has to be this way.

    We have four main streams of work: recruitment services, one-to-one advice, training & education and support services. This holistic approach ensures that we can help our candidates through every step of their journey from exclusion to contribution.

    For more information see: http://www.workingchance.org

  4. martin calderwood

    Putting Down Roots is a gardening project for people who are currently homeless or have been in the past, or who are at risk of becoming homeless. We work in hostel grounds, public parks and on our own allotment, developing gardening skills, growing organic vegetables and carrying out hard landscaping and building projects. We have many types of garden, so everyone can take part and find something enjoyable to do - whatever their abilities or physical difficulties. The main emphasis is to support our clients to gain skills, qualifications, paid and voluntary work. We have a mix of men and women taking part in the programme. One woman participant Julie says:

    ‘I have completed the first unit of the OCN course and am now doing the second unit. It is interesting and informative. There is always something new to learn and I am learning new skills.’

    ‘It gives me something to do instead of just twiddling my thumbs at home. We’re dealing with the plants- be it planted from seedlings, to propagated, to potted and then to actually plant them in the earth. It’s to do with not just the practical and the planting and watching them grow and picking them all, but also the theory behind it.’

    ‘It’s made me much more aware of things at their natural source. It’s very nice to crop a plant you’ve actually grown from seed. It’s a very good project as it’s in the open and outdoors. It’s a very healthy and nice thing to do.’

    See Julie’s interview in our new video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjtDJpr9f2k or for more information see http://www.mungos.org/pdr

  5. Ciara Morrin

    As a St Mungo’s Job Coach I am currently run some women only groups in Harrow. One is based in a mixed substance use aftercare service called Radiate. The women decided that they wanted to learn computer skills so we have been focussing on IT alongside job coaching for 3 months. The first session we just spent talking about our experiences and ambitions, and a really supportive atmosphere was developed early on. Even though our targets are around getting people into training and work, those soft outcomes around peer support and confidence building are really important. Women have opened up and found common ground, and now don’t feel so isolated or crazy in their own heads. I think that the fact that it is a confidential women only space has been a big part of why this is.

    One woman has a partner who is a heavy drinker, and the group has allowed her a space away from this. When she first started she would not have contemplated volunteering work but now is thinking about this and other options for herself. Another was in an abusive relationship, and when she caught her husband cheating she reacted physically. This led to her being fired from her job and she has been unemployed and on antidepressants but is now building up her confidence again to move into part time work. Another woman from Russia has a life that revolves around a Russian and an English man. She cannot contemplate being financially independent from them, so this is something we are looking at together.

    I have done a group with young women, many of whom were care leavers. For some it was very hard to engage with job coaching. One young woman was sexually abused by her father and using drugs quite heavily. I asked if money wasn’t an issue what she would want in the future in terms of career. Her answer was that she wanted to have a child but was fearful that social services would take it, and what her father would do when he was out of prison. In this case I think counselling was more necessary rather than job coaching. Another young woman, who is very bright and capable, wants to get a qualification in health and beauty however the £3000 course fees are a barrier. She also has a young daughter and is concerned about travelling away from her child.

    I think the biggest challenge for women I have supported in homelessness services in getting back into work has been substance use. I remember meeting one woman when she was clean and making plans/setting goals, but the next time I saw her she had relapsed and she couldn’t remember who I was and why I was there, this continued on a number of occasions between drinking and sober. Another woman was addicted to heroin and had been in prison for stealing and lost her daughter. She said she felt isolated from the other women because of her choice of drug. She said for men others might be impressed, but for women it is a taboo drug and she lost all her girlfriends. I think the opportunity to talk to other women is so important, informal emotional support as well as therapy.

    The other big challenge is when women have lost or are separated from their children. This leaves a void that it is so hard to step outside, to see that if they push themselves back on track they may get contact with their children again.
    I have loved doing women’s groups and have felt very comfortable. I am going to miss the women when the groups finish as a strong bond is always built up. We all need to talk and share experiences, but I have found for vulnerable women it is particularly constructive, as well as just 1:1 coaching.

  6. Simon Phillips

    At St Mungo’s, our literacy and numeracy classes are well attended by women, it is often 40-50% women (women make up around 30% of residents). It is a good stepping stone for clients who find the idea of mainstream college intimidating to get used to the group learning environment. Many women do go on to college in the community. We see a lot of women from other countries as part of ESOL training. I am aware that in some countries women still do not have access to education in the same way as men, so this may be why we see more with low literacy and numeracy levels.

  7. Bjorn Grant

    I think that for me the main thing is making sure that there are opportunities for the residents Male or Female, from hospitality & leisure, construction and many more. In the past the type of jobs that residents would come to the team for would often be in the construction field of work, which isn’t always appealing for the female residents who might think that there is no opportunities for them. In reality there is lots of jobs out there for women residents as most of my job outcomes are from the female residents who live and reside in a St Mungos Hostel. My role as a job coach is to help them see those possibilities as well as recognise their own skills and abilities. One woman I supported who was really interested in construction, was so determined that within 3 months she had done the course, got a CSCs card and got into work.

    I have supported women who have experienced domestic violence in the past and their confidence had been affected badly by their experiences. They were more cautious about what kind of work they might do, for example not wanting a male dominated environment, or not wanting a customer facing role where they might face confrontation.

  8. Anna Herrmann

    Clean Break was set up in 1979 by two women prisoners who believed that theatre could bring the hidden stories of imprisoned women to a wider audience. Still the only women’s theatre company of its kind today, Clean Break has remained true to these roots, continuing to inspire playwrights around the complex theme of women and crime - enlightening and entertaining audiences. Integral to this, is the company’s long-established theatre-based education and training programme enabling women offenders and those at risk of offending to develop personal, social, professional and creative skills leading to education and employment.

    Behind the scenes, we provide high-quality theatre-based courses, qualifications, training opportunities and specialist support which are critical for the rehabilitation of women offenders in prisons and the community. On the stage, we produce ground-breaking and award-winning plays which dramatise women’s experience of, and relationship to, crime and punishment. Our women-only identity is crucial to our history and rationale, and provides us with the most effective model for representing, understanding and meeting the complex needs of women who offend.

    For more information see: http://www.cleanbreak.org.uk/

  9. Eileen Egerton

    Women experiencing homelessness often face particular challenges getting back to work which can seriously affect their motivation. These may include abuse, losing their children, emotional issues and little or no work history. For example women who are involved in sex work/prostitution can find it difficult to move away from this source of income, as alternatives often require commitment to training and volunteering which take time. This can feel like a huge step. If there are issues around drug dependency or other addictive behaviours this creates a financial imperative which further compounds the issue.

    Engaging women creatively in activities that help to build confidence, self esteem and break destructive patterns and addictive behaviours – basically to start a process of recovery – is essential. Providing women with the opportunity to talk openly, to connect, and heal within a safe learning environment (e.g. singing, writing, sewing groups) taps into hidden skills and motivations which can help them get back into the workplace.

    We have worked with many women who have been through a process of recovery and find employment. There are many employers who will give people the chance if they show they have the right attitude and determination.

  10. Kathy Lloyd

    TeesValley Womens Centre provides, education learning opportunities and resourses, access to employment and enterprise opportunities and a drop in facility to tackle the social, community and economic issues of women across the Tees Valley area, regardless of race, colour, gender orientation and disabilities. With free onsite crèche available to women attending courses.

    Alongside our day to day services we are currently running two projects, one “The Switch Project” helping to develop specialist community based support services for vulnerable women and women at risk of offending to promote confidence and progression by raising self esteem and empowering women to achieve their goals, providing support, whilst promoting the value of education, training & employment.

    “The Reaches Project” working in Partnership with DTVPT, supporting women involved in the CJS, providing a one stop shop for women serving sentences in the community, aiming to tackle offending behaviour, helping to get participant speedily back into mainstream society and improve life sills.

    For more information see: http://www.teesvalleywomenscentre.co.uk/

    For case studies from women who have accessed our services, please see attached.

  11. Joy Doal

    The Anawim Project works with vulnerable women across Birmingham, including women engaged in and around prostitution, drug addictions and domestic violence. Anawim staff go to where the women are: on the streets of Birmingham, in Eastwood Park, Drake Hall and other women’s prisons, in court and in Bail hostels.

    By reaching out in friendship to all women who are trapped in prostitution or offending, and offering support and counselling to those expressing a wish to leave the lifestyle, Anawim seeks to provide vulnerable women with positive choices to help them achieve their goals and reach their full potential as part of the wider community.

    For more information see: http://www.anawim.co.uk/

    See attached two case studies from women who accessed our services.

  12. Michelle Nicholson

    KeyChanges is a not for profit company based in Sheffield and covers Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley.

    The project is designed to empower and tackle personal and social obstacles, both in custody and upon release. They aim to achieve this by equipping women with the skills and strategies to ensure a successful release plan. They also aim to raise awareness in the community with the use of conferencing to the public to understand the deep rooted issues in society which may lead to offending and other issues women face.

    For more information see: http://keychangesunlockingwomenspotential.wordpress.com/

    KeyChanges have recently won the Social Impact Award for South Yorkshire and Humberside for 2013. See attached press release for more information.

  13. Caroline Adkins PhD

    The Adkins Life Skills: Career Development Series

    The Adkins Program is an innovative multimedia, group, employability, learning program developed at Columbia University. The program aims specifically at helping economically disadvantaged and under-served adults and youth. The Adkins Program does what other programs often neglect: It systematically and sensitively enlists clients in discovering their strengths and taking responsibility for their own development and employment. In this setting, participants can build their skills, learning strategies, confidence, self-advocacy, and self-sufficiency. The Adkins Program is the framework for the job-training and education programs of The Homeless Services Bureau.

    Job-Training and Education Programs

    The Homeless Services Bureau of the Boston Public Health Commission has two paid, hands-on job-training programs, The Work Experience Program and The Serving Ourselves Program. The Homeless Services Bureau also has an educational and employment program, Project Lighthouse, which is available to program clients and emergency shelter guests.

    Each program recognizes an individual’s needs and struggles and seeks to support clients in moving beyond shelter. By utilizing The Adkins Program, the programs help clients realize their potential and foster personal and professional growth. The programs hope to inspire the belief that it is never too late to change the direction of one’s life. For clients, the goal of these programs is to break the pattern of homelessness. Clients graduate by first re-entering the workforce and gaining new skills, and then finding independent employment.

    For more information see: http://www.adkinslifeskills.org/

  14. Gill Brown

    Brighter Futures offers effective solutions to complex needs with which many peoples’ lives are troubled.

    Our customers have suffered difficult ‘trigger’ circumstances which include mental illness, sexual or physical abuse, trauma or institutionalisation. Their best attempts to deal with these situations on their own have often drawn them into addictions or other dangerous situations.

    Our customers need someone who has not been involved in their complex cycle of stress, disadvantage and misfortune to help them think about the most effective way out of their situation and to befriend them as they make that difficult journey. That is what our support workers do for thousands of people every year.

    Everything we do is guided by our values. All our work is measured against these values. Our values are…

    - Passionate
    - Creative
    - Equal
    - Empowering
    - Sustainable

    Chepstow House, one of Brighter Futures projects, is a ‘one stop shop’ that brings services for women together into one safe space. Women are able to seek advice and support and the Courts are able to refer women to Chepstow House as an alternative to prison. Interventions available include counselling, art therapy, NOCN accredited courses in Life Skills, Employability, Literacy and Numeracy, tenancy support, family support, Citizens Advice Bureau, DV support, complementary therapies, Specified Activity Requirements and structured 1 to 1 support.

    For more information see: http://www.brighter-futures.org.uk/

  15. Cary Marshall

    IntoWork runs a Women’s Empowerment Programme. The programme runs for 8 weeks on Mondays from 11am-1pm. The purpose of this programme is to provide a safe space for women to build confidence and clarify goals and aspirations in both their professional and personal lives. It provides an opportunity for participants to take an in-depth look at themselves, including their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, so that they may use this information to focus on moving forward with their careers and lives. It also brings focus onto issues surrounding being a woman in today’s society, and how that affects their lives.

    For more information see: http://clementjames.org/what-we-do/programmes/intowork

  16. Lisa Dando

    Inspire adopts a whole system approach working with women at all stages of involvement in the Criminal Justice System from early intervention, through points of arrest, community order, in-reach, release and continuing Through The Gate support. Inspire is a partnership project with Brighton Women’s Centre as the lead agency. The other partner organisations are: Rise (DV), Threshold (Mental Health), Brighton Oasis Project (sex work) and Survivor’s Network (Rape Crisis). Inspire operates a one-stop with a multi-disciplinary team of co-located case workers. Women referred to Inspire are assessed by a caseworker and receive intensive 1-1 input where they are supported to address the structural challenges in their lives which have lead to their offending. Inspire is premised on a model of women centred positive psychology where we recognize that the multiple complex needs of our clients require asset based creative and innovative responses to reduce their offending and re-offending.

  17. OIWG

    Quotes on employment ambitions from St Mungo’s Women’s Peer Research 2013 below. Of 60 women interviewed, 83% wanted to get into employment.

    ‘What I want is to be with family, work and spend time with son, have a happy life’
    ‘Yes I want to work. I’d like to do a job that gives back help to the community’
    ‘Yes. I am going to be a teacher’
    ‘Yes I would. Would like to work in leisure/ sports but wouldn’t mind trying youth work. Haven’t worked before’
    ‘Yes I want to work as being on benefits is embarrassing. Any job will do.’
    ‘I want to get into business. [What would you do?] Open a restaurant.’
    ‘Yes I do want to work. I have done hairdressing and barwork in the past. Also, I’ve recently started to study economics’
    ‘I have a serious back injury which prevents going back to my old job (was a cleaner and did other manual work). If I could work in a lighter field, catering or something, I would like to.’
    ‘I’m sick. I do want to get back to work but I’ve been signed off because I was ill due to mental health issues. I’m a plumber, I’ve got a trade and I want to get back into that but it’s going to cost £4k and I’ve looked into it and they won’t help me with any of it. Which is daft really.’
    ‘Yes, but I feel discriminated against (and have been in interview scenarios) on account of my mental health. I feel mental health problems are not considered a ‘proper’ disability . I would like to make money from my music/ recording.’

  18. OIWG

    Comments from the Outside In Women’s Group held at North London Women’s Project on 24th October 2013:

    ‘The best way to support women into employment is to brainstorm what they are good at and what they enjoy, then for women to have a go at different tasks to see how they get on and pinpoint what they want to do.’

    ‘It really depends on the individual, some come into the hostel and just want to live the same life and stay the same rather than take new opportunities. For me, I need to sort my financial problems before I can look at work, but there is a good amount of courses available.’

    ‘Travel is a real barrier for some women. Not even looking at cost, it is still stressful to travel across London. One woman is going to a course in Bermondsey and it takes her an hour each way. It is good to have a mix of in-house and external courses that women are encouraged to attend and posters displayed. For some women they are thinking about their addiction day to day, so it is better to have a flexible approach of activities.’

    ‘Consistency of staff is important, I have had lots of different key workers and this can mean you make progress towards training / employment but then this is lost with the next worker.’

    ‘The main thing is to know what to do, what are the options, and preparation through volunteering- that helps to build confidence. I have been volunteering in a number of places.’

    ‘I have done work in hospitality and catering but it was not constant, I would like to do it again. There is lots to do in London, women just need to find what they enjoy’.

  19. Esther Sample

    One resident’s view:

    ‘Women experiencing homelessness need different support depending on their experiences, but I think the key factor to move towards training/employment is regaining self-belief. You need to believe you can do it and want to make a change.

    I have lived in a shelter and am now in employment as an apprentice project worker at St Mungo’s, after being supported by their employment team. They helped me build my confidence up and look at different options open to me. They listened to my opinions and took them on board, and helped me see which paths were realistic and possible, supporting me the whole way through. They key thing is that the staff listened- staff understanding is even more important than the structure of what is provided.

    In my experience group activities can be really beneficial in building confidence such as sports and games to give a feeling of achievement and a chance to bond with other women. I think in some shelters there are not enough activities or they can be inconsistent. Women really look forward to them and if they are cancelled at the last minute this is very disappointing. Even having table tennis, board/computer games can help people to relax and bond if they don’t have much money to go out.

    When I first moved into a shelter I made a plan for myself that I would keep busy. It was a really hard time settling into a new environment, but I made a list of all the social and employment things I might do and this kept me focussed. I found a volunteering role in a charity shop and this kept me in the routine of getting up and going to work. For the evenings I looked at websites with free social activities and also tried to keep busy writing and going to parks and museums.

    My advice to other women would be to have a personal strategy in place from early on so you don’t get used to just staying in your room. I have seen from other women that the longer you are inactive, the more likely you are to go further into depression and the harder it will be to pull out of it.’

  20. Anna Thomas

    Crisis Skylight in London runs a Women’s Zone project as part of the timetable. These free women only classes and one off workshops are open to women over the age of 18 across London who are homeless or who have experienced homelessness.

    The friendly and supportive women only project includes a whole range of creative, wellbeing and life skills workshops. The project is run by the Women’s Progression Coach who offers one to one IAG and coaching to help the women move forward with their lives. Classes include pamper sessions, a running group, health and exercise classes, creative arts and Confidence and Assertiveness workshops.

    For more information about the Autumn Timetable 2013 see here:


    Contact Anna Thomas for more info about the Women’s Zone programme and how to become a member on 0207 426 5658 or [email protected]

  21. Bruce Sorrell

    Hello All,

    I have recently started working as a single parent job coach with Crisis. I predominantly work in Hackney but can take referrals from City of London and Tower Hamlets. Crisis’s aim is to empower women who are currently temporarily housed (or have been in the last three years) to utlimately secure employment through face to face life coaching, wellbeing awareness, accredited training, financial advice and employment tasters. They can then access our highly successful Private Rental Scheme to obtain financially realistic sustainable accommodation in the private rented sector.

    Please spread the word and if you would like an invite to the centre for a tour of our services and our social enterprise the Skylight cafe (trainees required!), please message me through this site or direct on [email protected]. Do check out the website also.

    Thak you for taking the time to read this, we look forward to hearing from you.


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