Peter Schofield, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) paid a visit to Bridgwater to meet women being helped back into paid employment by a unique project called ‘100 Women First’. 20/01/20
The project was the brainchild of Sedgemoor District Council’s Employment, Skills and Training Manager, Caroline Derrick, who wanted to redress the balance in the district between pay for men and women – one of the largest gender pay gaps in the UK.
Ali Porter, Somerset and Hinkley Partnership Manager with DWP, explained how funding from the Department supported the project and Mr Schofield said he was excited to learn first-hand what was being achieved and how lives were being changed.
The project secured its funding just nine months ago but has already reached its goal of enrolling 100 unemployed or underemployed women; giving them the opportunity to share experiences, learn skills, access resources and build confidence.
Tracey Armstrong-Stacey and Laura Fowler, Employment and Skills Outreach Officers at Sedgemoor, told Mr Schofield that the results spoke for themselves with 28 women returning to paid employment so far, ten of whom had started their own businesses or become self-employed.
He heard from Sharon Ham-Howes who had lived and worked in Spain but wanted her children to have an English education. When she returned to the UK, she had difficulty finding work with the biggest hurdle being the need for childcare while she did the training required.
“I didn’t work for five years during which time I lost my identity and my confidence. When I enrolled on the project I was so lost but these women have become my family and support,” said Sharon, who is now planning to start her own Care business.
Tasha Angus told Peter she had been a single parent for four years with one of her children having special needs, which meant she struggled to find work that would allow her to give her child the time and care needed. Helped by the project, she was now planning to set up a Beauty business.
Both women said that the 100 Women First project had treated them as individuals and given them hope and a future. They felt supported, confident and capable in returning to the world of work.
The project is run out of Under Construction, Sedgemoor’s Learning and Skills Centre and the programme has been designed by the women themselves for themselves consisting of practical and social sessions designed to improve their chances of gaining and retaining employment.