3 July, 2015

Marks, Make Up & Starts

Full time work as a consultant in the beauty section at Marks and Spencer in Swansea has given mum-of-one Sarah Bond her confidence back.

But the 30-year-old had to travel a rocky road first, which saw her and daughter Casey homeless.

Sarah Bond, of West Cross, received disappointing GCSE results and enrolled on a child care course in college.

Sarah then worked in the child care sector full-time for three years. However, when nine-year-old Casey was six months old, Sarah was made redundant.

This led to her claiming unemployment benefits and going back to school. After struggling to keep afloat, she found herself without a home and was forced to move back in with her parents.

"After being made redundant I had no choice but to become a full-time mum and began claiming benefits as I was out of work with a very young child," she says. "I decided to go back to school to study social work but found that I couldn't manage studying and caring for Casey and it started to go downhill from there.

"My confidence completely plummeted and I felt extremely lonely and isolated, but I was determined to get back into work."

Sarah visited Jobcentre Plus Swansea regularly and came across the Marks & Start scheme. She signed up and undertook a two-week placement in the M&S Swansea store. This resulted in a six-month contract in the lingerie department and the team were so impressed they offered Sarah a permanent role.

Two years later and Sarah has not looked back. Working in store has given her the opportunity to progress and she recently completed training to become a fully-fledged consultant in the beauty hall.

Her beauty advisor role involves giving out advice to customers on the store's range of beauty products, which includes skin care, make-up and hair products. Also, giving make up and nail trials as well as replenishing stock and maintaining sales floor standards.

"The stability of working at M&S has turned my life around," Sarah adds. "I now have a home for Casey and I to enjoy and I'm financially independent, which has had such an amazing effect on my confidence. I can't wait for the next chapter."

Sarah was 21 when she was made redundant and was a full-time mum for five years. She was made homeless and moved back with her parents four years ago. Two years later she was able to rent her own home.

M&S is to double the participation in its Marks & Start scheme. The programme is designed to help individuals with disabilities, health conditions, the young unemployed, lone parents and those tackling homelessness to gain vital employability skills. It pledges to provide work placement opportunities to 10,000 individuals who face significant barriers to employment by 2020.

The scheme has supported more than 10,000 individuals since its first intake in the 2004-05 financial year.

It works in partnership with four leading specialist partners. These include Remploy for people with disabilities; Gingerbread for lone parents; The Prince's Trust which helps young people aged 16 to 25; and Business in the Community for the homeless or those at risk of homelessness.

More than 60 per cent of participants that complete the programme gain employment with M&S or another employer within 13 weeks and over 90 per cent report that Marks & Start has improved their confidence and helped them in their steps to find work, according to the scheme.

Around 35 per cent of participants have some sort of disability and currently an average of 60 per cent of participants are aged 16-25.

This article originally appeared on South Wales Evening Post 

Inside M&S