In March 2021, Milton Keynes Council launched three schemes to support women back into work, investing £250,000 and working in partnership with local charities and organisations.
Milton Keynes Council was conscious of the impact Covid-19 could have on the town’s economy, with politicians focussed in particular on the green economic recovery, supporting young people and helping women into work.
The latter focus came from national analysis undertaken in July 2020 which highlighted that women would be disproportionately affected economically by the crisis. Challenges facing working women included:
- Women were more likely to work in frontline roles, and more likely to be in the lowest paid and most insecure positions;
- Women were far more likely to be in roles not covered by statutory sick pay;
- Female parents were one and a half times more likely to have lost their job, been furloughed, or had to leave work because of a lack of childcare;
- Women were more likely to work in sectors disproportionately affected by disruption (e.g., retail and hospitality);
- Young women have been disproportionally impacted; and
- Women were far more likely to have, or have taken on, an unpaid carer role.
The council’s political leadership was also concerned about the rise in domestic abuse recorded through the pandemic and was keen to look for creative options to support women who had been affected.
To identify the local need and the best options for support, the council’s economic development team worked closely with local charities, community groups and the MK Business Community. These groups had a good understanding of the needs of their members and service users and had lots of ideas as to how to support women into work or to develop in their current employment. A key finding was that for many women, self-employment was a preferable option, so the team worked to ensure that schemes supported women across a range of employment options.
In March 2021, Milton Keynes Council launched three schemes to support women back into work, investing £250,000 and working in partnership with local charities and organisations. These schemes were:
Women’s Leaders: Women’s Leaders UK, a registered charity based in Milton Keynes, delivered two projects focussing on long term change. Careers Connect connected women trying to get back to work after an absence with Women’s Leaders award winners who offered mentorship to improve their confidence, to network and to access continuing professional development learning opportunities. The Allyship scheme was delivered to senior leaders in Milton Keynes businesses to support and challenge organisations to create female friendly, flexible workplaces.
Works for Us: This local charity delivered training and personal development, interview preparation and practice, and overall career guidance to Milton Keynes women. The scheme also provided digital equipment and mobile internet connections to women struggling to get online and access career support.
Red Thread: The Red Thread Partnership delivered a World Class Manager course, an accredited online training programme targeting female leaders, managers and entrepreneurs.
Since its launch, the Women into Work Scheme has continued to evolve, including the introduction of two more programmes:
“Love Local Hub Business Bootcamps” provide independent businesses with a physical space to sell their products in Centre:MK shopping centre (a UK top 10 shopping centre), along with business advice including training, planning and how to use social media for business.
Another local charity, MK Act, who work with women to support them to move on from fear and abuse, are delivering a one-year programme delivering individual “re-building” plans including exploration of self-employment, local opportunities for work experience and childcare support advice to help women regain their economic independence.
Further programmes continue to be added in response to feedback and intelligence as to what women in Milton Keynes need to support their careers.
The programme has so far supported 200 women, with the Love Local Hub alone supporting over 100 women in creative retail businesses and generating £340,000 for the Milton Keynes economy.
The impact of the programme on the women it has supported has been significant. The following stories from individuals help to demonstrate this impact:
'Saleem' was made redundant from her job during the pandemic and wasn't sure what she would do next or what she could do. The course has helped her to build her confidence and explore the areas that are the right fit for her. She wants to pursue a career in teaching and is now registered for a course to start to develop skills in this area.
‘Gail’ moved to England and attended the Works for Us Women and Work course and an ESOL [English for speakers of other languages] class and is now at a stage where she considers herself job ready. She said: “This course has given me new ideas about how to search for jobs and help with job applications as well as preparing me for interviews in the UK”
‘Sarah’ said: “My main aim from the course was to learn how to do a business plan and to meet other small business owners, these aims were met and exceeded, with Sam's guidance I completed my business plan and also gained a lot of knowledge about networking, social media, time management and planning. I have implemented several new strategies into my business and have seen some massive improvements already, I now plan weeks and months ahead instead of just thinking about how each individual day should be. I also now know more about marketing and plan and cost for that area of my business. I have gained many new skills and look forward to seeing what other courses I can participate in.”
How is the new approach being sustained?
All of the projects were asked about their sustainability beyond the initial funding provided by Milton Keynes Council and this was a factor in awarding grants. For some of the projects, an initial funding boost was the key to getting off the ground. Support from the council’s communications team in spreading the word about the projects has also helped. Creating a visual identity for each project meant participants could feel confident about enrolling onto new support programmes.
There is a strong ‘Milton Keynes spirit’ with organisations wanting to support each other, and as the profile of projects has increased, others have come forward with a desire to support and sustain the programme.
- Flexibility was key – the programme was designed in September 2020 when there was considerable uncertainty on how the pandemic response would evolve. Schemes focus on outcomes rather than trying to stick too rigidly to plans, and recognise that some projects will deliver more quickly than others
- Keep politicians updated throughout – this helps when taking a flexible approach, demonstrating progress towards agreed outcomes
- Be curious - keep your eyes open for interesting events and initiatives being developed by your community in response to need and look to see how you may be able to support them
- Work in partnership with your local business community – combining the expertise and resources of the council and local businesses means you can access and build on existing networks and communications channels.