Spotlight: LoveWell UK

1 July 2022

The Women Thrive Fund is a collaboration between Rosa and Smallwood Trust using funds from the Tampon Tax Fund. The programme distributed grants of up to £40,000 to grassroots and specialist women’s and girls’ organisations across the UK. The aims of the programme were to enable women and girls to improve their mental health and wellbeing and/or improve their financial resilience.

Our latest Spotlight article features an interview with Claire Dormand from LoveWell UK.

Can you introduce yourself and LoveWell UK?
I am Claire, one of the original co-founders of LoveWell, and the reason that we came together was out of frustration at the lack of supportive employment opportunities for women in Bristol who had experienced significant trauma through trafficking and exploitation, been trafficked into the UK or had worked in massage parlours to support themselves and their families.

Through our programmes of creating and selling skincare products, we wanted to provide a path for women to build their confidence, skills and experience in the workplace with us before feeling empowered to find other employment that would serve them for the long-term.

What was the appeal of creating skincare products?
One of the three co-founders is a cosmetic scientist and she now runs a brilliant formulating lab in London, but the idea of skincare products came from another cofounder who saw the power of beauty products being more than skin deep.

The products that we create are really good and made with really nourishing and ethically produced natural ingredients and there's a real message there about these products being good for the skin, good for the environment, good for you to use them but they're also good in terms of where your money is going.

This is a circular economy in that you buy good to do good and you're investing in an organisation that is investing 100% of its profits back into the work it does. It’s about supporting and empowering women who have been taught systematically to believe that they have no worth, that they have no value but they actually do and they're really giving into the organisation and the organisation is giving back to them. Everyone from the staff to the customers to even the producers and suppliers we work with are part of this circle that we’ve created at LoveWell.

With the support of the Women Thrive Fund you ran a second LoveWell training programme. What was the purpose of this programme and who is it designed for?
We've just had a fantastic six month programme, having run our first one during 2020-2021.The program is aimed at women who have experienced trauma through trafficking or exploitation, which can take on so many forms: women who have been trafficked into this country and now have refugee status and are looking for employment, women who have been in massage parlours, women who have experienced domestic violence, women who have to support children on their own and so worked in massage parlours but now their children have grown up and want to think what they really want for themselves.

The idea of the programme is that these women are paid as employees of LoveWell to manufacture products and take part in life skills and employability skills. Over the six months we cover a huge range of topics, right from what it means to manage conflict well, what it’s like to work in a team environment, what’s it like going to work or having to explain why you're sick, what does it mean to complete a holiday form and to actually book a holiday because you're paid and you have rights as an employee, how to understand policies, how to manage your home budget and your life admin well. Every woman finishes the six months with a tool-pack, various different CVs for different industries they might want to work in and an idea of where to seek those jobs.

Also, after working with us they get a mentor to support them weekly for between six months to a year. This is all within the context of coming to work in a supportive environment and a community that cares about you and wants to support you to feel empowered to move on in the future.

There are plenty of men, women and trans people around the country who do want to make their living through being sex workers but this whole organisation was premised on women who have worked in massage parlours and don’t want to be doing it any longer. However, it is very difficult to go into an interview or fill in a job application with a gap on your CV and not know how to explain it so we encourage women to say what feels comfortable to them. If they want to use LoveWell as their previous work experience then we can give references. If they want to leave out the rest then we can deal with that in discussions with the employer at a future date.

One of the exciting things that we are developing now, as an organisation, is more conversations with other employers in the city who have the capacity to take on staff and always have a long list of job vacancies. They can talk to us about how we support someone who has had a difficult past and who may need that extra bit of support. We want women to feel like they can thrive in life and not have to just survive and that’s a big undertaking especially after the last couple of years with the pandemic. So many women have been in survival mode so the strength of LoveWell comes within the context of building a real community around the women.

Once the women have completed the training programme, how are they being supported to take up new employment or training opportunities across the city?
That's all completely up to the women as individuals. What’s been really exciting is that some of the women who finished the program at the end of March already had employment to go into because they've been working on that for the last couple of months that they were with us. Some of them finish a really intense six months and feel a bit lost and that's why we have a mentoring system in place. The mentoring is different for each woman as for some it might be proofreading job applications or meeting for a quick coffee before they go for an interview. For others it will be looking for volunteering opportunities or looking for further education.

Some of the women on the programme don't speak English as their first language. We have a partnership with YES (Youth Education Service) who actually do a lot of work with adult education and a lot of women were able to join their classes. There are other opportunities with other educators and support organisations in Bristol, so we make sure that they're connected to a whole host of support before they finish with us so they know we are there and that there’s not a cut off.

We also do regular coffee mornings and have a steering group which each woman is able to join and give us feedback on how LoveWell works. This gives the women a voice within the organisation and in how things are run, and we also use it as a stepping stone for some women to one day take up a place on the Board.

Part of your mission is to be a ‘transformative employer’. What does that statement mean to LoveWell?
For LoveWell, being a transformative employer means we are fully aware of the support needs of the women we work with. They become a proper employee in the organisation, on the payroll, allocated holiday and all of the rights that every other staff member has, so that we can really vouch for them when they move on to other employers. It's something that we have thought really hard about, right down to the wording of our policies, to make sure that we are thinking about the women we are working with through every part of the organisation.

All the knowledge that we take for granted about being in the workplace can be really alien to some of the women who start right from the beginning. I remember the time I told one of the women in our first cohort about the holiday she could book. It completely changed her attitude to the job because she had never been able to book a holiday before as she had never had paid holiday time. That was a huge step for her because she recognised that she was with an employer who was going to look after her and that she had rights.

With all our policies, we take them through the big scary language and explain what it means for them. That’s what we mean by being a transformative employer. We will employ you and that means we have expectations from you and that's really important because that's a really empowering message. You can have expectations of us and we will be here and we will pick up on things when needed. If you are constantly late we will deal with that as another employer would. We are not always going to treat you with kid gloves but we are going to be trauma informed and we are going to understand when there are extenuating circumstances that we can support.

Where do you see the work of LoveWell having the most impact?
I think the biggest impact that LoveWell will have is in the future paths of the women we work with. For some that's going to be a slowburn and for some it's going to be much faster. Quite a few of the women we had on the course that’s just finished already had employment to go into and some of them had a really clear idea of other jobs they wanted to do so they've got regular pay jobs now because they wanted time to do some training or to go back to school and fill in some gaps before they are ready to move on.

Sometimes job hunting, even when you've got a lot of confidence, can still take time so I think we will see the biggest impact when we catch up with these women after six months, a year, eighteen months or even five years down the line to see the path their life has taken since they were a part of LoveWell. I think it will be really exciting and will be transformative, because of the intense work they had with us and because of the building up of their confidence and skills and also the recognition of the skills that they already had.

The impact we want to have on the business community in this region is to be able to show that businesses with a social purpose really work and we're aiming to be almost exclusively self-funded through the sales of our products. That's going to take a long time but we work really hard on our business model and really crunch those numbers to show that community interest organisations such as LoveWell can survive in this day and age.

What is the best way that people can support LoveWell at this time?
Definitely by buying our products that have all been made by women on our training program. We also have a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to run our next programme: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/help-fund-our-next-lovewell-work-well-programme-1

If there are any employers reading this or women who can give an hour or two a week to mentor a woman from our next cohort, then we would love to hear from you. There's so much expertise out there and so much good will, so we really love hearing from people who want to give their time and energy to supporting our trainees.

Finally, is there anything else that you wanted to bring up?
I just want to say a massive thank you to the Smallwood Trust for your support because it really is transformative. We are really grateful because the money goes such a long way and we wouldn't have been able to do what we’ve been doing for the last few months without it.