Sarah Burns MBE – Founder Smart Works Reading


Smart Works is a UK charity that provides high quality interview clothes, styling advice and interview training to women in need.  We give women the confidence, the self-belief and the practical tools they require to succeed at interview and start a new chapter of their life. Smart Works Reading opened in October 2015 with a vision of bringing the dressing and interview coaching service to women within the Thames Valley

Sarah Burns MBE, is a human dynamo and Chair of Smart Works Reading, a charity which provides high quality work appropriate outfits, styling advice and interview coaching.  As Sarah puts it, “we help women to feel confident, look fabulous, succeed at their job interview and move on with their life.”  With twenty years of experience in software training, coaching and leadership in the corporate world, Sarah’s previous positions include Head of Training Services / Senior Manager at SAS, Northgate Arinso and Microsoft Business Solutions. Dedicated now to using her skills to inspire and empower women to make positive life changes and realise their goals, meetingsclub caught up with Sarah and spent 12 Minutes With the leader of our Charity of the Year. 

After working in the corporate world of training for 20 years, why did you choose to get involved in the charity sector?   

I worked for a number of corporate organisations and then decided to undertake a coaching course, not really knowing what I wanted to do.  At the same time I volunteered to work for Dress for Success in London (now Smart Works) and after a while decided to set up my own branch of the charity in Reading which covers the Thames Valley.  I love the operational side of things – I’m a doer – and like getting my hands dirty. 

Who has inspired you most in your career?
My former boss Annabel, who I worked with at Microsoft.  We are a similar age, but she was far more adventurous and a risk taker.  She helped push me out of my comfort zone and say, “yes I can do it!”  She recognised my strengths and weaknesses and gave me the confidence to fly allowing me to fail without taking risk. We’re still in contact today. 

If you could work anywhere in the world where would it be?
I love working where I am.  My whole family lives abroad and I’m the only one that doesn’t….. but if there was one place it would be New Zealand.  My husbands from Christchurch in the South Island.  The people and scenery are great and there’s very much a touch of England and yesteryear. They also drive on the same side of the road.  

What has been your proudest moment?
My time at Smart Works.  There has been a number of highlights.  The 100th person we managed to get back into work and also getting Charity of the Year recently at the Thames Valley Breast Cancer Achievement Awards – it was nice to be nominated and win and for all our volunteers to be publicly recognised. 

What piece of advice would you give to your teenage self?
To take risk because when you make a decision you can always take another decision if it doesn’t work out.  As a younger person I was very much black and white and thought you had to stick to a decision, but of course you don’t have to.  It doesn’t mean you were wrong, it just means that you are making another decision. 

What three items would you bring to a desert island?
1.Music – I have an eclectic taste, but don’t like heavy metal! 

2.A duvet!  You can lie on it, take the cover off and use it as a bag.  It’s also comforting, offers security and you can hide under it if you need to. 

3.A knife – I can then make a spear to go hunting and use it to protect myself. 

What did you do last weekend?
I went to see Bat Out of Hell at the Theatre!  The music was good, great singing but it was a bit of an odd story – Peter Pan in Biker jackets.   

What is your favourite place to travel to? 

Cambodia and Angkor Wat is my favourite to-date.  I had a great girly holiday there, combining it with Vietnam.  

Is there anything on your bucket list that you haven’t yet done? 

I love travelling and would like to visit Japan.  I like different cultures and Japan fits the bill.  I also want to see a Snow Monkey, the Geisha Girls and check out all the latest technology. 

What is your favourite APP? 

I always use Shazam when I want to identify a piece of music, I like on the radio but don’t know what it is.  Twice a year I review my Shazam list and then download to my iPhone. 

What is your favourite food? 

Vietnamese food. It’s spicy and I love the pancakes with fresh vegetables and herbs. 

Do you binge watch and if so, what do you watch?
I’ve just watched Killing Eve which was great.  I watched it all during the same week.