Womens’ Work Lab – Helping mums to return to work

Founded in 2019 as a community interest company, Women’s Work Lab (WWL) supports mothers in Bristol, Bath, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire to build a financially secure future for themselves and their families, by helping them to return to work after extended periods of time away.

Despite the South West of England ranking highest in the country for women’s employment outcomes, a recent survey indicated that over 47,000 people are not in work who would like to be.

Mums commonly report the main barriers to returning to work after a break to have children are low confidence, the cost of childcare (40% of single parents have difficulty paying for childcare), and a perceived skills gap.

A group of mums benefitting from WWL training in 2023

 “I was feeling at a bit of a loss and I felt I needed the support of the Women’s Work Lab to give me direction and help me find a job I loved.”

 – Roxanne, a Women’s Work Lab graduate


WWL’s aim is to facilitate mums on their journey to find employment that works for them. WWL’s specialist programmes work exclusively with mums to rebuild confidence in a supportive and nurturing environment, helping them to identify their own personal ambition and take the necessary steps to achieve it.

The organisation’s work supports women from a range of backgrounds: on average, over three quarters are lone parents; nearly half are survivors of domestic abuse; approximately a quarter have a child with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities); and more than half of Bristol-based participants are non-white.

Since its first programme was delivered in 2020, WWL has supported more than 150 women to transform their lives. Within six months of graduating, typically 60% of participants are in employment and 20% are in volunteer roles or have enrolled in further education.

The training focusses on key themes of ambition, employability and confidence

“The Women’s Work Lab training and placement was the perfect opportunity for me to build up my confidence and see that I had a lot to offer, not to mention plenty of transferable skills.”

 – Roxanne


In January 2023, Women’s Work Lab applied to SMV for funding to organise a programme in Barton Hill in East Bristol.

While the majority of the course costs were being covered by the Adult Education Budget through a partnership with  the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and Bath College, further funding was required for the programme to run. SMV provided a charitable grant of £5,000.

A group of 15 mums began the twelve-month course in Barton Hill in April 2023, which took place during school hours so that the participants could continue with their usual family commitments.

The programme started with seven weeks of bespoke classroom-based training centred around the key themes of ambition, employability and confidence, which encouraged the participants to explore family-friendly employment opportunities and next steps towards possible future careers. Participants were then supported through a four-week work placement with a local employer. Following the placement, over the next nine months the mums received one-to-one career coaching and mentoring as they continued their journey into work.

With the year-long course having recently come to a close, already more than half of the participants have found permanent employment, a figure that is expected to rise.

Since taking part in the programme all the mums have said that their family life has benefitted greatly, with improved mental health, increased confidence and already greater financial stability. Thanks to the targeted support from Women’s Work Lab to expand their career horizons, they now look forward to a more hopeful future for themselves and their families.

Kayleigh’s story

Single parent Kayleigh from Bristol had not worked since her son was born ten years ago. While she tried to work when he was younger, she found the juggle of work and home life stressful.

Prior to having children, Kayleigh had a varied career, including working in retail and running her own laundry business. Since then, however, childcare, low confidence, a lack of clarity about what she wanted to do and how to go about applying for roles had all become barriers to her returning to work.

“I had absolutely no confidence and despite applying for jobs I just wasn’t getting anywhere. I was really focused on finding a job in a school as I thought that was the only way I could work around my son’s education. I felt totally lost and didn’t know where to turn.”

Kayleigh was referred to Women’s Work Lab.

“From the minute I walked into the classroom on the first day I just felt so positive. With each session I felt a little bit more confident. I had been a full-time mum for such a long time and it felt hard to come out of that and work on myself.

“I didn’t have many ‘mum friends’ and everyone was just so lovely. We are all still in touch all the time! In terms of the training, I loved looking at the transferable skills I had as a mum. I soon realised that there were so many options out there beyond schools and I started looking into office work. I also loved being with other adults!”

Kayleigh was supported to apply for the WWL/Hargreaves Lansdown ‘returnship’ programme – an exclusive programme offering entry-level roles at the financial services company, along with six months of tailored support from WWL.

“I was really nervous about applying but the training taught me that I had so much to offer. I was totally thrilled when I landed a part-time help desk role which started in September 2023.

“Pre-WWL I would never have had the confidence to go for such a role. It perfectly combines my skillset of being good with people and my attention to detail. The hours are part-time, which means I can still be there for my son after school. Thanks to the support I’ve received from WWL, I’m so excited about my professional future.”