Sarah Smith, has run her Award Winning business, The Bridal Gallery for 21 years. Starting the business from home initially, after 5 years she relocated to a shop in Coventry and started to grow the team, which included 3 seamstresses.
After two decades and wide acclaim, including winning the British Bridal Retailers Association Awards in 2013, Sarah had begun to consider how to retain the essential skills in her business for the future, she says: “The business has some extremely talented seamstresses, but they are not going to want to work for the business forever, the oldest is 78”.
She hadn’t considered recruiting an apprentice until she was contacted by Warwickshire College, “they called at an opportune moment”, she says,
“I hadn’t actively thought about it, at that point I didn’t need another seamstress and I couldn’t afford a fourth person, but when I realised that the young person would learn from us rather than learning from a college, I thought we should give it a go”
Soon after, Warwickshire College helped them recruit Roisin McCloskey, a sewing room apprentice and she joined the business in September 2012, whilst also undertaking a course in Bridal Seamstressing at the College. Sarah says,
“She helps in the shop as well as developing her seamstressing skills, it’s fantastic, she’s learning all aspects of the business.
“She started off making bows and cravats, and then worked up from there. At times it’s been useful to set projects that can also be progressed at college”.
Sarah has found it good to have a younger staff member around, the team’s ages now range from 19 to 78, but recognises that it’s important to get the rest of the team on board.
“The whole team needs to feel part of the process. Essentially it’s their willingness to share their hard earned skills that is most important when apprentices join the team”.
“It’s been a big learning curve for us”, says Sarah, “I did feel a responsibility with this young person’s future in our hands, and it was a little bit daunting at first, but Warwickshire College have been hugely supportive”.
Roisin is now nearing the end of her Apprenticeship and will stay on as a full time member of staff. She has been a real success and was even shortlisted for the Coventry Freeman’s Guild Apprentice of the Year Award.
Sarah said that the extra incentives, such as the £1500 AGE grant have been a real help,
“Money was tight when we took her on, so there’s no doubt that it made a difference. I would do it again, she’s learning from the best in the business, and now it’s as if she’s always been here”.
Sarah is keen to encourage more businesses to consider Apprenticeships, she says,
“Give it a go, there’s a lot of young people that have an awful lot to give and need the opportunity. You could find an absolute gem”.
(Photo: Sarah Smith and apprentice, Roisin McCloskey at The Bridal Gallery in Cheylesmore. Photo credit: Coventry Telegraph, read more about Sarah and Roisin here).