A North East social initiative that equips people with ‘suit-able’ attire for interviews is supporting Sunderland residents, thanks to a hardworking city councillor.

Suitability, a community interest company that provides suits for interviews for men that can’t afford them, has teamed up with SARA – a partnership that offers support to the Southwick community – who will act as a collection point. The partnership came about thanks to Councillor Michael Butler, Labour’s Southwick ward councillor, who saw that the organisation could deliver assistance to out-of-work residents in the area and made contact to seek their support.

Michael reached out to Suitability and founder Darren Tate extended its service into the city, to ensure that residents who are struggling to cover the cost of attire for interviews can access appropriate clothing to help them make the right impression, and get back into work as quickly as possible.

Michael said: “Worklessness can affect anyone at any stage of their life, and especially at the moment – with many people out of work due to the pandemic – it’s vital that we do what we can to help our residents to secure a role and return to employment.

“The cost of a suit can be prohibitive for some of our residents, and we want to make sure that those who cannot afford one are not disadvantaged in interview. By working with Suitability, we are giving people the best chance of making a good first impression, and hopefully, this puts them on a level playing field to impress prospective employers.”

Local Labour councillors Alex Samuels and Kelly Chequer worked with Michael to agree the best referral point for the service, and it was thought that SARA – which works with hundreds of Southwick residents every year – would be best placed to deliver support. Suitability – which provides smart suits in a range of sizes – hadn’t been working in Sunderland until Michael made contact, but were looking to expand and support the city and hope to establish further links having made the move into Sunderland.

Darren Tate, who set up Suitability after seeing the impact that access to suitable attire could have on people’s confidence and performance in interviews, said: “I have been aiming to scale up Suitability, putting in place community hubs to make it more accessible for gentlemen to access, and to offer more support across the North East.

“It’s been a fantastic process to work with Michael in bringing this service to Southwick, and it will be something that – hopefully – will benefit the community going forward.

The SARA staff and Michael have made it so simple to work with them, and kept me up to date with items needed and more importantly the gentlemen they have supported. It has been a great joint-effort, and I am really grateful to those involved for helping to extend access to Suitability to men who will benefit from the service.”

Southwick based SARA will support with channelling attire to those in need of Suitability’s assistance.

Vicki Neal, community engagement worker at SARA, said: “It is great working with Suitability to help Southwick residents with smart clothes for interviews. Thanks to Suitability, we can give residents a free suit to keep and give them the confidence to walk into an interview suited, booted and ready to get that job.”