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“Pénélope” mending frayed lives

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes - Montluçon
Access to employment

A sewing, fashion and vocational integration workshop—that was the winning bet made by Jacqueline and Robert Sabaton in 1993. The Montluçon-based association accompanies women toward stable jobs by providing them with training and real support.



Twenty years later, its director, Blandine Hurel, is at the head of a socially-inclusive enterprise with approximately forty employees. “In the job basin in our community, the other social integration work sites and associations focus more on professions that mainly employ men.”

A new life for clothes

Recycling linens, dry cleaning, alterations, and sewing new clothing... Every day, nearly two tons of clothing are collected at the Pénélope workshop. Here, skirts, pants, dresses and linens are given a new life, as are the members of the association. “We provide roughly thirty employees with work through non-renewable professional integration contracts covering periods ranging from 6 to 24 months,” explains Blandine Hurel. These people have Employment Access Contracts (CAE, Contrats d’Accompagnement dans l’Emploi). Women are trained in sales, garment processing and/or sewing. With a workshop and three stores, work is not in short supply.

Pénélope has also become a national clothing brand: the “Griffe Tissons la Solidarité” (‘let’s weave solidarity label’) is designed using second-hand clothing modified to fit current fashion trends, and has already put out its fourth collection. The association also contributes to the integration of people in precarious situations, often recipients of the RSA (inclusion income support) who have little formal education or vocational training. “Women come here to restore their self-confidence and the structure allows them to acquire skills they can bring to the job market,” explains Blandine Hurel.

A new start for employees

At the age of 19, Cassandre Bonnichon has just finished her studies in leather work, but would like to change professions and become a hairdresser. Employed at the Pénélope workshop for one year, she describes how her life has changed: “Here, we have a guidance councillor who helps us write our CVs and job application cover letters. She is also helping me find a training course for hairdressing.” The association also owes its success to its sponsors. Marc Bertoletto, director of construction with Sobea Auvergne (VINCI Construction), was the driving force behind the support given to the Pénélope association by the Fondation VINCI pour la Cité. “As someone from Montluçonnais, I’ve known this organisation for a long time, and I knew that they needed many things. I had seen that they were working in very precarious conditions,” he explains. Two other sponsors, Denis Grimaud, foreman with Renon (Eurovia), and Anne Modenel, QSE engineer with Campenon Bernard Construction (VINCI Construction), also provided their support. Among other things, the three sponsors helped reorganise workshop layout and purchase portacabins. The Fondation VINCI pour la Cité simultaneously provided a grant of €21,000 for the association’s development which allowed it to purchase industrial pressing and sewing equipment. “This was a very valuable help,” says Blandine Hurel, who would now like to find new premises to improve logistics and continue expanding Pénélope’s many activities.

July 2012 © Reporters d'Espoirs news agency

Reporters d'Espoirs news agency

VINCI Foundation works with Reporters d'Espoirs, a French news agency, to highlight and share the innovative social initiatives that it supports. The arrangement includes the writing of articles and exchange on topics that lead to solutions. Thus presented, the initiatives, validated using the criteria of the editorial charter of Reporters d'Espoirs, are intended to demonstrate their development and results.