Dressmaker Thelma Madine is the fairy godmother of Gypsy and Traveller wedding dresses. A self-made businesswoman, Thelma has created some of the most elaborate and spectacular outfits ever, as seen in Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, and now business is booming.
Thelma needs to expand to keep up with demand. So to give something back to the community that has made her name, she is taking on a group of completely inexperienced Gypsy and Traveller girls as trainees - many of whom have never worked themselves, or ever seen women in their family work a day in their life.
This is a project very dear to Thelma's heart; she has always wanted to pass on her skills and expertise. Thelma has seen hundreds of young Gypsy and Traveller women happily married, but she's also met girls who aren't content with settling for the ‘at home' role traditionally taken for generations. Many are desperate to gain a qualification, make their own money and be more independent, and Thelma is determined to help those girls.
This series follows Thelma as she offers the girls real paid jobs for six months, with the hope that many of them will be skilled enough to be kept on permanently. But with no prior work experience, and with some of the girls having literacy and numeracy skills of primary school children, it's a huge undertaking
Can these young girls really learn to make Thelma's famous creations in just six months? Some can't even tell the time, so getting them to turn up for work in itself will be the first challenge. For the girls, it's the chance of a lifetime - but Thelma has worked hard to gain the trust of the community, one false move and the dream could be over...
Gypsy dressmaker, Thelma Madine, has worked closely with the Traveller and Gypsy community for over 15 years. But now Thelma's decided she wants to give something back to the community that put her on the map.
After an extensive search, Thelma for the first time ever, has taken the brave step of employing 10 new trainees, all of whom are Gypsies and Travellers.
Although keen to expand her business, for Thelma this is mostly a personal crusade to give women with little chance of getting work, the opportunity to control their own lives.
But it's a risk. With most girls having no qualifications, minimal history of work and unable to read and write, the girls are not going to make natural recruits.
Amidst the drama Thelma hires a teacher to tutor the girls in basic literacy and numeracy. As most of the girls left school at the age of 11, many struggle with simple reading and writing and some of the girls cannot even tell the time.
Thelma is pushed to the absolute limit and suffering from exhaustion is forced to take time off work. In her absence the factory slides into utter chaos and the girls run riot. With Thelma is away the tears and rows break out between the trainees but it's not long before the pressure becomes too much and Thelma's staff turn on each other.
As one of the girls dropping out before the course even started Thelma replaces her with Megan, 18, whose cousin Victoria, 17, is already on the course. Unbeknownst to Thelma Victoria and Megan have a long standing feud with another girl on the course, Lilyann, 17, and with Megan joining the recruits the tensions between the Victoria and Lilyann erupt into heated rows and threats of violence.
As the pressure of running the course and controlling the girls builds, Irish Traveller Shannon is responsible for another massive bombshell. Employment checks reveal that she has lied to Thelma, revealing that she's in fact 15 years old and not 16, the legal age to work.
As Thelma faces her biggest crisis so far, can her course and her business survive?
This next episode follows the ten girl's Thelma has selected on their first week at the factory, which for some, is the very first days paid work they've ever done. Those who made the grade include 16 year old Irish Traveller Margaret who instantly makes an impression on the group with her boisterous ways and wilful attitude.
Thelma struggles to explain to them the ways of the working world, getting them to understand things like tax and national insurance, and soon realises they will need more help than she thought with their literacy and numeracy to help them do simple things like measuring up a client, and making out patterns.
Thelma's existing staff also find it hard to adjust to working alongside their new Gypsy colleagues and tempers flare as the girls are tasked to work on a dress for a Moulin Rouge themed birthday party.
Margaret cannot get to grips with the task, and Bridget, 17, steps in to try and help, but some of the younger girls take an instant dislike to her. Bridget is an English Traveller who did well at school despite suffering at the hands of bullies, and so she is really keen to learn and progress on the course.
As the tensions rise between the trainees, the youngest of the group, Irish Traveller Shannon, does something Thelma can only describe as "pure evil" and is suspended from the course for a week.
For the Gypsy girls it may be the opportunity of a lifetime, but for Thelma's existing staff it feels like a serious set back, and for Thelma it could be out of the frying pan and into the fire.
In this first programme Thelma embarks on her expansion, and sets out to find her trainees. For many of the Gypsy and Traveller girls this will be their first ever job and Thelma will have to teach them the skills to become independent working women.
Thelma creates her famous dresses in a small factory in Liverpool city centre, with a team of highly skilled seamstresses by her side. Thelma is setting up a brand new, larger factory space and investing her own money to accommodate her ten new recruits. But manageress Pauline and head of design Leanne, along with Thelma's daughter and PA Tracey, are nervous of Thelma taking on too much - especially all the trials and tribulations that may come with employing Gypsy and Traveller girls who are inexperienced with their new working environment.
Thelma's hunt for her trainees starts with an ad on Facebook and she is inundated with requests to work for her, including one from 16 year old Irish Traveller Rosanne. Rosanne spent her childhood moving from site to site with her parents, three brothers and four sisters. She left school aged 12, and since then has been responsible for looking after all her younger siblings and the housework.
Thelma finds a similar story with many of the girls she meets, and on the recruitment day around thirty hopefuls turn up at Thelma's factory to try and secure one of her jobs. After a skills test to see who might have a natural eye for design, Thelma and Pauline interview all the girls one by one. It's not long before many of the younger applicants descend into anarchy next door - and Leanne is left helpless as to how to manage them. But with the new factory space complete at a hefty cost, there's no going back any more... will Thelma's final ten prove themselves worthy of the task?