The beginnings of my journey.

29/07/18 – The journey so far…

Two weeks and 3 days ago, at the age of 54, I walked away from my position as art psychotherapist (which I had held for 16+ years) and stepped into the role of hairdresser.

In the mind of a good friend and former colleague, who appears to know me better than I know myself at times, I am a bit of a Dr Who and it came as no surprise to him that I reached a point where I felt the need to ‘regenerate’.

It wasn’t that my previous job had become unbearable, or that I had a definite plan about what I would go on to do – it was more of an organic unfolding than that.

I had enrolled on the Level 2 City & Guilds Men’s and Women’s Hairdressing course 2 years ago, thinking that it would be a useful skill to have up my sleeve, come the time when I retire or reduce my hours and need to boost my income. On my voluntary placement, I was noticing the rapport that was established within moments of a client taking their seat and the pair relating to one another by touch (on hair and scalp) and the reflection in the mirror. They reached a level of therapeutic intimacy it would take me, as a psychotherapist, bound by long waiting lists, audits and record keeping protocol, weeks to establish.

I found myself responding to people in a more honest and real way and I witnessed my clients leaving the salon lifted in mood and self-confidence, which led to what started out as an embryonic idea to create a specialist hairdressing service that would improve access to High Street Hair Salon experiences and gave birth to “Full Head Esteem”.

This was by no means an original idea. Once my eyes were opened to the therapeutic potential of a good quality hair salon experience, I was coming across all sorts of groups, locally and internationally, who were already recognising the potential impact on an individual’s sense of well-being. Groups such as The Lions Barber Collective: “an international collection of top barbers which have come together to help raise awareness for the prevention of suicide”; Lily Pins who provide dementia trained hairdressers and have been referred to as “the keepers of stories’’, to name just a couple.

I applied to go on an SSE Social Enterprise Business Start Up course and my idea began to grow legs and gather momentum, as I felt the balance shift from my hairdressing being a fun thing to do in my spare time to something I felt most passionately about and wanted to be focusing all of my time and energy on developing.

At first, I was imagining myself in a pop-up salon, where I could adapt the environment to suit each individual, but I quickly realised that I would then be limited to the number of clients I could physically work with in a day. I needed to extend my reach!

I came across an article about an area in the States where salons have been enlisted to participate in an initiative called “Color It Forward”, providing “access to no- or low-cost salon services to women in need.” They utilise the salons’ down time to do something positive for the local community. I spoke to my hairdresser of 19 years about whether she thought something similar could be set up here in Plymouth. She, very wisely, advised me that, as many of the stylists in Plymouth salons are self-employed, there is rarely any ’down-time’, but several salons run their own training programme and have trainees who need models to practice on, under the careful supervision of experienced hairdressing tutors.

Having been a trainee myself, I am all too aware of the lack of preparation that the City & Guilds training provides its students in terms of understanding the needs of people with mental health difficulties and learning disabilities, and so another ‘strand’ of the work will be to raise awareness and help hairdressers and salon owners to develop the skills they need to adapt the way they provide services and the salon environment.

Since making the decision to step fully into the role of hairdresser, I have had the opportunity to work within the college salon and run my own column there as a Student Ambassador. I have met with some incredible people who have responded really positively and have been most supportive of my ideas, and have helped me to build my skills and confidence, ready for the next step – to hone my own hairdressing skills and start speaking to salon owners and stylists about how we might take these ideas forward.

Quite coincidentally, just as I handed my notice in at my previous job, I was told of plans for an established hairdresser’s in Plymouth to open a salon on the hospital site, which has been my work base for over 10 years! What a perfect opportunity for me to both utilise my knowledge and understanding of the needs of the patients, their carers and staff, and of the organisation, as well as develop my hairdressing skills with highly skilled professionals.

Coincidence upon coincidence – a tutor at the college who is a regular at the college salon and has been hugely supportive and encouraging of my ideas, has forwarded my resume to the salon owner, with her personal recommendation, and is going to set up a meeting between us, as he is interested to find out more and will need staff for the new salon!

I have also just managed to secure 2 days per week at a small local salon, which I hope will offer me some great experience, as I step more fully into the role of hairdresser.