‘There’s something about a barber’s chair, and the way the gown disables the arms, putting phones and real life out of reach. The mirror somehow forces introspection, under the caring eye and reassuring touch of a man who has seen it all.’
As those fine folk at Time to Change launch their latest campaign to raise awareness about, and reduce the stigma associated with, mental ill health, it seems like a good time to talk about barber shops. In your corner is the campaign targeting those men and boys least likely to talk about mental health. Which is where barbers come in.
This time last year journalist Simon Usborne re-visited his old barber in south-east London 25 years after first being sat on a plank for a short back and sides. Simon discovered another side to his barber Paul’s business – the male mental health care he’s been administering right there in his chair for over five decades.
As Simon observes: ‘For more than half a century [Paul] has watched hairlines recede, fashions change and lines around eyes map the advance of age and changing fortunes. New jobs, bereavement, illness, depression and big decisions: all of life has been here, and so has Paul. “It’s a peaceful place, you know,” he says. “There’s no rush here and you can talk.”
Such is the relationship between cutter and customer that five barbers in North London have received “first aid” training in mental health, to help them reach vulnerable young black men in particular who, Simon Usborne writes, can be even less inclined to reveal their suffering.
At a time when issues around male mental ill-health are at last, slowly, coming out of the closet to be discussed if not face-to-face, then should-to-shoulder in Men’s Sheds, and now face-to-scalp, it’s a welcome development – retell, as opposed to retail, therapy.
Regular readers of this blog will know that hair is, unlike my own, a recurring theme– I have laughed at the expense of slap-heads like me, grown silly moustaches each Movember, and reminisced about the time the Guardian newspaper published my letter about anti-dandruff shampoo for men with beards – Chin and Chest.
I was thinking about this the other day when I noticed that in Royston where I live, like the miracle fix for Elton John and Wayne Rooney’s follicly-challenged pates, barber shops have started sprouting up all over the north Hertfordshire market town. No less than five have joined Royston’s nine women’s hairdressers – all this for a population of just 16,000 heads, and not all of us needing haircuts. Will any of them, I wonder, be hair today but gone tomorrow?
Going head-to-head: Those fourteen Royston hair carers in alphabetical order: Anderson’s / Archer’s / Carlo & Co / Gio’s / Head Quarters / Hendrick’s / Jane Hair Stylist / Lordsman / Manmade/ Nina’s Hair / Royston Gents / Saks / Studio 26 / The Hair Boutique
Time to change In Your Corner campaign http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/share-your-corner
In Paul the barber’s chair http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/barbers-are-receiving-first-aid-training-in-mental-health-so-could-they-offer-the-best-talking-cure-a6882216.html
Balding and blogging https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/balding-and-blogging