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17 August 2020
Posted by in Business

“We’re saving people’s lives”

We caught up with Lions Barber Collective founder and barber Tom Chapman for our new Salon Secrets podcast.

Listening to your customers is as much a part of your job as the hair and beauty treatments you carry out. Indeed, research by the Samaritans found hairdressers and barbers spend nearly 2,000 hours a year listening to their clients.

For our latest Salon Secrets podcast, we caught up with barber Tom Chapman, who set up the Lions Barber Collective. This is a global collection of barbers who are working together to help educate and raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention.

The aim is to provide mental health training for everyone in the hair and beauty industry about the signs to look out for in your clients… and where to signpost them to get help.

Tom says, “The hair and beauty industry is so important to our nation. It makes us feel good physically but also mentally. There's no stigma or taboo about getting your lashes done or going to get a wet shave. But if you were going to see a psychiatrist there would be a lot of anxiety around that. ‘Are they going to diagnose me?’, ‘Will I be able to go to work?’, ‘Are they going to section me?’ We don’t have that with hairdressers and barbers. We can train barbers and hairdressers to recognise the signs, ask the right questions and listen and give them the knowledge to signpost. Rather than trying to make them into psychiatrists or counsellors it’s about bridging that gap.”

What does Tom say about the Lions Barber Collective?

Tom set up the Lions Barber Collective charity after one of his friends died by suicide. They run training for the hair and beauty industry focused on suicide prevention: a free Barber Talk Lite programme and a more in-depth Barber Talk Online.

Tom says, “We are professional listeners. Anyone listening to this podcast who cuts hair or does beauty therapy in any shape or form has helped a client without even realising it. Our mission is to create non-clinical, non-judgemental safe spaces where people feel comfortable talking about their mental health and be able to signpost them to information and support that can help.”

Tom says, “We are professional listeners. Anyone listening to this podcast who cuts hair or does beauty therapy in any shape or form has helped a client without even realising it. Our mission is to create non-clinical, non-judgemental safe spaces where people feel comfortable talking about their mental health and be able to signpost them to information and support that can help.”

What does Tom say about the hair and beauty industry’s role in suicide prevention?

“The hair and beauty industry is classed as a low skill industry which is ridiculous”, says Tom. “We’re actually doing a very high skilled job with techniques that a lot of people have found out over lockdown are not as easy as they look. But we also have tact, we can listen, we have human contact - the license to touch - we have the art of conversation that is being lost. I think people undervalue those skills in themselves. The things we are training through Barber Talk are things the hair industry does already. It’s helping them realise and gain the confidence to do them… and realising the power that they have.”

“We learn about skin conditions like psoriasis. Why are we not learning about mental health when we deal with that every day?”

What are the ‘four pillars’ of the Lion Barber Collective training?

Having proper mental health training is key. Tom says, “I think it’s important we train the entire industry. We learn about skin conditions like psoriasis. Why are we not learning about mental health when we deal with that every day?”

The four pillars are...

Recognise
The unique relationship you have with your clients means, as a hair and beauty professional, you are ideally placed to spot any changes to their behaviour and if they seem to be struggling.

Tom says, “What are the signs that may suggest clients are struggling with something? Everything from having a bad day to a moment of crisis. It boils down to any real change in normal behaviour. We know our clients well. We have enough time in between visits to recognise if anything is different. That could be body language - they may be slumped normally and come in being quite erratic or vice versa."

Ask
Even though you talk to your clients every day, you may feel uncomfortable asking too personal a question. The talk training helps you ask those direct questions. “The questions we’re scared of asking because we’re scared of the answers”, says Tom. “Questions like, ‘How are you feeling today?’ rather than, ‘You alright mate?’ Those questions are more of a greeting and they are not giving people permission to say anything. Even asking, ‘Are you suicidal and do you have a plan?’ Those questions are life-saving.”

Listen
“The hair industry has long been joked about as being psychiatrists and therapists”, says Tom. “My manager at Toni and Guy said that to me when I was 18 on my first day on the job. He was so right - we are doing these things anyway.”

Listening with empathy and without judgement is key, adds Tom. “We all believe we’re good listeners but we could all do better.”

Help
The final step to the training is knowing where to signpost your clients if they are struggling. The Barber Talk training has a list of resources you can go through and share with your clients. Tom says, “We are building up a directory with our learners so they have a safety net in their salon. This means you feel comfortable asking the questions and listening to them because you have places you can send people. We’re bridging that gap between the communities we serve and the resources that are available already.”

If you are concerned about someone, or need help, you can search for resources in your area on Hub of Hope, a mental health database. They also have a ‘talk now’ button which means you can speak directly to someone at the Samaritans.

What impact has lockdown had on client’s mental health?

Lockdown has been hard on everyone. Which means your clients may need a kind, listening ear when you see them again. Tom says, “We’ve developed Barber Talk Online alongside the NHS and Health Education England for people who wanted to take part before we came back to work [after lockdown]. This is to help prepare some of our industry for the conversations we’ll be having. Everyone has had the question, ‘How was lockdown for you?’ Not everyone has had a great time so it’s preparing people for that question.”

How can the training help your own mental health?

Coming out of lockdown you may be working longer hours. So it’s important to keep checking in with yourself, Tom says. “We are very giving and care about our clients. But what about yourself? You haven’t cut hair for 15 weeks or stood on your feet every day. A lot of people may suffer from burnout. A lot of people are working twice as many hours, servicing half the number of clients and charging the same money, all because they don’t want to upset our clients. We need to start looking after ourselves as an industry.”

How can you get involved?

There are lots of ways you can support the charity, including fundraising for them or donating money. You can also sign up for the training or become a ‘prospect’ and help the Lions Barber Collective spread the word about their work. “To grow, we need more feet on the ground, we need more people trained”, says Tom.

He adds, “One of our prospects saved a life last week. Someone else did the Barber Talk Lite training and got in touch to say, ‘I saved someone’s life because of it, I managed to ask them the question.’ We’re saving people’s lives which is mind-blowing.”

What is the Salon Secrets podcast?

Our Salon Secrets podcast is for hair and beauty professionals who want industry news, advice and interviews on the go.

In our first episode we chatted to hairdresser Dom Seeley about his celebrity clients, the secrets to his success and the loneliness of freelancing. Listen to Dom’s podcast here.

Our second episode featured nail industry legend Marian Newman, discussing the bright future for nail technicians in a post-Covid world. You can listen to the podcast with Marian here.

Where can I listen to the Salon Secrets podcast?

You can listen to our Salon Secrets podcast with Tom here or on your usual podcast platform.

Get in touch with us on social media with suggestions of who you’d like to hear from on our next podcast.

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