HI SUE, TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT WHERE YOU WORK?
I work for Weston College and I teach at HMP Leyhill which is an open prison in Gloucestershire. A lot of the residents (we call them residents, rather than inmates) are at the end of a long sentence. A lot of them don’t have a plan for their release – they may not have homes or jobs to go to, and that’s why the barbering course we deliver can make a difference to their future.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO BEING A LECTURER IN A PRISON?
I started hairdressing 43 years ago, ran my own salon for 20 years and worked for City of Bristol college. One of my clients actually told me about a maternity cover role at a local prison. I did my time there for seven years, so to speak, and loved it. Now I’m at Leyhill and have been teaching there for 11 years.
WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING IN A PRISON?
At first, I was terrified. I half expected the residents to have two heads! But obviously they’re humans just like everyone else. I’ve seen people come into a prison environment and not be able to hack it. Sadly, you see a lot of self-harming amongst the residents and it can be a volatile environment.
WHAT DOES THE PRISON COURSE ENTAIL?
The learner barbers are on a full time course – normally I teach practical sessions in the prison three and a half days and on their self-study days they work from knowledge packs. (Obviously the pandemic has changed this!) We’ve evolved so much with our training. We started with just three units at L2 and now we deliver Level 2 and Level 3 barbering qualifications. Normally I have six people in my class and it’s a mix of Level 2s and 3s. The course equips residents for future employment. We have a proven track record too – loads of our lads have opened their own salons or work for established barbershops.
WHOSE HAIR DO THEY CUT?
Mainly other residents’ hair, but I’ve also encouraged staff to get theirs cut too. We’ve raised money for Lions Barber Collective by getting staff to donate after their haircut.
“AS DEPUTY GOVERNOR I WAS REALLY PLEASED TO BE ABLE TO OFFER THE FACILITY AND PROVISION OF A BARBERSHOP AT HMP LEYHILL TO BOTH STAFF AND RESIDENTS. HAVING HAD MY HAIRCUT THERE MYSELF I CAN SAY IT WAS A VERY PROFESSIONAL SERVICE. I THINK INITIALLY THERE WAS SOME NERVOUSNESS AMONGST THE BARBERS ABOUT HAVING THE GOVERNOR AND DEPUTY IN THE SHOP, BUT THE NERVES SOON SUBSIDED AND THEIR CONFIDENCE GREW.” – Ray Johnson, Deputy Governer, NMP Leyhill
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
From a security perspective it can be challenging! For example, wet shaving is a mandatory unit in Level 3. As you can imagine it took a bit of persuading and a lot of paperwork for security to clear the use of cut throat razors. However we really trust our students – so much so that the last governor had his head shaved with an open blade!
HOW DO RESIDENTS GET ON THE BARBERING COURSE?
There’s a waiting list, they have an interview and they must have, or be working towards, Level 2 Maths and English. Sadly a lot of residents haven’t had good experiences at school or college. But I try to see the best in everyone. I have a strict work ethic – they have to be professional. I treat them as staff, rather than prisoners. They have to keep a high standard because I know that is exactly what they need to do to get a job. I’m firm but fair – you only get out of it, what you put in.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
You see people develop so much. When learners start, some have taught themselves to use clippers, but their sense of professionalism isn’t there yet. They’re eager to learn scissor skills and find out about the barbering industry. It’s amazing to see them grow in confidence. When residents leave I give them a card with an email address for the college so they can keep in touch. It’s so rewarding to see them succeed.
WHAT MIGHT PEOPLE BE SURPRISED AT?
The fact that our barbershop is so realistic. We have a beautifully equipped barbershop with REM furniture and stainless steel worktops. When the residents get in the barbershop they have exactly the same banter that barbers have and they love booking, greeting and serving their regular clients. When they’re in the barbershop they don’t feel like prisoners. I love the drive that it gives them. In fact our level 3 learners revamped the ‘Barbers on B Wing’ shop as part of their project work, implementing a new booking system which included allocated times for the less able, introducing a new staff rota and safe working practices. They wrote a business proposal and presented it to the prison. I also think it’s great that our prison is multi-cultural – this means our learners are trained on many different hair types, maybe even more than they would be than if they trained in a college. It is such an inclusive learning environment.
HOW DOES THE COURSE HELP THEM WITH THEIR LIVES OUTSIDE PRISON?
Barbering equips them with professional skills which are valuable for changing lives. A lot of my barbers make a portfolio of their haircuts and on their day release (as it’s an open prison they may have sanctioned leave) they go to local barbershops and show them. Some get trade tested in barbershops too. I teach them to present themselves and talk to employers in a professional manner that will hopefully lead to future employment.
WHAT ATTRIBUTES SHOULD A PRISON LECTURER HAVE?
You have to see the best in people and be willing to give people a chance. I’m very honest with my learners and tell them you can’t be good at everything – for example some of the residents are better at braids than me! You need to be open minded and passionate about what you do. Finally, you need to make sure your learning is inclusive and adjustable to your students – not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace.
“THE FUNDRAISING THAT SUE AND THOSE AT LEYHILL HAVE DONE IS JUST INCREDIBLE AND ESSENTIAL TO WHAT WE DO AND OUR VISION. WE ARE A SMALL CHARITY AND DONATIONS LIKE THIS MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE AND LEADS US TOWARDS OUR DREAM OF THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY HAVING THESE LIFE-SAVING SKILLS. THANK YOU.” – Tom Chapman, Founder and CEO, Lions Barber Collective
Sue shares the barbering projects that have raised money for charities and help to support the prison community too.
The Lobster Pot is a centre within Leyhill that caters for the over 50s – we offer a mobile haircutting service to those who are unable to get to the barbershop. As well as helping our community, it gives the barbering learners an insight into how a mobile barber may work.
The gym department held a charity day in the prison to raise money for Cancer Research – there was music, an auction, cake and we cut the waist-length hair of one resident which raised a lot of money! We donated the hair to the Little Princess Trust too.
We love raising money for the Lions Barber Collective. I always teach the barbers to listen to their clients and peers, be non-judgemental and report if they have concerns. When I read about the Lions Barber Collective in this magazine, I contacted them and developed the staff charity haircutting initiative. Both myself and the L3 learners gave up our lunch breaks to cut hair for a charity donation.