Barbering students give haircuts to the homeless at Christmas

Edinburgh College’s Barbering students have swapped the salon for homeless shelters in the city as part of a project offering free haircuts to homeless people this Christmas.

The Haircuts for the Homeless project has run for six years and students have been out again this year to cut the hair of residents at two hostels, the Pleasance and Cunningham House. The students work with around ten to fifteen residents every four to six weeks over the two hostels, which are run by the Salvation Army.

As well as providing a service to the homeless people, the project expands students’ learning, giving them experience of working with a more diverse group of clients. It also promotes citizenship by giving them the opportunity to make a difference in their communities. Many of the homeless people receive a confidence boost from their new looks.

The students work in small games rooms at the hostels, far removed from the normal comforts found in their training salon.

The project has encouraged discussions between students and clients about issues such as family displacement, poverty, the consequences of wars, famine, and political refugees – as well as the social, economic and environmental effect homelessness has on communities. It teaches the barbers real life lessons, the rewards of helping the less fortunate and doing what they can to make someone feel better about themselves.

Level 3 Barbering student Paul Griffiths said: “It’s good to come to the hostels. There’s nothing better than making someone happy by changing the way they look and this is a way of giving back to the community whilst adding to our own experience and skillset as barbering students.”

Amanda Wilson, assistant support worker at The Salvation Army’s Pleasance Lifehouse in Edinburgh, said: “It has been great to see the students working with and supporting our residents.

“It’s amazing that something most people take for granted can have such a positive effect on the life of someone experiencing homelessness. In the case of our residents that’s down to the students of Edinburgh College and we can’t thank them enough.”

Haircuts for the Homeless was originally set up by lecturer Rosemary Martin and is now led by another lecturer, Claire Duncan.

Frances Bain curriculum manager for Hair and Beauty at Edinburgh College said: “The project is just one of a number of ongoing initiatives for the Hair and Beauty department that takes students out of the classroom and into the hearts of the surrounding communities to offer their services.

“The outreach work that we do has a real impact on our students. It’s invaluable because it gives them a realistic view of the industry – it’s not just glamour.”

Students are also planning a charity event in addition to their regular visits to the hostels, a Christmas Gentleman’s Evening on 19 December, with a percentage of the money raised being donated to the Salvation Army.