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Tom Chapman, founder of the Lions Barber Collective, told us about his new podcast and why Time to Talk day is vital for working dads
Tom started thinking about mental health more seriously after losing a friend to suicide in 2014. And he made a connection to his job as a barber. Every day (in non-pandemic times) he’s having dozens of conversations with customers in his chair. “You could be cutting a barrister’s hair first followed by a barista, a drug dealer then a detective. All of them have mental health, everyone has a mind. The barber’s chair is a space in which you can have some amazing conversations.”
In 2015 he founded the Lions Barber Collective, a group of hairdressers looking to raise awareness around male mental health and suicide. Explained Tom, “People sometimes ask me how I started the charity. The answer is I found something I believe in, dedicated myself to it and other people just got it.”
The organisation has grown, gained the royal seal of approval when Prince William visited one of their sites, and now trains up hairdressers to have vital conversations with their customers. “As well as encouraging people to talk we also help people to listen, Tom added. He explains that when having a conversation, particularly about mental health, it’s important you don’t dismiss what someone is saying, expect them to be strong or start talking about yourself.
It speaks to the classic trope about men and communication. We aren’t great at sitting down and talking to each other about big issues. But put us side by side in a car and we’re more likely to open up. Or indeed in a barber’s chair looking in a mirror. “It’s non-confrontational, you’re not looking each other in the eye and the mirror creates a bit of disconnect. But at the same time it’s incredibly intimate. How many people run their fingers through your hair, or hold a razor against your throat?”
The pandemic has of course wreaked havoc on hairdressing. And it’s taken a toll on Tom’s mental health, for example he’s missed being able to go to the gym. And his team reported a widespread reaction to lockdown. “When we did go back to work we noticed everybody was struggling.”
However there’s been upsides. Tom’s been able to give more time to the Lions Barber Collective and train up more barbers.
As brand ambassador and global barber director for a big cosmetics firm he was travelling the world this time last year. But in the last 12 months he’s been able to be around his own family more. “Usually I’d be in some random airport, by myself. I’ve been paid to cut hair in places like Rio and Hawaii but it’s not ideal if you haven’t got anyone to share it with.
“This last year I haven’t been able to travel. So there’s been no Zoom bedtime, I’ve been able to put my boys to bed every night and see them every day.”
That’s not to say it’s tricky. Tom’s sons are aged five and two. So they demand a certain level and attention and home schooling has been inevitably challenging. But like many working dads Tom’s determined to keep the positives going forward, cut down on his travel and be around more.
And he’s noticed many working dads struggling. “Working dads in particular fall into that in between generation. We speak to the older generation who are a bit more set in the ways and reckon they have it worked out. The younger guys are still figuring it out and they are OK with that. The working dads have the stress of feeling they are the breadwinner, but perhaps they can’t work or they are on furlough. They have had issues with being stuck inside in houses that aren’t designed to be lived in all day every day.”
With hairdressers still shut Tom’s decided to open a virtual salon. He’s launching the ‘Barber Talk; tales from the chair’ podcast today for Time to Talk day. Complete with scissor sound effects it’s a series of conversations with some surprising guests. First up is former England and Liverpool goalie Chris Kirkland. He talks about the pressure of going to away games and European ties when he’d rather be at home with his family.
The series is designed to encourage men to open up. Tom reckons men need to get better at reaching out. But we also need to be better at reacting. It can be challenging if a friend reveals they are struggling and Tom says it’s vital friends accept that. “Be prepared to have a good reaction,” he says. That means being honest if need be and admitting that you don’t know what to say that will help, but backing that up with a reassurance that you are there to listen to friends problems.
Tom got his own reassurance recently when Disney’s recent animated hit Soul featured a key scene taking place in the barbers chair proving he’s not the only one who recognises the importance to men of a trip to the hairdressers. “I’m sure someone at Disney knows about the Lions Barber Collective!” he laughed.