Edinburgh barber uses football memorabilia to help dementia sufferers relive earlier life

Martin the 'football barber' who travels around old folks homes giving men with dementia haircuts.
Martin the 'football barber' who travels around old folks homes giving men with dementia haircuts.
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Football scarves and songs are just some of the tools an Edinburgh-based barber is using to help people suffering with dementia relive experiences from earlier in their lives.

Last year, Martin Murphy of Lady Nairne set up his business, The Football Barber, as a way to help men suffering with dementia reconnect with their past while getting their hair cut.

By using “memory boxes” filled with old football memorabilia, Martin, 30, hopes to put his clients at ease and encourage them to open up and reminisce about their favourite teams in an echo of the Football Memories scheme run by the SFA.

He said the response to the scheme so far has been overwhelmingly positive and revealed: “It’s been phenomenal. Dementia affects memory and recall, but football can inspire such emotion and so many strong memories. The boxes are a great ice breaker – particularly for men – and will get them to tell stories about other things, like their wives and families.”

The scheme aims to reach out to men unable to attend conventional barber shops due to their condition and to provide a “dignified, person-centred care approach”.

The social enterprise was launched after Martin, a support worker, was dissatisfied with what he felt was a generic approach to outreach for male dementia patients.

A sport-loving Celtic fan himself, Martin saw football as a natural solution to stimulating the minds of elderly patients.

After completing a barbering course at Edinburgh College, he was keen to establish a business that provides practical support and capitalises on his skills. He also hopes to deliver free hair cuts to the homeless alongside his work with dementia patients.

He explained: “I’m quite a people person and love to chat, so I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I’ve worked in the care industry within mental health and I knew I wanted to do something different and develop a new skill set.”

Modelled on the baby boxes issued to new parents by the Scottish Government, Martin’s memory boxes will contain old footballs, programmes and scarves. He is also currently looking for any particularly unusual or obscure items from Scottish football history.

Martin has had responses from various clubs including Hibernian FC and Heart of Midlothian who have provided materials for his memory boxes. He is also hoping to obtain more from other clubs, as well as incorporating different sports, such as rugby and golf.

Currently, Martin works in partnership with five care homes. Cairdean House is one of the first to take up the scheme and staff are excited about its potential.

Gillian Goodall, Home Manager of Cairdean House said: “Residents at Cairdean House take pride in their appearance, and many of the gentlemen used to enjoy visits to the barber in their younger years, so this will be a fantastic opportunity for reminiscence. We are so grateful to Martin for joining us next week, and we look forward to welcoming him.”

Martin is currently accepting donations and is on Twitter and Instagram as @footballbarber.