Barbers think outside the box to give homeless free haircuts

Zakia Moulaoui from Invisible Cities who is providing haircuts and handing out toiletries to homeless people from the police box on Leith Walk. Photograph: Greg Macvean
Zakia Moulaoui from Invisible Cities who is providing haircuts and handing out toiletries to homeless people from the police box on Leith Walk. Photograph: Greg Macvean
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They’ve been transformed into tiny bespoke coffee kiosks, ticket offices for tourist attractions and even tapas bars after lying abandoned for years.

Now a former police box in Edinburgh is being used as a barber shop offering free haircuts and beard grooming for men who have been affected by homelessness.

Freelance barber '''Sean Keoghan has provided his services free to homeless people.

Freelance barber '''Sean Keoghan has provided his services free to homeless people.

Street Barber Edinburgh, which operates out of Leith Walk Police Box on the last Saturday of each month, will be branching out to include women’s hair styles from next month.

The bespoke box, complete with electricity and running water, is rented from a private individual who gives community groups discounted rates. Customers also get free tea and coffee and gift bags of donated toiletries such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste from individuals and companies including Lush, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Kenny, who was one of the first customers at Street Barber Edinburgh when it started last October, said: “Having your hair cut makes you feel good, even if just for a while.

“It’s great to see that folk care and are ready to be in the cold to do something like this. I heard about this in Social Bite where I saw the leaflet. I decided to check it out and I needed a trim. Next time I’ll come just for a cuppa.”

The project was the idea of Zakia Moulaoui, founder of the Invisible Cities social enterprise which trains homeless people as walking tour guides.

“When you support folk you focus on emergency things like food and housing. But once people do get a haircut, a bit of pampering time, they do feel better. Mind you, we also have to set up a gazebo to provide cover from the rain and sun.” Moulaoui said.

“Not everyone has money to pay to go to a barber. It takes a lot of courage to go up and ask for a something like that when you’re homeless.”

Sean Keoghan, a freelance professional barber, who gives his free time to the project, said: “A good few of the guys go for short back and sides, but a lot of the younger ones want a skin fade haircut – cut very, very short at the bottom and then gets longer as it goes up. It’s a very modern, youthful look.

“There’s always people there and they chat away when I’m cutting their hair, everything from football to Nicola Sturgeon.”

Keoghan said beards were also a focus of attention. “Beards are back in and the men, just like other guys, want well-kept, well-trimmed beards. So I offer shaving, shaping and trimming. But sometimes, even now, I feel myself getting a bit taken aback when we’re talking away and I ask a guy where he’s going now and he says ‘I’m going back to beg for the rest of the day’ or to try to get a hostel. It’s very poignant, very grounding.”