Hairdressers trained to become agony aunts

Colleen Macauley at Estate Hair Salon. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Colleen Macauley at Estate Hair Salon. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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HAIRDRESSERS are to be trained as unofficial agony aunts in a pioneering new project to make sure people with problems from relationship troubles to family crises can find help.

City salons have long been favourite places for people to chat about the highs and lows of daily life.

The salon has always been a lively place and listening is a huge part of my job

Colleen Macauley

Now funding from the Big Lottery will see ten hairdressers in the Capital trained in listening skills to help them build trust and offer support.

The initiative, run by Waverley Care and Relationships Scotland, will focus first on Edinburgh’s African community, but the aim is eventually to use the same model in other communities across the country.

Colleen Macauley, who operates as the Culture Lounge and is based in Great Junction Street, said she was excited about the “Muwumba” project – the name means “sticking together”.

The idea for it emerged from discussions Ms Macauley had with outreach workers from Waverley Care who were running a general health project with the African community.

She said many conversations in the salon centred around family – in particular children, relationships, 
education, bereavement, illness, housing, religious and stress issues. Often, they were about contrasts between Scottish and African culture, how the two identities related and the challenges people faced.

But she felt with some clients facing complex personal issues, there was a need for dedicated counselling support.

She said: “The salon has always been a lively place and listening is a huge part of my job. There’s a sense of community where people feel comfortable opening up about their lives. Over time you begin to hear people talking about the same challenges and we try to offer advice and support where we can.

“In many cases we can talk from our own experiences but we want to build on that knowledge to help direct people to the support they need.

“It’s fantastic that the Muwumba project has received funding and I am really excited about taking part in the training. Over time the ambition is to help share these skills with people across the African community through community groups and other places where people come together. It’s all about helping people to find support where they feel most comfortable.”

The Big Lottery is giving £10,000 to the project from its Investing in Ideas Fund.

Grant Sugden, chief executive at Waverley Care, said the charity had built close ties with African communities across the city through its African Health Project. He said: “While the focus of our work is to raise awareness of HIV and promote sexual health, we are in a unique position to listen to the whole range of challenges faced by African communities and to work with them to develop innovative solutions.

“Muwumba is the perfect example of this and we’re delighted to be working with Relationships Scotland and the hairdressers involved.”

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