In Arren Healy’s 27 years as a barber, he’s heard some of his client’s most personal stories. “People come in and tell us things that even their closest friends don’t know,” Healy says. “I think a lot of people see hairdressers and barbers as a safe place and somewhere to unload as soon as they sit in the chair.”

But sometimes, these stories are about more than just a crappy day at work or a fight with a friend.

“There have been times when clients tell you stories… [about] everything from domestic violence to elder abuse,” Healy said.

“You just don’t really know how to deal with those things.”

Healy’s experience is far from unique, which is why a new program is launching to equip hairdressers and barbers with the skills and resources to connect clients in domestic violence and elder abuse situations with the relevant professional help.

Healy is the first barber to be trained in the Hairdressers with Hearts (HwH) program that will launch officially on Saturday.

The program has been developed with the assistance and expertise of the Red Rose Foundation, Caxton Legal and the Centre Against Domestic Abuse.

Sonia Colvin, HwH founder and hairdresser, said that sometimes going to the hairdresser was the only time a domestic violence or elder abuse victim was on their own, and able to speak safely about their situation at home.

“Hairdressers and barbers are frontline in the community, reaching people on a grassroots level, having intimate conversations with clients on a regular weekly, monthly or six weekly basis,” Colvin said.

“Our industry can make a huge difference to some of the nation’s most vulnerable, whether we are hairdressers and barbers based in a salon, working remotely or in rural areas, in multicultural or aged-care communities, or providing mobile services in people’s homes.”

“This will help save our next generations”

Simone O’Brien was someone who turned to her hairdresser in a time of crisis.

“The attack that I survived meant that I had lost my eye-sight in one eye, my sense of smell and my jaw-line. I also had to have part of my skull removed and put back on so half of my head was shaved,” O’Brien told Pro Bono News.

“I knew I looked different, but going into a hairdressing shop, you feel loved again, and they make you feel good about yourself.”

She said that at the time, she didn’t understand the full extent of what she was going through, and would never have expected her hairdresser to either.

“I didn’t know how to deal with my domestic violence, let alone my hairdresser [knowing],” she said.

O’Brien is now an ambassador for HwH, and has even got her hairdresser to sign up for the program.

“My hairdresser has actually said she wants to be involved because she wants to learn how to talk to people in the right way and to point them in the right direction,” she said.

“We all need to work toward this to save our next generations coming through.”

Hairdressers and barbers who join the program will be provided with training, merchandise and resources and can sign up to become an accredited salon on the HwH website.

Healy said that now he has received training, he hopes to be able to do more than give someone a great haircut.

“Doing the training made me really think about a few clients I’ve had over the years and how I should have done something, but because I didn’t have any of the training I didn’t know,” he said.

“I really think that this is going to save lives.”

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