Rarely do we hear of forward-thinking, creative solutions to a mix of complex community issues such as social exclusion, housing, and care. But wonderful things happened when a housing association, a social investment charity, a supported living facility and a hair salon joined forces.
In the summer of 2015, Shirley Allan, a mobile hairdresser, visited Bluebell Park, a new supported living facility in Huyton, just outside Liverpool. She had heard that a hair salon would be on the premises. “I’m a local girl, I grew up on this estate,” Allan said. “I saw the new apartments getting built so I thought it would be a great opportunity. But I couldn’t afford to have my own salon.”
Soon after, Allan discovered that Liverpool City Region-based investment charity One Ark had chosen the Bluebell Park salon as the prize for its first Win a Salon competition; providing a fully-equipped salon rent free for a year, with a support package to help someone build a sustainable business.
One Ark had previously run two successful Win a Shop campaigns for local entrepreneurs to win commercial space rent free for a year in Prescot, Merseyside. The idea was devised to tackle the regeneration of town centre shopping and to support local people looking for opportunities to grow their own businesses in a sustainable way.
Allan applied immediately and began a rigorous selection process which involved a practical hair demonstration and a formal interview with expert judges. She also had to show entrepreneurial know-how by demonstrating her business plan with details of projected figures, recruitment and competitive pricing. By late September 2015, she was announced as the winner. By the end of the year her salon, All About Hair, was up and running.
As an Extra Care development delivered by Knowsley Housing Trust, Bluebell Park is for over 55s who need extra care and support. Residents include people with dementia and Alzheimer’s and the whole building is dementia-friendly. Community Integrated Care, one of the biggest social care charities in Britain, provides specialist support and care 24/7 to residents. Allan’s own grandmother had dementia and her uncle is in the early stages, so being able to provide services to the residents is close to her heart.
Those living in Extra Care have access to communal facilities such as a restaurant, lounge area and now, Allan’s All About Hair salon. “Having a salon for them here, where they don’t have to go out of the building if they don’t feel like, saves them getting taxis.” Allan is also able to go to the residents’ apartments if they can’t make it to the salon.
With residents at Bluebell Park keen to use the salon, Allan found herself quickly overwhelmed with clients and needed an extra pair of hands. But with her business just taking off, she couldn’t afford to take another member of staff on. One Ark was able to provide her with the funds needed to employ a stylist until the salon was in a more sustainable position.
At first, locals in the area weren’t sure whether they could use the facilities too. However word is getting out that All About Hair is open to everyone. “The residents from outside are coming in, they’re meeting people that they’ve known – old neighbours who they used to live by, and they can speak to each other here in the salon.”
Because of the salon’s accessibility, designed for people with extra needs, All About Hair is ideal for locals with disabilities. A young woman, who had had an accident and is now in a wheelchair, is able to use the facilities. “She hadn’t had her hair done for two years,” Allan says. “When I opened, we brought her over and because the sinks move up and down we could wash and blow dry her hair. She was so grateful. It’s nice that she could come and get her hair done and it’s literally just over the road for her.”
Allan has also been given an extensive support package, which includes free membership of Knowsley Chamber of Commerce, where she has already begun to make connections with local businesses. Knowsley-based Jessie Jewels now has a stand at the salon selling jewellery.
Executive Director at One Ark, Collette King says “As a social investment charity, we work in partnership to offer a full menu of support and investment opportunities that help aspiring entrepreneurs to build sustainable and successful businesses which, ultimately, benefit and inspire communities across the Liverpool City Region. Win a Salon is a prime example of this, offering a valuable service that will benefit the residents of Bluebell Park and its surrounding neighbourhood.”
Allan would like to expand into other local facilities, similar to Bluebell Park, opening in the area. For now, she is hoping to recruit a second stylist and an apprentice from the local college. As a single mum of two, Allan wants to encourage others like her to live out their dreams. “Win a Salon is such an inspiration for other women if they’re on their own, or if they’re not. It’s to have that opportunity and inspiration for my two girls too. If you want something that much, you’ll do it. That’s what I say to my girls now.”
But for Allan, this isn’t just about hairdressing; “There’s a lady and her husband has Alzheimer’s. Sometimes she comes in here and she’ll let it all out. I’ll speak with the carers and they’ll give me advice. I’ll have a private chat with her and just do whatever I can. I feel like I’ve done my best to give that little extra support. I’m just grateful for the opportunity and want to give back.”