Behind Bar-bers: Barbering at HMP Nottingham

Published 10th Oct 2023 by Sian Jones
At HMP Nottingham we found out how barbering helps inmates and how life-changing learning new skills can be...

PeoplePlus is the largest independent provider of training and education in prisons across the UK, working in 22 prisons and delivering over 600 accredited courses to thousands of prisoners across the UK.

At HMP Nottingham, Joe Thomas and Ben Oakley are two expert tutors delivering an adapted Level 2 Diploma in Barbering to inmates, with the aim of helping prisoners prepare to leave custody and potentially start a new career.

“I’ve been barbering for 18 years but wanted to get into teaching, so I got involved with PeoplePlus about a year ago. I was trying to keep my own barbershop running but it was difficult to keep on top of running the shop while I was teaching – as you’re not allowed to bring any phones into prison,” says Ben, who eventually decided to sell his shop and fully dedicate himself to education at HMP Nottingham. Joe started teaching at PeoplePlus a month after Ben, telling us: “It’s amazing because we both have a similar outlook. We’re teaching the guys that in a barbershop you shouldn’t turn anyone away because you don’t know how to cut their hair. You don't have a choice here. You're told 'You’re cutting that guy' and that’s it. We’re making them shop-ready for the outside and being here they're probably going to have more experience with different types of haircuts than most people,” says Joe, who explains that on the PeoplePlus course the clients are all fellow inmates who sign up to a waiting list.



So, what are the benefits for the inmates taking part in the course? “These guys are growing in confidence and they’re learning how to talk to each other,” says Ben, who tells us at times there can be up to 15 people in the barbershop: “It gets loud but it’s great because it feels like a normal barbershop. Everyone has a laugh, takes the mick out of each other but it’s also supportive too. It's nice that everyone falls into that pattern as well. Especially the ones who were quiet when they first come in.”

Joe and Ben explain that an important part of the course is customer care. “Taking pride in your work and your workplace is key,” says Joe. For both of them the challenge has been finding opportunities for the learners to improve their scissor skills, since the most popular cut to have in prison is a skin fade. “We try to talk them out of doing just a skin fade. We ask them to do a taper first and then turn it into a skin fade, to encourage them to try something else. Recently Ben has been teaching them to do a one, back and sides before blending,” explains Joe, whilst adding that they have also improved their own skills thanks to the prisoners themselves: “One of the guys is the best in the class at canerows and plaits so we’ve learnt a lot from him.”

The rewarding part for Joe and Ben has been understanding how the inmates will use their new skills on the outside. Some are honest about not wanting to cut hair on the outside says Joe, but this course will still benefit them: “There's a lad on the wing who just wanted to cut his nephew’s hair. He told me ,'I've got loads of nephews and brothers and I just want to go out and cut their hair and they’ll save money.' He’s going to help his family out, but go on to do something else on the outside.”

But for those who are looking to enter the industry on the outside, a recent study commissioned by Sodexo reported that 46% of UK hair and beauty businesses do not currently employ any ex-offenders, despite half saying they are struggling to fill positions. “I believe a lot of people will say they believe in second chances in general but won’t hire an ex-prisoner,” says Joe, adding: “The guys in here have made silly mistakes, but they all deserve second chances. Most of them, believe it or not, are in here for a lot of petty stuff because they were trying to provide for their family or got into a bad situation – but it doesn’t make them bad people.” Ben and Joe tell us there are plenty of resources for businesses seeking to support ex-offenders and welcome them back into the workplace. With the industry currently running on a 60% vacancy rate (according to research National Hair and Beauty Federation conducted at the NHBF) now is the time to consider giving someone a second chance.

Here's what some of the inmates from HMP Nottingham had to say about the Level 2 Diploma in Barbering...

Sean: “I’m enjoying it – people are happy with their haircuts and I passed the course quite quick. It’s a good feeling. A lot of people come out of prison with no qualifications so I’ve got something I can have a chance of taking on.”

Frank: “I definitely want to pursue barbering now. It’s a good business because everyone’s going to need a haircut at some point, right?”

Ali: “I enjoy being in an environment that doesn’t remind you of jail. That's the best thing, and then on top of that I'm learning something that’s going to help me in the future.”

There are an array of routes into the barbering industry, and here, self-taught barber Toastie Styles tells us about the challenges she has faced learning her craft in her own way…
Sian Jones

Sian Jones

Published 10th Oct 2023

Sian is Editor Modern Barber and Deputy Editor Hairdressers Journal International. She has over ten years’ experience writing for print publications covering Youth & Children, TV & Entertainment and Lifestyle. Sian graduated with a degree in journalism, and whilst studying was nominated for the Guardian Digital Journalist of the Year award in 2011.

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