Macmillan Cancer Support Joins Forces With Barbers to Create The Barbershop Project

Published 23rd Jun 2023 by Chloe Weldon

To help more Black men find the words to talk about cancer, Macmillan Cancer Support has teamed up with training academy Hairforce 1 to create The Barbershop Project. This collective of London barbers are leading the way in breaking down taboos and normalising conversations about cancer within one of the cornerstones of the Black community – the barbershop.

Lee Townsend, Macmillan Cancer Support’s Engagement Lead, told us: “The project has been giving men the opportunity to not only find out about prostate cancer, but to normalise conversations about it, and to give them a space where they can talk freely without feelings of judgment.”

New analysis by leading cancer charity, Macmillan Cancer Support, reveals the reticence some Black men face when it comes to talking about their health and emotions as over a third (37%) have admitted they don’t like sharing their true feelings and one in four (25%) do not feel comfortable discussing things that worry them. With Black men twice as likely as white men to get prostate cancer and more likely to develop it at a younger age, feeling comfortable to open up about feelings and health concerns has never been more needed.

After having met Hairforce 1 at an event around cancer and working barbershop communities, Lee says: “We spoke, and came up with the idea of seeing how we can broaden and form a network, bringing in other barbers.

“We’re proud to say that there’s almost 10 barbers across London who are engaging in this project currently, and we’re seeking to expand and increase it.”

To further encourage conversations in barbershops, the Barbershop Project has featured a QR code on the mirrors for clients to recognise. “If you scan it with your phone, you go to the website where you get information,” says Lee. “That is the avenue through which they can have these conversations in the shop.”

The Barbershop Project has also launched a three-hour mixtape produced by BBC Radio 1Xtra’s very own Seani B. The mixtape will be played in barbershops across London, furthering vital conversations about cancer. In between the reggae and afrobeats, the mixtape features two Macmillan storytellers sharing their experiences with prostate cancer and an exclusive message from global dancehall superstar and Grammy award-winning artist Sean Paul, encouraging Black men to proactively look out for symptoms of prostate cancer and to discuss any concerns with the GP.

The project is gathering momentum and support in the Black community across London including from Errol McKellar, an advocate for raising awareness of prostate cancer after his own diagnosis.

Errol says: “I know first-hand how isolating and overwhelming cancer can be and not enough men are talking about it. It is so important to me to use my experience to share my story and encourage men to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer early on.

“I am honoured and very proud to be supporting the Macmillan Barbershop campaign. We run a sit and talk programme where we have men come and open up and realise that they’re not on their own – this journey starts from the barbershop.

“In my experience, it’s the people that are closest to you that men don’t want to talk to – it’s almost an outside space that they can. We don’t know the answer as to why people open up in the barbershop, but they know when they sit in the chair the barber will get a lot of information and conversations. It’s trust that there’s no judgement.”

Lee, who works closely with members of the Black community and support groups, adds: “We hear day in and day out how cancer remains a taboo in some parts of the Black community, especially amongst men, with many feeling the need to bottle up their emotions and ‘stay strong’.

“What I love about our work with the Barbershop Project is that it has created a safe space for Black men to talk freely about cancer while letting them know they are not alone. The barbershop serves as an essential tool for often initiating the first open conversations about topics such as cancer, but there are also other ways to access support. There’s the Macmillan Support Line and the online community. Nobody with cancer should feel alone, whatever question you need to ask, we are here for you.”


Read next: Barber Provides Additional Support in Care Homes.
Chloe Weldon

Chloe Weldon

Published 23rd Jun 2023

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