Interview with In Safe Hands Co-Founders, Heather & Laura

Jul 15, 2020

In the last four months, the UK has seen a worrying increase in domestic abuse and mental health victims as a result of lockdown measures that have been implemented due to the pandemic.

As the UK slowly begins to reopen, with hairdressers, barbershops, and low-risk beauty salons welcoming clients back through their doors, many professionals will sadly see physical and mental wellbeing concerns among their customers.

We spoke with In Safe Hands, a community interest company that was designed with the beauty industry at its core. The company understands that professionals in the industry are more than beauty experts, they are also expert listeners and keepers of secrets.
Offering a bespoke training program to salon owners, staff and professionals to help them manage their client’s well-being whilst protecting their own. They teach professionals how to manage client disclosures and effectively signpost individuals for support if required.

Laura and Heather, the co-founders of In Safe Hands, talked to us about life in lockdown, how they started the company, and their advice for any beauty professional who is worried about a client’s well-being.

1. How are you and Heather coping with isolation and what have you both been doing to keep your body and mind feeling healthy during this time?

Laura – I have found this time such a journey of continuous learning and self discovery. What started as a much needed opportunity to spend time with my two gorgeous girls and husband soon turned into me attempting to be all things to all people. Homeschooling pressures, my husband working and myself and Heather continuously evolving and adapting to an ever changing normal to support the Mental Health of the Beauty Industry has been a challenge.
For me acceptance has been key. When I accepted that I am certainly not a teacher but as a mother,  I am doing the best I can. BBC Bitesize has been a saviour! I ensure I take time for myself everyday. I have found an evening stroll with my dog whilst I call my girlfriends has been a lifeline! At home yoga and meditation has meant that I can workout around the family. Literally. I have realised that when I am spinning too many plates, whilst they are up in the air they have hairline cracks in them and one will eventually break. When we take time to fill up our emotional bucket of well-being we are able to give far more. More too ourselves and others.

Heather – Like many others, lockdown for me has had its highs and lows. At the very start I embraced the opportunity to spend some invaluable time with my husband and children. My husband was a primary school teacher so home learning was made exciting and fun. As time went on I really missed social interaction. Having been a beauty therapist for many years I am used to being in different people’s company every day and although I could keep in touch via zoom it just didn’t quite hit the spot. Thankfully, the ease of the restrictions came at a great time and just being able to travel a few miles to the beach was such a relief for me. Again like so many, there have been struggles trying to juggle work whilst entertaining my beautiful children. There have been plenty of days where I have felt immense guilt as to whether the kids had been given enough attention but both my husband and I had to re-evaluate the structure of our days to get the balance right. We also had to reflect and reassure each other that our family was very lucky and we needed to focus on the things the children were gaining from this experience rather than what they were missing out on.
This has been a time of so much uncertainty and I made sure that I utilised it the best I could. So for the fourth time in four years attempting, I finally completed the couch to 5km. I was determined to learn to love running which unfortunately has been unsuccessful. We as a family, walked everyday either, amongst the breathtaking scenery of Exmoor National Park or going to our local sandy beaches and just soaking up the beauty. I also meditate every day and that helps me in so many ways and is an important part of my life. It keeps me grounded, focused and calm.

2. What inspired you and your fellow Co-founder, Heather, to create In Safe Hands?

Laura – I met Heather when I was working with a homelessness charity and supporting the vulnerable working alongside frontline services such as the police and social services. Heather was a Mum at my daughter’s school and we had mutual friends.

Heather – I had a client that was causing me concern and after she disclosed some sensitive information I was left feeling utterly helpless and unsure as to whether I had said and done the right thing. I knew Laura worked with support services and was trained in Mental Health and Domestic Abuse so I called her to ask for advice. After Laura gave me some guidance on the situation we had a long conversation and both agreed that the hair and beauty industry was lacking vital support and knowledge in how to effectively deal with clients and colleagues that disclose sensitive information. Hairdressers and Beauty Therapists are renowned for being their clients’ emotional therapists and expected to be the keeper of their secrets, yet in most cases have had no specific training in counselling or mental health awareness. Laura and I felt so passionate about changing this and InSafeHands was born! We soon realised the impact of our services and the impact it has in both changing and saving lives.

3. Why do you think clients turn to their hairdresser or beauty professional for advice? Or confide in them?

Laura – The relationship between a client and their hairdresser or beauty therapist is one that is built on trust. Whilst it is the role of the professional to complete the desired therapy or hair style it can mean far more to the client. Often mental health issues can lead to low self worth, lack of confidence and struggles to build relationships. When individuals are listened to and given an opportunity to be heard it can act as a ‘safe’ environment to confide and disclose. Often overlooked by professionals due to a lack of  knowledge, clients can disclose a need for extra support and help that has not been shared with anyone else and possibly never will. I remember a particular case where a young girl was in a controlling relationship where Domestic abuse was present. The only time the young lady had by herself was at her regular hair appointments. Her partner would see her in and wait outside but for the time whilst she was having her hair done she was alone. This was the only time she would be alone with another person to talk to that she trusted and felt safe with. Unfortunately the girl lost her life to her partner after enduring years of abuse. Had the hairdresser’s had some basic training to enable them to question their client’s presentation and the confidence to signpost her for support the outcome could have been different.

Heather – I have been in the beauty industry for over 17 years and have daily conversations with clients which are obviously confidential but often about sensitive subjects. I believe most hairdressers and beauty salons provide a safe space for clients to relax and unwind and when people feel relaxed they are more likely to open up. In the beauty industry due to the nature of a lot of the treatments, ie, leg waxing and massage, the client must remove their clothing and so there has to be an instant element of trust built within a very short space of time.
Even just the element of touch is nurturing and has huge psychological advantages and when someone feels nurtured they feel safe and are more likely to confide in you. Strong loyalty bonds are often built with hairdressers and beauty therapists which again reinforces the security which enables people to talk about their lives so openly.

4. The industry has been shut since March and is only starting to slowly reopen. How has In Safe Hands continued to support individuals with their mental health during this time?

It has been a challenge having to continuously amend and restructure our services to support the beauty industry at this difficult time. Our passion is to provide expert face-face training and lockdown has meant that this has had to change. Along with many other businesses we are continuing to adapt and evolve to a new normal. What we have discovered is that if done in a conscientious and ‘Psychologically Informed’ way, online presentation CAN work well. ‘We are also able to offer ‘In House’ training for salons and have a waiting list at present for as soon as we are able to start training safely and in compliance with guidelines. We are offering phone consultations and support alongside our waiting list.

5.What advice would you give any beauty professional who is concerned about a client’s wellbeing?

One of the most important pieces of advice we give professionals is ‘ If it is not sitting right with you on a gut level then it probably means that something is not quite right. However, It is EXTREMELY important to understand and remember that you are not a ‘mental health’ expert. It is important that you do not take on the responsibility to try and ‘fix’ clients issues. If you are told something that concerns you or have noticed something, the first thing to do is to have a conversation about that to your client. Safely. “ I have listened to what you have just said to me and I am feeling a little concerned for your welfare, have you spoken to a specialist professional about this before? I have these numbers and contacts for additional support that you might find helpful’. That’s it. Your role is to ensure you have passed on your concerns and signposted to a relevant service to give the appropriate support IF needed. If you ever are concerned that a client is in immediate danger or there is a risk to life then it is important that you call the police. This is very rare but can happen. Next it is crucial that you take care of you. When you take on someone else’s emotions and concerns it can have a detrimental effect on your own. We have compiled expert tips and tricks within our training to support professionals to be both aware of this and implement it within their working.

To find out more information about InSafeHands, head to https://www.in-safehands.org.uk/
And follow their updates on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook

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