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The Boys in the Barber Shop

The authentic relationship between a barber and his customer is built on personal service, expertise, loyalty and trust. Not our words, but the words of Murdock London – the brilliant barbers we’ve partnered with for their #MoreThanABarber campaign.

As part of #MoreThanABarber, Murdock have trained some of their staff in Mental Health First Aid, and are selling an exclusive CALM grooming kit. Decent. We sent our ambassador RKZ along to Murdock, camera in hand, to find out more and to recount his experiences the barbershop environment

I was 15 when I got my first real taste of the quintessential community barbershop experience. I was drawn into the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie, how everyone knew each other. It didn’t matter if you were in the chair, sweeping the floor, hanging around outside or the one cutting. These guys – as I’d learn over the years – are the ones you’d take a bullet for and none of us even knew each others’ surnames.

“A haircut at my barbers is so much more than a haircut at my barbers. It’s conversation. It’s arguments. It’s laughing so hard that the barber has to stop to catch his breath.”

It was a bubble; a world in itself. Fourteen years on, and I still call it my barbers even though I no longer live in the town I was born in. I’ll come home once a month to see my folks for a weekend, already knowing I’d be gone for most of Saturday afternoon because a haircut at my barbers is so much more than a haircut at my barbers. It’s conversation. It’s arguments. It’s laughing so hard that the barber has to stop to catch his breath. It’s sitting in the chair twenty minutes into a haircut, on a hot afternoon, and having to sit twiddling thumbs because the barber’s gone to the corner shop for a bottle of water and a can of Fanta.

For all of its wants and needs, the place felt like an extension of ourselves. It was where we’d hang out after school, after college and when we’d reunite on weekends home from Uni. The topics would change, but the conversation would be exactly the same as always. Music, politics, homophobia, racism, class, immigration, parenthood, society, sexism, football, you name it. Conversations like those enabled me, and so many others, to speak up and voice our opinions, debate and understand and walk in other people’s shoes. Most importantly though, it taught us how to keep a situation from escalating, and learn how to carry ourselves.

“In partnering with CALM, we have made it our priority to emphasise our barbershops as open spaces for discussion.”

You’ll find guys speak more candidly here, and while conversations around mental health are often just surface level, there’s reassurance that you’re not exactly in it by yourself when push comes to shove. We’re men. We struggle. Talking about it doesn’t mean problems are fixed, but at least they can be heard. And we all want to be heard.

When you step into Murdock, your coat will be taken and you’ll be offered something to drink before getting into the chair. After this, it’s deciding what you’re having done followed by the usual small talk – who do you think will win this weekend? Did you see Messi’s goal? No he’s not the greatest of all time. Yes! He absolutely is. Did you hear what Trump’s just gone and said now? I’m telling you, you need to watch this film if it’s the last thing you do.

Now, however, it’s so much more. The incredible barbers at Murdock are trained in Mental Health First Aid, enabling them to recognise when your head is a little too heavy for small talk. “Our experience tells us that so many men feel more comfortable opening up to someone in a relaxed setting who sits outside of their social circles. In partnering with CALM, we have made it our priority to emphasise our barbershops as open spaces for discussion. Our barbers are also embarking on developing their own skills and understanding by training in MHFA.”

“For all of its wants and needs, the place felt like an extension of ourselves. The topics would change, but the conversation would be exactly the same as always.”

This is an incredibly positive step and one that evokes real change and understanding. It’s progressing the narrative around mental health, depression and suicide. It’s allowing us to talk about it, as candidly as we do everything else. The barbershop has always been an institution, but now it can be solace and shelter for when it feels like the rain will never stop.

Words and photography by RKZ. Find out more about Murdock here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

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