Community matters |

4 mins

Community matters

As the world continues to move toward a digital-first culture, the connection and community offered by salons has never been more important, writes Hellen Ward

The ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office was a compelling watch, and the coverage of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history and the fight to obtain justice for the victims has ignited fury in the nation.

Listening to the sub-postmasters’ stories left me wondering how on earth something like this could have ever happened, and particularly how the Post Office seemed to have as many powers as the police in being able to accuse and prosecute without going through the usual criminal channels. Innocent until proven guilty? Not if you work for the Post Office, it would seem.

My own view is that perhaps Post Office bosses covered up the extent of the issue because they feared that either there was widescale fraud by sub-postmasters before the faulty software was installed that they hadn’t noticed (unlikely) or that they knew pretty much straight away that their Horizon software was flawed but couldn’t admit to it.

The cruellest aspect of the whole sorry saga for me was them telling every single sub-postmaster that they were the only one who had an issue, and their resulting anguish over feeling alone and responsible is reprehensible. The very fact they stated that almost singularly proves their guilt.

Watching the drama and hearing from the customers of these post offices, some in rural and isolated locations, made me realise that the service they offered the community wasn’t just stamps and parcels, but something far deeper.

These sub-postmasters were the hub of their communities, a place where people came to chat and catch up. The beauty industry knows all too well about how important that is.

My mum has recently been diagnosed with dementia. It’s been traumatic and my sister Caron and I are on a long, lonely journey, as is my mum. I live an hour and a half from her so I’m driving down as often as I can. Fitting visits around work and (grown up, independent) children – who are children all the same – isn’t easy. I’ve had to scale back on my commitments, particularly those outside my day job, and my sister works too.

Close connections

We have decided that we can only do what we can until we decide what to do next. We booked my mum into a lunch club where she gets picked up by a minibus with other elderly people on the days we can’t look after her. The astonishing change in her interacting with people has lifted our spirits no end. As someone who lives alone, many days she speaks to nobody, as is the case for many elderly people, other than the calls from us and her grandchildren.

It’s the same with our team at work. The salon is a hub not just for beautification, but for connection. People are our commodity, but they are also our currency. We have recently seen a client go through a dreadful revelation in the media regarding a member of their family, and the kind, comforting refuge of the salon was the first place they came. Perhaps it’s because we are slightly removed and disconnected from the average client’s social circle that we are trusted and confided in. They say it’s easier to talk to a stranger about your deepest feelings, but the average therapist knows their clients’ lives, albeit they aren’t directly involved.

"Perhaps it’s because we are SLIGHTLY REMOVED, slightly disconnected from the average client’s social circle, that we are TRUSTED and CONFIDED IN"

We’ve just had our annual staff party and awards and it was just wonderful to see Jean, last year’s winner of our Employee of the Year award, dancing and living it up with the rest of us. Jean is our trusty cloakroom lady, 89 years young and still coming in three days a week. Jean doesn’t come for the money, she comes because being with us all, particularly the young team members, keeps her young. She lives on her own and we are her second family (her son lives in Ireland). Being with us, interacting, engaging, laughing, chatting and catching up, is one of the very reasons why at nearly 90 she still looks amazing. Her wit and wisdom is so very valued by us all.

Local communities are being lost by the work-from-home, internet-shopping culture that has become our lives.

Villages and towns need their high streets and the people owning shops and providing services not just for what they provide, but for the bigger connection – the fabric and beating heartbeat of bringing people together.

Comfort zone

Salons like yours and mine are an integral part of that and we must remind ourselves and our teams just how valued we are. If only the Government thought the same and gave us the tax breaks we need to preserve our precious businesses. One can only hope they learn a lesson from listening to the stories of the communities who rallied to support and raise money for their sub-postmasters and realise that people will always need people.

This article appears in February 2024

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February 2024
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