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September 01 2019
Street makeovers: fresh trims by Stewart Roberts, founder of Haircuts4Homeless Street makeovers: fresh trims by Stewart Roberts, founder of Haircuts4Homeless

Need a haircut? Here’s how to get one, writes Viola Levy

A new haircut can make someone feel like a new person as well as giving them a brand new style. Thanks to several salons offering free haircuts for homeless people, more and more of us can feel the benefits of getting a fresh new trim. The lottery-funded Haircuts4Homeless began in 2014, with locations including Glasgow, and several in London (Dagenham, Ilford, Walthamstow, Camden and Whitechapel). They style roughly 14,500 heads each year, thanks to 600 volunteers.

The Pavement spoke to founder and veteran hairdresser Stewart Roberts, who started the service, “purely by accident. I’m 13 years sober and was in recovery doing some talks at a local Salvation Army. I’d seen a guy in America doing these street makeovers, so for the next talk, I decided to bring some scissors along with me to do some haircuts. That was five years ago and now here we are.”

For Stewart, a lot of the people he’s helped have had similar experiences to his own. “Because of my addiction problems, I felt an affinity with a lot of these guys. The same is true of a lot of our volunteers. People drawn to help have something in their backstory, whether it’s themselves or a relative who’s been affected by addiction or homelessness.”

“There is something very personal about cutting someone’s hair that can be both enjoyable and therapeutic which is something that many homeless people rarely experience,” he notes. “It’s often way down on a homeless person’s priorities so this service, which for most is a luxury, proves to be very popular.”

The people who use this service certainly agree. “It makes you feel a lot better. If I could afford to go in a salon, I would,” client Tracey commented. “I live in a tent on the cliffs or in the job centre car park. It’s freezing down there and when it rains it gets flooded. I don't sleep some nights because I'm always protecting myself. That's why a haircut makes you feel good, it makes you feel better."

Since starting the initiative, Stewart has taken the idea further with the Haircuts4Homeless Hair Academy, which launched in March at Jet Training Academy in Essex, to teach homeless people and those on a low income a lifelong skill which will help them into work.

In Edinburgh, hairstylist and salon owner Keith Love offers free haircuts for homeless people on the secondlast Sunday of every month, as part of a service which is called ‘Social Cuts’. He was inspired to get involved after seeing homeless people sat outside his salon.

“Clients need to have an appointment and they get booked in through a charity called Social Bite. When they come in, they get the full works: consultation, shampoo, head massage and a cut. We treat them as we would any other customer.” But provisions don’t just stop at a haircut. “The local bakers provide food, people donate clothes and toiletries, blankets, etc. And after we cut the client’s hair, they’re encouraged to stay in the salon for a coffee and a chat.”

Keith explains how it can sometimes be a challenge for first time clients, “Getting used to sitting and speaking in the hairdressers is normally quite daunting, so it’s very brave of them, especially if they’re conscious of how they look when they come in.” But he’s noted how much of a difference a haircut can make. “One girl had never had her hair cut, she was 14 years old. She was just smiling from ear to ear and her mum was in tears.”

  • To make an appointment with Haircuts4Homeless in London, visit The Whitechapel Mission at 212 Whitechapel Road, E1 1BJ or The West London Mission, 19 Thayer Street, Marylebone, W1U 2QJ or email team@
  • For Haircuts4Homeless in Glasgow, visit the Salvation Army, 
William Hunter House, 70 Oxford St, Glasgow G5 9EP. Otherwise email as above.
  • To book in with Social Cuts in Edinburgh via Social Bite, contact Marzena at: 0131 220 8206
  • Or visit the head office (open Monday–Friday 9am–5pm) Social Bites,
1-3 St Colme Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6AA