Tom Chapman
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How would you feel if I was to come up to you now, where you're sitting, and touch your hair, face, and neck? (Laughter) It'd be weird, right? (Laughter) Uncomfortable, awkward, and unsettling. However, if you were to come and sit in my barber chair in my barber shop, that personal space boundary would be broken instantly; it wouldn't be strange at all. In fact, most people find it hugely relaxing and rather enjoyable. They wouldn't come back if they didn't. When I'm at work, the most important person to me is you, the client sat in my chair. Being a barber not only holds great opportunities and privileges but the reasons why I'm not so bothered about the fact that you're going to love your haircut, re-book before you leave, and recommend all your friends and family to us - that's not the most important thing. What's most important is the relationship, trust, and bond that we build over time. As I said, being a barber holds unique privileges and opportunities. That level of loyalty and confidentiality between barber and client is like no other; it is an unspoken bonus. When clients sit in our chair, they can share everything. I have one client that I have known for 15, 16 years, since I started in the hair industry. I was the first that he told about his first date with his now wife; I was the first he told that he was going to propose - he even showed me the engagement ring before anyone else; he told me about both his children before the 12-week scan and even top-secret baby names. (Laughter) But he also went on to tell me about the miscarriage his wife unfortunately had. Now, this level of intimacy between men is very rare. We have few opportunities to open up and offload; we need to take advantage of those opportunities. When those guys sit in our chair and tell us everything, we listen. It's estimated that those in the hair industry listen for nearly 2,000 hours a year. That's a lot of time. Maybe there's something we can do very special with that time that's given to us. In 2015, I gathered a group of top barbers to create a collection of men's haircut images. The idea is that we'd put them together in a lookbook and raise funds for charity. But which charity? The barbers in the group hit me with charity after charity. And although they were all very worthy, it was nothing I hadn't heard before, and I wanted something more original, that I felt needed that awareness, something I hadn't heard of. Then, one barber, Paul Mack from Ireland, he suggested to me "suicide prevention." That was it. About 12 months previous, I'd lost a friend to suicide, and I'd seen him just days before, and I'd suspected nothing. He jumped to his death. In those moments that I saw him on that street corner and we shared small talk, I didn't recognize there was anything wrong with him. But what if I had the knowledge and the intuition to recognize those signs? Would I have avoided any direct questions for the fear of the answers? What if I had asked him, "Are you suicidal, and do you have a plan?" and he'd replied, "Yes"? Then what would I have done? Could I have coped, and would I've known what to do? This really got me thinking that if I've experienced this myself, and you have no suicide prevention charities or no mental health charities, then there must be loads of people out there like me. I remember saying to a group of our friends at the wake, "We must do something. Something has to change." But never did I ever imagine it would be in this form. Suicide is the biggest killer in young people in the UK. Three quarters of them are men, making it the biggest killer in young men in the UK. Every 40 seconds, globally somebody dies by suicide. That's nearly 15 people in the time that I'm allotted here today. The goals of the Lions Barber Collective are to be able to raise awareness. By doing this, we appear at industry events, speaking and letting barbers know how privileged they are, and what a fantastic opportunity they have to look after the most important people in their life, the clients, that pay for the roof over their head and the business they have. The second one is to, hopefully, educate barbers through our BarberTalk and BarberTalk Light. We aim to be able to arm barbers with the ability to recognize the signs; to be able to talk to their client without worrying about direct questions; then being able to listen with empathy and without judgment; and, finally, being able to signpost them to the amazing organizations that already exist. It's not about making barbers into councilors, it's about befriending our clients, looking out for one another, and becoming good listeners. But can a barber save a life? A longtime friend of mine, Paul, sat in my chair, and he told me how down he was and how he was struggling, and I listened. He told me that I put a positive spin on things, but mostly, I just listened. It was very early on into The Lions Barber Collective when this happened, but I tried to explain to him about what we were doing, trying to encourage men to open up and share their feelings and emotions, to hopefully avoid suicide. Now, I'd always seen Paul as a very successful and driven guy, but it was much worse than I thought. Paul went out alone by himself to take his life and end it all. He didn't. He's still here with us today. He has told me that when he thought that suicide was the only option, he thought about what we had spoke about and how we were trying to encourage men to share their feelings. This was enough for him to get back in his car and drive down to his parents house and tell them everything. And that was the start to his road to recovery. Now, Paul will tell you, and he has told publicly before, that if it wasn't for The Lions Barber Collective, then he probably wouldn't be here today, and I would have lost another friend. Now, I believe that when we started this, if we could save one life, it would all be worthwhile. Since then, we have gone on to save more lives, and we hope to continue to do so with more barbers from all around the world. I believe we need to stop worrying about mental health conditions, and start worrying about the human condition. We all need to love and to be loved, and we all need to belong. I believe that everyone in this room has had a moment when they feel like they want to escape; they just want to get away from it all, not necessarily suicide, but just trying to hide, and it's all too much. Mental ill-health affects us all. If you've ever felt lonely, if you've ever looked in the mirror and not liked what's looking back, if you've ever been let down or rejected, your mental health has been affected. Now, I believe that there are very few opportunities for us to share time with one another without interruptions. I think it's important that we need to be there for one another and start taking care of each other and provide as many opportunities as possible to do so. Whoever you are and wherever you are, there is something you can do that requires no skill and no training. It's the biggest thing that I have done in all of this that has helped the most people, and that is to publicly let people know that it is okay to talk to me. And I will not tell them that I know how they feel, but I will listen to them explain how they feel, without judgement. Now, we all have a space that we can make safe for one another, the people we love, and the people we meet. This is mine. Thank you. (Applause)