“We’re listeners, really; a lot of people come in the barbershop and it’s not really about the cut, it’s about the conversation.”

Short Black n Sides is the name that encompasses a growing range of community based projects that focus on the mental health of men from Black and Asian communities in Sandwell.

The original Short Black n Sides project in 2019 provided a platform for men from Black and Asian communities to talk about, normalise and challenge the stigma surrounding mental health in their own communities. It is through an understanding and appreciation of the historical legacy of the Black barbershop that the project was shaped. The relationship between barber and customer is a loyal one, and often cuts, fades and shapes happen as often as once a week. This means many men see their barber more often then they see their friends, GP and members of their own family. Who else better, to recognise changes in a person’s mood or outlook on life than their barber?

The project’s foundation was about taking the message to where men meet, socialise and feel relaxed. Men’s relationship with mental health can be a challenging one. Asking for help can be hard and men often feel intense pressure to maintain an exterior of control and may view asking for help, or even talking about feelings as a sign of weakness. At a societal level, there is stigma attached to mental health. However, within Black and Asian communities there is often a deeper mistrust and unease, reinforced by a belief that talking about feelings and emotions can be interpreted as a flaw.

November 2021 will see the start of our Barbershop Stories project. This project will further build on the original work with a wider lens around emotional health and wellbeing in relation to identity, role modelling and wider conversations with young people. We know and understand that having a positive sense of identity is fundamental to good mental health.

We will work with Black barbershops to gather the positive stories of Black male customers. These stories will be written from the individual’s perspective and will showcase Black male role models. The barbers and individual men will work with us to take these stories to young people. These stories will facilitate conversations around identity in younger generations and challenge the myths and stigma that Black men have had imposed upon them. The project will explore the issues elevated by Black Lives Matter - how society’s narrative of Black men has been constructed and the impact that this has on the community in terms of the ’validity’ of Black life.

 The importance of portraying positive role models for young people is crucial in their education and social development as a generation. The project also aims to speak to young Black boys who may need positive role models and help pave the way and support them to aspire to and make life and career choices in a more informed, healthy and diverse way.

Click here to read the report!

Short Black n Sides is included in a report from Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) Personalisation in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, and is available on the website at www.thinklocalactpersonal.org.uk