How hairdresser Claire is helping to give trafficked women in Sheffield a new beginning
Claire Jennings is used to seeing women change before her eyes. As a hairdresser for 34 years, she knows all about helping women to bring out the best in themselves
But at the height of her career, Claire – who was in Toni & Guy’s national artistic team for four years – walked away from her role to take on ‘something more worthwhile.’
Today, the transformations she gets to witness go so much deeper. Claire is now a volunteer hairdresser for Sheffield charity City Hearts, working day in and day out to help restore some self esteem to women rescued from trafficking and modern slavery.
Each Monday she arrives armed with scissors, brushes, hairdryers and curlers to find a queue of women from the charity’s safe houses waiting for her.
“When I first meet them they can’t make eye contact with me,” reveals the mum-of-two, from Woodhouse.
“They have no confidence and feel like shadows of the women they once were, but they put their trust in me. Usually their hair is long and in very bad condition. I try to get around the language difference to find out what style they want me to do - it’s important they feel in control. And at the end, when they look in the mirror, they light up. It’s as if they change as a person in front of my eyes.
“Women from all walks of life feel happier about themselves after a haircut. But for women rescued from trafficking, the experience makes them feel feminine again. A new image even signals a new direction for their lives.”
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“Some have become regular clients. One, who is in her 40s and from Eastern Europe, couldn’t make eye contact with anyone when I first met her, and seemed really depressed. She hugged me tight afterwards. She often comes for haircuts now, and every time I see her she is happier.”
Claire applied to become a City Hearts volunteer nine months ago, after getting her start in hairdressing as a Saturday girl at Sweeney’s in Castle Market when she was 15.
She explains: “A year ago, I had money, a nice home and lifestyle,” she explains. “But when my mum got seriously ill, I reassessed my life and decided to do something more worthwhile. I looked after mum, then went to India to work with a project caring for street children.”
Claire visited the charity twice and raised funds to provide a teacher. Two years later, when the children got into mainstream schoo,l she bought them uniforms. Claire also raised £1,500 to enable a seven-year-old girl to have surgery on her twisted feet, which enabled her to walk.
She approached City Hearts after her experiences in India heightened her awareness of human trafficking, and also now volunteers at one of the charity’s safe houses.
“It’s so rewarding,” she says.
“The women have grown to trust me and just by spending time with them, I’m helping them. I loved being a hairdresser but volunteering is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”