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Confetti - Your Future

Meet the Nottingham Barbers Offering Wellbeing Walks to Their Customers

15 December 21 words: Adam Pickering
photos: Nick Revill

Adam Pickering talks to Aretê’s Josh O’Callaghan and Matt Dryden, the high-end barbers taking their safe space out into nature with their open wellbeing walks…

An Aretê wellbeing walk at Mam Tor in the Peak District

Aretê is a nifty little barber shop on Heathcote Street which you might not have come across yet. I stumbled across them on Instagram and was instantly intrigued - this was some proper arty, high-aesthetic business, but it still felt approachable, with the love for their craft leaping off the screen. Striking male models don all manner of ‘dos styled by the guys, from out there catwalk jobs to shaggy rock ‘n’ roll locks, posing comfortably in a range of well-shot high art photoshoots. Not your typical blokey barbers, then.

After not having let anyone else cut my hair in over five years previously, there was something alluring about their keen visual eye, and the heartful and often sensitive words that accompanied their posts, and for once there was someone I could point to (one of the shaggy-looking ones) and say - that’s what I want my hair to look like. It felt damn good, altogether more relaxing than previous brushes with less delicate barbers, and it turned out they weren’t just about the presentation, as our barbershop chat turned to mental health.

Despite some successes in destigmatising conversations around men’s mental health in recent years, it’s a topic that too often goes under the radar. Men still often feel they can’t talk openly about their feelings, or that they shouldn’t have strong emotions. With a disproportionate amount sadly taking their own lives - 75% of suicides are male - it remains the biggest killer of those under the age of 45 (ONS). 

For Josh and Matt, the old-time friends who started Aretê, barbering is a calling that goes beyond the coiffure. "We love the chat that goes along with it. It’s about creating a safe space for our customers to come and get things off their chest in a friendly environment," Josh enthuses. At the time they were hatching a plan to take that thought a step further, and the idea of wellbeing walks came up - communal jaunts out into nature to meet their customers on equal terms and work out life’s stresses through conversation and mutual support.

We’re a neutral ear, we don’t know their peers or families so they can open up without causing any conflict

So after the guys organised their first walk in Wollaton Park, I went along for a chat about how it had gone, and to get into what it was all about. "The idea is to create a little community, where people feel like they've got a bit of a support," says Josh, who admits he was reluctant to apply too much pressure for people to spill all their woes out on a plate on day one. "I think that will happen, but short term it’s about getting out, having a laugh and breaking up your routine - we just want to offer the space and if people want to be a part of it, then they can."

Josh and Matt chose a Sunday, because they saw the benefit of filling in what might otherwise be a bit of a dead space for people. "It can take certain pressures off the Saturday, can’t it?" Josh says. "It keeps your mind off things if you've got something to work towards. So having this on a Sunday is something to get you out of bed and give you some purpose for the day. It’s about giving something back and being a part of the community, really. All of our strength comes from our customers. It's been a hard 18 months for everyone and so we just wanted to show our appreciation and give back.

"Speaking to customers on a daily basis, we’re really aware of men's mental health and our own mental health as well, with what's been going on and feeling the isolation and everything. So we just want to make sure the people that support us, feel supported by us. We do become that sounding board for a lot of people, and it just helps having an hour with someone that you've got a connection with - but they're not your closest friends, so you have that distance to speak freely." 

I know some have more intimidating atmospheres than others but we’re really keen to make it feel like an environment where you can open up

Matt chips in, "People have often said things like, ‘This is where I come to get my therapy,’ which is a massive compliment. It does feel like a safe space in a barber shop. I know some have more intimidating atmospheres than others but we’re really keen to make it feel like an environment where you can open up and not feel judged. We’re a neutral ear, we don’t know their peers or families so they can open up without causing any conflict. So the walk is a bit like a barber shop on the move to us." 

What about their own mental health journey, I ask? Josh replies, "I can usually spot a downward spiral in myself quite quickly, but I think I struggled more with the lockdowns than I cared to admit. My relationship with drink, my relationship with food, and my relationship with exercise changed. I fell out of my routines. I thought I was having a good time, but looking back I don't think I was myself. You build those self-soothing checks and balances into your life but they can quickly disappear." 

Matt agrees, "I definitely notice structure is where I get most of my good habits from, so obviously in lockdown there's no structure at all. You get up when you want, go to bed when you want, you eat what you want - it’s bizarre. Most of my good habits come from getting up, getting on the bus, reading my books, doing some meditation. And when you stop doing one thing you stop doing everything. I’m the same as Josh, really, it was only when I got back to work and I noticed how different my mood was that I realised that that's where I get most of my joy from - work and structure, responsibilities. But in the moment you feel that you're just having a good time."

If you’d like to get involved with Aretê’s wellbeing walks, or just fancy a haircut, drop in and have a chat or get in touch via their website or social media.

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