Selena Caemawr having her haircut by Habib, 30. Image Credit: Shannon McGuigan

Free haircuts, a bite to eat and a warm place to stay for neurodivergent people

Aubergine Café and Fresh Look Salon in Riverside have joined forces to help those struggling people in their community

A RIVERSIDE café has teamed up with a neighbouring hardresser to give free haircuts to people who might struggle with the usual breezy hardresser chit-chat.

Aubergine Café – which is owned and run by autistic adults – wanted to do something to help its community, with 16.4 million people in the UK facing fuel poverty this winter.

Selena Caemawr, the founder, and co-director of Aubergine, was homeless when the cafe first opened in 2019. She struck an informal mentoring scheme with Isaac Omoyibo, the owner of nearby hairdressers Fresh Look Salon.

When the pair ended up discussing their shared dreams of helping the community to create safe accessible spaces for those in need, they decided to act.

Using both their skillsets, they decided to provide free haircuts, food, and a safe place to stay and socialise for a few hours.

For people who are nuerodivergent, the general friendly chit-chat we all enjoy at the hairdressers can make the experience difficult rather than welcoming.

For Isaac, the dive to help came form a specific indcident.

“I saw a homeless man on the side of the road on a cold night. I couldn’t stop thinking of him sleeping outside afterwards,” says Isaac, a barber of 20 years.

“The least I can do is open my shop for another six hours to help others who are struggling.”

Selena said: “We’re the same community divided by circumstance. When people look at the café, they feel empathy and think ‘well done’ and ‘how can we help?’.

“There’s a homeless hostel next door that’s probably full of neurodivergent people. I wonder if they look at them in the same light.”

These sorts of service in the community can make a big impact on individuals. Neurodivergent people are at a higher risk of becoming homeless or ending up in poverty.

According to a 2018 UCL study, out of 106 rough sleepers, 12.3% displayed traits consistent with an autism diagnosis, whereas it is 1% of the wider of the population.

Aarwn and a fellow warm space attendee playing dominoes. Image Credit: Shannon McGuigan

The Riverside businesses are determined to help make adiffernece. However, the Aubergine Café itself has an uncertain future as it faces a 50% rent increase. 

“Pretty soon the only business that will be able to afford these spaces will be the likes of Tesco Extra,” says Selena.

“We want something we can pass on. By building social and business networks, we can create a community that supports each other through hardships.”

Isaac would like to expand the help his salon gives others with an outreach project, cutting hair for those who are unable to leave their homes.

“We aren’t just a barber’s shop where you cut your hair and go,” says Isaac.

“We want to help other people in the community.”

Fresh Look Salon and Aubergine Café received support from the Warm Spaces and Loneliness and Isolation grant schemes. These were provided by Cardiff 3rd Sector Council in partnership with Cardiff City Council.

  • The drop-in service runs every Wednesday from 7pm until 11pm at Fresh Look Salon on Cowbridge Road.