By W Bro Gur Samuel LGR

When the Covid-19 pandemic  prevented the Metropolitan Grand Stewards’ Lodge No 9812 from holding their regular December meeting in person, they instead invited the intended speaker – Tom Chapman of the charity the Lions Barber Collective – to address the members of the Lodge over Zoom. 

Arena caught up with Tom to learn more about his charity, and what led to him talking to one of London’s largest Lodges. 

The story of the Lions Barber Collective (LBC) began in 2014. Tom Chapman, a barber from Devon, was in bed late one night, starting to fall asleep, when he got a message on his phone telling him that, sadly, one his friends had taken his own life. 

I had seen him days before, and was completely unaware that he was struggling, recalls Tom, it was the first person who had been taken from me before their time. I spend the night thinking, what if I had asked him? If I had asked him and he had told me, what even would I have done? I was just blaming myself and feeling guilty. When Tom went into work the next day, he was open with what he had learned the night before. I’d known my clients forever, so when they asked me how I was doing or what I’d been up to, I felt comfortable enough to speak to them about it, and I can honestly say that although it didn’t change anything, I felt better for having a day of speaking to twelve people about that situation rather than sitting at home eating myself up about what I could or should have done. Following his friend’s funeral, Tom felt he needed to do whatever he could to try and stop such a thing happening again. 

Tom’s initial idea was to recruit a number of high-profile and well-respected barbers to contribute to a haircut catalogue , that clients at barbershops could look through to choose what hairstyle they wanted, with proceeds from the sale of that catalogue going to charity. 

That one-off project transformed into an on-going campaign when Tom spoke with another friend a year later. A person Tom held in high regard, and who to all outward appearances seemed to be very successful. Tom was cutting his friend’s hair, when the friend began to tell him about all the issues he was struggling with, and how much he was suffering, all of which took Tom completely by surprise. It led to Tom telling his friend about the catalogue project, and though it was early on and Tom had not yet developed the Barber Talk strategy the charity would soon pioneer, that conversation was enough for the friend to go find the help he needed. That friend is now expecting his first child. 

That event led Tom to develop Barber Talk — a training workshop that teaches barbers and hair dressers to look out for the signs that a client may be dealing with poor mental health, focusing around a four point strategy of Recognise, Ask, Listen, Help . Barbers and hairdressers tend to have regular customers that they see every six to eight weeks. In this regard, the profession is uniquely placed to spot any on-going changes in someone’s demeanour or behaviour. It’s about providing that listening ear and saying to these people, I don’t understand what you’re going through and never will, but I’m here to listen , explains Tom. Barbers and hair dressers then signpost those in need to local mental health resources. The goal of Barber Talk is not for barbers or hair dressers to act as counsellors or psychologists, but rather to bridge the gap between the communities we serve, and the resources that are available . 

In addition to the education aspects of the LBC, which was granted charity status in 2017, they also actively promote awareness of mental health issues, particularly among men. The awareness aspect of the charity adopts a number of strategies, beyond the various PR and media engagements the charity participates in. One of our favourite things we do is pop-up barber shops , Tom says, setting up in a variety of spaces, from universities to factories and workplaces to sporting events, where people can get a free haircut, but at the same time have a chat with a barber who might help them be more aware of how their mental health is faring. The charity also provides ongoing support for barbers and hair dressers who have been through their Barber Talk training. They too have a space where they can offload any burden they’re carrying from the discussions they’ve had with clients who may be in poor mental health. It’s an aspect that Tom hopes to ramp up to an even greater extent in 2021 pending further funding – letting us take care of the few, so that the few can take care of the many. 

The LBC’s first interaction with Freemasonry came through Twitter, of all places, when W Bro John Parry, PSGD MetGInsp, reached out to Tom. [Bro] John approached me and said, I love what you’re doing, I think it’s fantastic , and with UGLE Freemasonry being a male orientated society, I think it aligned with him quite closely, and we both saw the benefits of working together . 

Bro John informed Tom about Freemasonry’s commitment to relief and charity, as well as the fraternity in general, something Tom has very much enjoyed learning about. Through Bro John, it was hoped that Tom would be able to make a presentation to the Metropolitan Grand Stewards Lodge No 9812 in December — we even talked about having a barber’s chair set up — but the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to the initial idea. 

However, with the Lodge planning to have a Zoom meeting on that date in lieu of a regular meeting, Tom was invited to participate, and give his presentation to the Brethren virtually. Over 100 members of the Lodge logged in to hear him talk — on which Tom said I was more nervous for the Zoom talk than I would have been in person where at least I would have been able to talk with some of the members beforehand! – and he recounted the history of the charity, explained the Barber Talk training method, and imparted the importance of looking out for each other’s mental health, as well as one’s own. If even one person takes something away from our talks, either is helped themself or now starts looking out more for other Brothers in their other Lodges, then it might make a real difference to someone moving forward . 

At the end of Tom’s presentation, which was warmly received by the members, and following a question & answer session, the Lodge’s Secretary, W Bro Scott Simpson PAGPurs, virtually presented Tom with a cheque for £500 for the charity. Bro Scott said We are so pleased to have been able to welcome Tom to our virtual meeting who gave such an important and inspiring talk. It’s certainly assisted all of us in learning more about mental health and how to Notice, Discuss and Support our family and friends, especially during these trying times . 

Tom says that he has already had discussions with Bro John about other projects that the LBC can continue to work with London Freemasonry, and Tom hopes to be able one day to bring the pop-up barber shop to a Masonic Hall. If what we do can help even just one person who may need it, then our job is done. If we keep doing that, it makes a big difference, doesn’t it? One person at a time. 

See the video at 

This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 43 January 2021 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.

Read more articles in the Arena Issue 43.