Do you remember ‘social prescribing’, the initiative introduced a few years ago where GPs referred patients to a link worker who would guide them into community activities such as volunteering, arts activities, different interest groups and so on? Studies showed that it worked well, with fewer demands on GPs and the NHS (especially A & E). During the pandemic it was restricted, but is being rolled out again now. The best social prescription of all would be a haircut, according to psychiatrist Max Pemberton. He says he’s often wanted to prescribe haircuts instead of pills. But it’s not the cut – it’s the company. ‘Sitting in a hairdresser’s and just chatting about your life is pretty similar to sitting in front of me in an outpatient clinic and talking,’ he said, in his newspaper column.[i]
Hairdresser Judith (Jude) Philips agrees. Her salon, Aristocutz, is tucked into a small shopping centre at the heart of the local community. She has a number of older customers who come regularly each week, whom she knew would be missing each other’s friendship during the pandemic. So shortly after starting up again, she invited twenty of her older customers to a fish and chip lunch and transformed the Salon for the day into a friendly café. Other retailers joined in, with the café bar lending chairs and tables, and men from the barbers’ helping carry them up the incline. (The centre is on two levels). The fish and chips came from the centre’s fish and chip shop, the salon assistants made cups of tea and coffee, and Jude brought in dozens of cupcakes as desert. I discovered the party by chance, taking some surplus handbags to the charity shop next door, and stopped to chat to Jude and her guests.
‘It’s been great being able to come and meet everyone again like this,’ said Pat. Her husband has dementia, and she isn’t able to get out very often, but was able to make an arrangement for today. Margaret, sitting at the next table nodded. ‘I’m fairly new to the area. I’ve moved down from North Wales, and I’ve made friends coming here.’ Jenny, who’s worked as part-time receptionist in the salon for years said that it was marvellous seeing everybody together again.
Looking around the room Jude observed that the Covid lockdown has had an effect on them. ‘Some have visibly aged,’ she said. ‘Most have been very lonely this last year and it hasn’t done them any good. Some are nervous about coming out again. One just said to me that this has given her confidence. They have been loyal to me, and this is my way of thanking them.’
Like many other businesses that had to close during lockdown, it’s been tough for Jude. ‘It was the only time in 40 years that I was prevented from working.’ A silver lining was that the post office her husband runs in their village, which stayed open as an essential business, was exceptionally busy. ‘People were reluctant to go into town to buy their stamps and birthday cards and post their letters. Some days there were queues going out the door and down the road and around the corner.’ When the going gets tough, the panacea is in the familiar community.
[i] Daily Mail, Monday, 27 September 2021.