Northern Ireland

'Why my trainee hairdressers with disabilities make me cry'

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Media captionStylists with learning disabilities making customers in smile

Washing and blow-drying hair, making cups of tea, chatting to customers and cleaning up are all in a day's work for trainees at a salon in Donaghadee, County Down.

The aspiring hairdressers all have learning disabilities.

They have recently completed a training scheme in partnership with the charity Orchardville and Jax Hair and Beauty salon, and were happy to show BBC News NI what they had learned.

While Margaret Taylor has enjoyed learning about hygiene and how to wash hair, Amanda Leckey, who has Down's syndrome, has helped make customers feel at ease.

Image caption The trainees have learned a range of skills at Jax Hair and Beauty salon

Zara Lemon has earned herself a four-month-long placement in the salon, with the possibility of paid employment at the end.

"I'm working really hard for it," said the 22-year-old from Newtownards.

"I'd like to be a hairdresser because you meet new people and can wash and do things with people's hair."

Image caption Amanda Leckey has enjoyed making tea and coffee for customers

Participant Victoria Ritchie said she has loved learning about hairdressing.

Fellow trainee Rebecca Lowe added: "It's a good opportunity for places like this to invite people in with different learning disabilities and I'm grateful for all of it."

Salon owner Jacqueline Lightbody created the Jax Creative Journey course after taking on Thomas Skeets, a client who has Down's syndrome, one day a week to try to help improve his social skills.

She never imagined that just a few months later she would have eight students.

"That was a year-and-a-half ago and he's still here," she said.

Image caption Jacqueline Lightbody created Jax Creative Journey at her salon in Donaghadee

"It just takes a wee bit of extra time and patience, that's all.

"Every week one of them has me in tears, but for all the right reasons. They give you a lot of things to be grateful for."

Community spirit

And the community in Donaghadee has got behind the initiative.

After eight weeks' of learning, the salon was opened to the paying public on Mondays for bookings, to let the trainees try out their new skills.

"Donaghadee, as a community, has been extremely supportive," said Angela Roberts, an employment officer at Orchardville, which provides a service for over 500 people with learning disabilities and/or autism throughout Northern Ireland.

"A number of them came in over four successive Mondays.

"Engaging with customers is a transferable skill for other placements they may be on in the future too."

Angela said seeing the students' confidence in their abilities grow had been a highlight for staff.

Image caption Jacqueline said there has been a positive response from customers

Jacqueline added: "There's a lot to this job - hairdressers don't get enough credit - and the amount of information that they can retain, whether it's customer service, making teas and coffees, getting magazines, shampooing and all the rotary movements involved in that and sectioning and blow-drying hair, is amazing.

"The girls that are involved in this course just blow me away."