Preston barbershop on the madness of the Covid-19 pandemic: "We've all just had to adapt"
Prior to this Christmas, Luke Fitzsimmons had never seen snow before in his life.
A stylist at the Northern Barber Company on Glover’s Court in Preston, Luke was born in Fulwood but moved with his family to sunny Florida at the age of five, growing up in West Palm Beach - a veritable world away from the North West and Lancashire’s leaden skies. But, at the start of the pandemic last year, he came home.
“When we saw the stuff in the news about coronavirus, we decided to move back over here,” explains Luke, 31, who has worked at the Northern Barber Company since October. “It’s been great, I love life over here - it’s way more laid back than Florida and I don’t know if it’s the accent, but everybody seems really polite and nice.”
Founded in 2016, NBC is a well-regarded and distinguished men’s barbershop in the city centre which aims to combine the classic elements of barbering with modern styles. The barbershop offers its customers a unique range of products, the latest in grooming trends and techniques, and even a bespoke coffee service whilst they wait for their trim.
“I love the environment here and everybody is so relaxed and easy to get along with,” says Luke, who started cutting friends’ and family members’ hair at the age of 15. “It’s been a bit strange because I grew my client base naturally out in Florida but out here I’ve had to start from scratch, which has been a bit of a rush, but it’s been a perfect fit for me.
“Barbering has always been the thing for me,” he adds. “I’ve always had a fascination with blends and different hair styles and it all started with my uncle, who owns Christopher Stephens Salon in West Palm Beach. I enjoy making people feel good about themselves; that look they get when they see a nice haircut in the mirror and they feel good walking out is great.
“And being one-on-one with people for an hour or so means you can develop some good friendships - people are more than clients when you’re seeing them every two or three weeks.”
With NBC having four employees in total, junior stylist Hannah Rae Martin has worked at the shop for just over a year and has been cutting hair since she was 16.
“When I left school, I applied for a position at Toni & Guy as a summer job but they ended up offering me a two-year apprenticeship, so I took that so I’d have something to do,” she explains. “I stayed there working in hairdressing for two-and-a-half years and then one of my mum’s friends, who’s a barber, mentioned me maybe getting in barbering and I thought ‘why not?’
“I’d never really considered cutting hair for a living, but I’ve ended up growing to love it,” adds Hannah, 19, who’s from Preston. “I love the creative side of it; I’ve always been creative through school - I loved art and design - so that’s what I love about it. Barbering is a lot different to hairdressing, a lot more inventive.”
After the November lockdown ended, Luke says the team were enjoying being back in work, but following Monday's announcement of another national lockdown, NBC's doors being open was sadly a short-lived thing.
“It was nice to see people again and we stayed on top of sanitation,” says Luke, who - like Hannah - spoke to the LEP prior to the latest lockdown. “It was a little awkward at first cutting around the mask, but it’s been okay and we were fully-booked since reopening, which was nice. We've all just had to adapt.”
Hannah agrees, saying that she found the second lockdown much easier to cope with than the first.
“Adjusting to the regulations was good and we were all extra busy,” she says. “It was great to be able to have conversations with people again; I’ve been by myself during lockdown because everyone I live with works.
“You get to know people really well - we’ve got people who come in every week, so they become good mates,” Hannah adds. “And we’ve got a great atmosphere here, such a good vibe.”