Stylist Claire now helps trafficked women grow in confidence
A hairdresser for 34 years, Claire Jennings is used to seeing women change before her eyes. But now the transformations she witnesses go much deeper.
The mum of two from Woodhouse, Sheffield, is helping to restore the self-esteem of women rescued from trafficking and modern slavery.
She is a volunteer with the Sheffield-headquartered charity City Hearts one day a week. Every Monday she arrives with scissors, brushes, hairdryers and curlers to find a queue of women from the charity’s safe houses waiting for her.
“When I first meet them they can’t make eye contact with me. They have no confidence and feel like shadows of the women they once were, but they put their trust in me,” said Claire ahead of National Volunteering Week (June 1-7).
“Usually their hair is long and in very bad condition. I try to get around the language difference to find out what style they want me to do – it’s important they feel in control. And at the end, when they look in the mirror, they light up. It’s as if they change as a person in front of my eyes.
“Women from all walks of life feel happier about themselves after a haircut. But for women rescued from trafficking, the experience makes them feel feminine again. A new image even signals a new direction for their lives.”
Added Claire, 49: “Some have become regular clients. One, who is in her 40s and from Eastern Europe, couldn’t make eye contact with anyone when I first met her. she seemed really depressed. She hugged me tight afterwards. she often comes for haircuts and every time I see her she is happier.”
Claire applied to become a City Hearts volunteer nine months ago, and found her niche by using the hairdressing skills she honed during a career with Toni & Guy.
After starting at 15 as a Saturday girl at Sweeney’s in Castle Market, Claire was a stylist with Sheffield’s John Taylor salon until Toni & Guy arrived in the city. She became a trainer and assistant manager and then spent four years with the company’s artistic team in London and Manchester.
But at the height of her career, she decided to walk away.
“I had money, a nice home and lifestyle,” she explains. “But when my mum got seriously ill I reassessed my life and decided to do something more worthwhile. I looked after mum, then went to India to work with a project caring for street children.”
Claire visited the charity twice and fundraised to provide a teacher. Two years later, when the children got into mainstream school she bought them uniforms. Claire also raised £1,500 to enable a seven-year-old girl to have surgery on her twisted feet, which enabled her to walk.
She approached City Hearts after her experiences in India heightened her awareness of human trafficking, and also now volunteers at one of the charity’s safe houses.
“It’ is so rewarding “The women have grown to trust me and just by spending time with them, I’m helping them. I loved being a hairdresser but volunteering is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. now I can combine both. During National Volunteering Week I’d urge anyone to consider giving their time to help others.”
City Hearts launched in Sheffield in 2005 to help people whose lives have been torn apart by modern slavery, and now has offices in Scotland and the North West and East of England.
It has worked with 3,000 men, women and children.
The charity is appealing for more people to join its team of 33 Sheffield volunteers who assist at its drop-in centres and female, male and family safe houses.
Lydia Stables, volunteer co-ordinator, said: “In National Volunteers Week we would like to thank all of our brilliant volunteers. Their passion and dedication helps us to support some of society’s most vulnerable people and they come from a variety of backgrounds with a range of life skills to offer.
“Our longest-serving volunteer joined us in 2017 and makes jewellery with residents at our female safe house. We would love to hear from more people who would like to join us.”
To volunteer with City Hearts, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteers Week, June 1-7, celebrates the UK’s volunteers and enables organisations to thank you to them for the contributions they make.