The Barber Bus

Just in time for Christmas, the peripatetic Barber Bus is making its grand tour around Tynedale, stopping off this afternoon in its regular slot at Allendale’s Market Square. I was able to drop in for a couple of photographs, as well as a quick trim (having neglected to attend to myself in the run-up to Christmas!), and a bit of a chat!

I think there are only two regular van businesses operating on a schedule here in Allendale (the weekly late Tuesday afternoon appearance of Fire & Dough and the monthly visits of the Barber Bus), though the Fresh ‘n’ Thyme van is often in these parts too.

In some ways, touring around the district selling their wares feels a bit like Isaac Holden’s tea trail; what goes around does come around again. Some 171 years anyway since Isaac’s travels, it still pays to go out and about to find custom!

But whereas Isaac depended on Shank’s Pony, nowadays vans are the best way to reach the parts their owner-traders need to get to, until they break down! Then it’s a temporary disaster for the trade or service. According to her friendly facebook page, Susan’s bus passed its MOT on Friday the 6th, but it needed a repair so on Monday the 9th she couldn’t get out to her regular spot. That’s a challenge, isn’t it, when you’re trying so hard to build up a loyal customer base. But these are the exigencies of a van-based business.

I’ve asked Susan (by facebook’s Personal Message system) a few questions about the business, and I can also fill in some more details here, after our lovely chat this afternoon. Susan is proud to feature her appearance on BBC’s Look North on her facebook page. The feature helps to describe how she began her independent business touring around the area’s larger villages. If you watch the Look North video, you can also enjoy a series of further videos of Susan at work in places like Bellingham, Haydon Bridge, and even windy Allendale Market Square outside of Allen House.

Anyway, let me consult my notes: Susan spent 23 years of her life cutting hair on the Back Street of Hexham, around the corner from St. Mary’s Chare, right beside Cogito Books and opposite the cobbler/keysmith. She says that when her boys grew up, she didn’t need to be tied to a premises and 9-5 hours any longer, so she renovated her camping van to accomodate a barber’s chair and worktop, as well as a waiting set of seats for three customers on deck. The family doesn’t use the van for much camping anymore: boys in their late teens aren’t much for that sort of lark, we laughed. And now she’s been travelling throughout Tynedale in her Barber Bus for the past four years already!

Susan says she loves her job, and especially meeting so many different people (she’d come from two separate slots in the industrial estates in Hexham this morning), and she has regular weekly, fortnightly and monthly (as at Allendale) slots. There are so many stories! She says that it’s a professional matter, learning to know her clients, so as to be able to ask about the next phase of the story they tell in the chair.

The van is so nicely appointed, and Susan has got a great heating system in place too, which made a huge difference against the bitter breeze this afternoon. But she says it is getting on a bit, the van, and she’d love to have a Barber Bus with just that bit more accessibility, since some of her older, less able clients find it a bit challenging climbing up the steps. Maybe there’ll be a crowdfunding opportunity in the future, when she’s decided just which sort of van would be best for the conversion.

It looks like Susan is quite a social media influencer, with her videos and friendly notices here and there (as in Allendale area notices Sunday morning the 8th). Just as Isaac Holden was, in his day perhaps, with his special printed cards, ready for distribution to folks along his trade route. Grab your chance while you may!

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