In March 2015, Perth barbers Justin Howley and James Howe set up shop in an inner-city carpark, offering free haircuts to anyone that wanted one. In just three hours, these two scissor-wielding good Samaritans cut 20 heads of hair – a very successful first outing for freshly minted not-for-profit, Short Back & Sidewalks. Craig Hollywood, Short Back & Sidewalks’ founder, remembers the day clearly and the impact it had on everyone involved.
“Some people had travelled 50 kays on a bus to get a haircut,” says Hollywood. “I very, very quickly realised there was a need for this. It’s a whole lot more than just a haircut. People tend to talk to hairdressers and barbers about things that they might not talk about otherwise. It doesn’t matter if you’re in need, or experiencing homelessness, or whatever: it still gives you that opportunity to talk to someone or to get a completely different opinion on something.”
This need wasn’t unique to Western Australia. Five years on, Short Back & Sidewalks continues its good work, not just out west, but in Victoria and New South Wales as well. The organisation has spent time on-country with the remote Aṉangu community near Uluru and taken part in the annual Garma Festival in northeast Arnhem Land. By Hollywood’s calculations, Short Back & Sidewalks has provided 4500 haircuts and counting. Between its various chapters, the organisation cuts the hair of 25 Australians each week and its national network of volunteers stretches to 150.
Like many, Short Back & Sidewalks has been impacted by Covid-19, both in terms of its on-the-ground work and fundraising efforts. To help offset the pandemic’s influence, the organisation has teamed up with Melbourne social enterprise Homie to release a limited-edition, ethically-made unisex T-shirt to help cover rising administration costs as well as purchase the haircare and salon products used by volunteers. T-shirts are available online and people are also welcome to make donations to aid Short Back & Sidewalks’ work.