In a quiet corner of Grangemouth on a sunny afternoon, the sound of chatter and laughter draws attention to a small hairdressing salon. Inside, there are around a dozen women enjoying a cup of tea, a chat and some beauty treatments. Most of them have cancer.
These women come together on the first Monday of every month for the Feel Good Project, an award-winning community initiative at the Lady J’s Unisex Hair Salon.
Lady J is Jill Lauder. Her salon is adorned with pictures of Elvis Presley, her favourite star, and among all the products you would expect to find in a hairdressing salon is a silver engraved plate. It was awarded to Jill by CVS Falkirk when they named her as their volunteer of the year.
At the back of the salon, in an area usually reserved for the washing and drying of hair, an urn of tea has been set up for the day next some cakes, biscuits and three large boxes of wigs.
“I started the project because I had lost two good friends at one time,” said Jill.
“I used to do their wigs, and pamper them. Once they were gone, I felt I had nothing to do.”
Jill spoke with one her customers, Sandra Campbell. Sandra works with the NHS, and Jill came up with the idea for the Feel Good Project at her salon.
Sandra works with the Macmillan cancer charity’s “one to one” programme, which aims to help people with cancer on an individual basis in community programmes.
She is in the salon this Monday, chatting with various women and offering advice.
“The people within the NHS do the very best they can, but what we need is to be able to work with partners as well,” she said. “We need to all work together and that is all charities, big, small, and projects like this.
“It is the supportive atmosphere you feel in here which is really good.
“What the team here do is all from kindness – they give up their time, and the premises. Not everyone is able to do that. But if people are willing and able to partner up with someone within the NHS for that bit of support then it is a fantastic way to go.”
The Cancer Journey
Sharon McFeat, 47, has been coming along to the Feel Good project for four years after seeing a post about the initiative on social media.
She was diagnosed four years ago with a sarcoma cancer in her leg. Two years ago, it spread to other parts of her body. She is now fundraising for another type of treatment not available on the NHS.
“Somewhere like here has been really supportive, because it is not a hospital environment for once, and you can just speak to other people who may not have the same cancer as you, but are going through similar types and totally understand how you feel.
“There have been people who used to come here who are not here anymore, who we became close to. That is just part and parcel of the cancer journey.”
Everyone working in the salon on the Feel Good Project is a volunteer. Jill provides and fits wigs and cuts hair, while Jayne applies nail polish and gives hand massages.
Mo, who works as a make-up consultant with Boots, helps the women with their make-up and eyebrows.
Other volunteers make soup, cakes, and bring tablet along for everyone to enjoy. Everything is free.
Sixty-year-old Karen MacLennan, from Grangemouth, is another woman who is benefitting from the salon.
She has known Jill for years, and started coming to the cancer project after discovering a lump on her breast almost three years ago.
Karen has been in surgery three times, and has had chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She will take drugs for the next decade as part of her treatment.
“It’s fabulous, because we all get together and we are all in the same position with cancer. Many different kinds of cancer, and different places.
“It is a great social time, and we can be very practical talking about side effects.
“The girls – Jill, and all her volunteers are fantastic. You can relax, and have a laugh, and enjoy your afternoon.”
This project is clearly having a positive impact on the lives of women with cancer in Grangemouth, but Jill sees no reason why projects like this can’t be started in communities across the UK and beyond.
She added: “Nearly every salon is shut on a Monday. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could just open one up for a few hours, and we had one every week?
“It is really easy to set up, it is fantastic to do and you are helping in your community.”