Student learning how to cut hair

Charity funds new hairdressing salon to continue giving vulnerable young people a head start

Exeter-based Hair@theAcademy, a unique hairdressing training salon and only one of its kind in the UK, announces the move to larger premises to continue their uplifting good works.  The charity administered by the Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen of Tuckers Hall in Fore Street,  Exeter, has generously funded the new salon space located in the heart of the City. ‘Cornerstone’ a freehold property based in Kimberly Road and formerly owned by Isca Church, has been purchased by the charity and will be rented to Hair@theAcademy.

Mary Pugsley MBE, a senior state registered hairdresser (SSRH), set up Hair@theAcademy in 2004 from a small room with just three back-wash basins located at Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education. It had always been Mary’s dream to support young adults with complex needs, including learners who are vulnerably housed, in the care system and from all kinds of backgrounds or circumstances into learning a new trade. Following relocation of the Deaf Academy to Exmouth, Mary has been desperately seeking bigger space in the centre of Exeter to continue her training in hairdressing, barbering and customer service qualifications, helping get these vulnerable people, many of whom have nowhere else to go, re-train.  Hair@theAcademy achieves an impressive 90% success record of getting them into paid work and many former students are now tutors, wanting to give back to the Academy by training others to achieve their goals.

Mary Pugsley  MBE – Founder of Hair@theacademy said: “Our ethos is ‘Education to Employment’ working with the most vulnerable young people in our community by supporting them towards completion of work-ready qualifications delivering hairdressing, barbering, customer service, Math’s & English.  We have  had to turn away up to three students a week because of lack of space, so it was crucial we found a new larger salon to continue to promote inclusion, reduce exclusion, eliminate barriers to learning and participation for all those hard to reach students as well as the homeless.”  She adds: “It’s been a challenging journey and a race against time to find the right premises before the relocation of the Deaf Academy, so it’s very exciting to be able to expand into this large iconic building in the heart of the City and be able to take on more students. No words can describe how grateful we are to Weavers Fullers & Shearmen for their immense generosity of purchasing Cornerstone for us and their ongoing support – it’s a dream come true and will be a life changing difference to so many in need.” 

The Incorporation of Weavers Fullers and Shearmen is based at Tuckers Hall, a unique medieval Guild Hall built and owned by the Guild of Weavers since 1471, but the earliest record of a Guild of Clothworkers in Exeter is 1459. ‘Incorporation’ is the term used since the Royal Charter of 1620 to describe the organisation of Exeter woollen cloth trades that had before been organised as Guilds. 

Ian Gardner, current Master of the Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen said: “Our charity provides support for disadvantaged young people aged between 16 and 25 to receive training and assistance to enable them into employment; the training programme provided by Hair@theAcademy fits this brief perfectly.  We support many local charities including YMCA Exeter; however, this is the first time we have purchased a property specifically for a community project. It’s a very exciting new era for us, not least because we are celebrating the Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen’s 400th anniversary of the granting of their Royal Charter in 2020.”  He adds: “We are absolutely delighted to be helping Mary and her team to continue their amazing work in getting those furthest away from education into paid employment, thus relieving the financial burden on both the city and local community.” 

Works have now started on site using local contractors to work on the plumbing, heating and vital roof repairs as well as converting the internal layout to create a fabulous new salon space for Hair@theAcademy on the ground floor. Upstairs will see the creation of new office space which will be available for rent to bring in additional income to help fund the upkeep of the Hair@theAcademy programme. The builders are adhering to Government’s advice of construction work during Covid-19, and in accordance with the safe working guidance produced by the Construction Leadership Council.

Cornerstone believed to have been built in the late 1800’s, boasts a generous space of approximately 2,600 sq. ft. split over two floors with outside space. The more spacious premises means Hair@theAcademy can double the intake of students increase to double the number of backwash basins, create hair and beauty rooms for massage and nails; a theory room; disabled toilet; an office for confidential meetings with social workers, and a much needed breakout area for when a student needs some down time away from the main group.

In addition, Devon-based construction professionals have embraced the community spirit by generously offering their specialist advice and services free of charge to help the academy keep refurbishment costs down to a minimum.

Plymouth-based Architects Design Group (ADG), has been creating buildings, places, and spaces for more than 30 years and as a result grown to be one of the leading architectural practices in the South West.  ADG is known for its support of local causes and the practice’s core values include using their in-house expertise to ‘aid society’ where they feel they can make a difference.

Dale Beeson who lives in Exeter and is a director of ADG, joined the practice 20 years ago having gained a background in both architecture and engineering. Dale’s interests are in environmental design and earth-sheltered construction and his favourite projects reuse and breathe new life into under-loved existing buildings.

Dale said: “When Mary approached us with regards her move to larger premises, we were keen to help as this project very much fits with our CSR philosophy. Mary provided an outline brief and we were able to use our extensive experience to consider how she could best meet the needs of the students and space. This included the provision of initial plan layouts, general notes of any technical issues to be considered and the likely input required, plus liaison with Hoare Lea, consulting engineers, to devise an outline servicing strategy. This initial overview proved helpful in kick-starting the project, generating further discussion as well as highlighting any challenges that would require resolution prior to contractors starting on site.”  He adds: “We’ll continue to offer ongoing support for this worthy local cause and very much look forward to seeing the building used in providing essential training to Exeter’s vulnerable young people.”

Award-winning Hoare Lea with offices across the UK and beyond, is an engineering consultancy with a creative team of engineers, designers and technical specialists providing mechanical, electrical, and public health (MEP), environmental and sustainability services. They look to bring buildings to life, ensuring they perform in operation as well as how they look.

Surveying the premises, Karl Friedrich, partner Hoare Lea Plymouth office offered professional consultancy advice in terms of giving a realistic appraisal of the building’s mechanical and electrical services. Producing a detailed report, as well as highlighting some of the works to be considered to make the building suitable for purpose, has proved to be invaluable for the contractors to work efficiently before works commenced. Karl said:  “We are engineers of human experience and problem solvers who care how a space makes you feel when you step inside. We overcome every challenge with ingenuity, determination, and pride, taking personal responsibility to achieve a shared vision, combining strong relationships with technical excellence.”

He adds: “It’s important to us to try and help those less fortunate and we didn’t hesitate in giving our service to the Hair@theAcademy. It can be a tough ask however, because there is always much more to do than the lay person may appreciate, but at the same time the importance of this project, which fits in line with our ethos, was obvious, and Mary is such a powerful mentor – we simply couldn’t say ‘No’ to her!”

Independent Exeter-based company CAP Ceilings & Partitions Ltd. is one of the fastest growing interiors contractors in the UK, providing industry leading interior architectural products and techniques to provide bespoke high-end solutions for clients in healthcare, commercial, industrial, and residential settings.

Co-owner, Gary Rice has been hands-on in supporting Hair@theAcademy, personally attending several site visits offering professional advice, as well as products and labour free of charge. CAP has also generously agreed to supply and install high-spec Knauf Airless Spray Plaster, a highly efficient spray applied plaster for finishing all the walls at Cornerstone. In addition, Gary recommended the installation of an Armstrong DL 100 suspended ceiling system which not only meets fire regulations but will also offer an acoustic performance that will assist in creating an exceptional learning environment for the students of Hair@theAcademy.

Mary Pugsley MBE concludes: “I simply couldn’t have done this without the generous help of so many local professionals offering their services and expertise for free. I am so humbled and grateful to Karl, Dale and Gary for their kindness and personal investment in this project, which will make a huge difference to the lives of the students who desperately need our help. I simply couldn’t have afforded the cost of this incredible outcome without them – thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”


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