31 July 2023

Barbers are a hit with the kids as they build trust and community in the Wagga suburbs

| Chris Roe
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two men in front of barber's shop

Gentle giants Ray I’u and Garry Hart have found a niche working with kids with special needs. Photo: Chris Roe.

Ray I’u and Garry Hart from the Barber Lounge at Kooringal Mall might be a tough-looking pair of blokes but they have big hearts and have been a hit with local kids with special needs.

“It’s all about taking your time and being patient,” Garry said, wielding a set of clippers.

“You find with kids who might have autism that they just need some time to get used to the space and to get comfortable with us.”

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After working together at the iconic Ross C’s Barber Shop on Baylis Street, the pair decided to open a new shop in Kooringal in 2022.

“The community around here has really supported us and we’ve made a lot of good relationships,” Ray said.

“I’ve enjoyed being out here in the suburbs because we’ve been able to build up a regular clientele who are happy not to have to go downtown for a freshen-up.

“We’ve got a lot of seniors but also schoolkids and we have a few teenagers who do some sweeping up and hang out.”


Ray says they create a laidback vibe in the lounge so that customers can relax and feel at home. Photo: Chris Roe.

Along with a steady stream of local customers of all ages, the Barber Lounge team members pride themselves on their ability to connect with young lads who might otherwise be intimidated by sharp scissors and buzzing clippers.

“I’ve got a couple of clients that I’ve had come in just to sit down on the chair and we just play around with the tools,” Garry explained.

“They won’t get a haircut but they’ll just hang out and we’ll build that trust to a point where they can go, OK, I know this person isn’t going to hurt me and what he’s using isn’t going to hurt me.”

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Ray said they had built connections with kids of all ages and backgrounds and word had spread among the parents and caseworkers.

Last month on Wagga’s Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down Facebook page, a parent posted a pic of his son with Garry giving a thumbs-up.

“We are up to week 4 of getting our son ready for a hair cut,” Rory Leighton-Popple wrote on the page.

“Garry is so patient and is slowly getting our boy used to being in the barber’s chair.”

barber and customer

A big thumbs-up for Garry as he takes his time to make his customers comfortable. Photo: Rory Leighton-Popple.

Last year, Ray shared a video of a young customer with Down syndrome sitting up in the chair and singing along with a country music tune while he had his trim.

“One of the Reasons I love my TRADE , JOB , and CRAFT … The People .. and MUSIC ..” he wrote.

“Everyone meet my Friend SAM. i asked him What his Favourite Song was … He said to me SONG Traveling Soldier …”

The video was shared dozens of times and attracted thousands of views and likes, and comments encouraging Sam on his singing and admiring his slick haircut.

“I love the chance to cut all their hair, hey,” Ray said with a smile.

“We just take it easy and do our thing and let the fun side out a bit.

“They might have disabilities but we just be ourselves and just have conversations and they’re all just like us, really. It’s cool.”

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