Published On: 06/12/2021|1096 words|5.5 min read|

Meet the inspirational man who rose from a life of crime to become a renowned barber

In 1996, Birmingham born and bred Lee Coombes became embroiled in a life of drug abuse and was soon hooked on heroin and crack. In a bid to feed his drug addiction, Lee turned to crime resulting in him serving time in prison. Lee’s life quickly became a revolving door between criminal activity, homelessness, and prison stints. This vicious cycle continued for 14 years where Lee spent around 11 of those years behind bars.

At what seemed like the lowest point in his life, Lee was faced with a unique opportunity to undergo an accredited Barbering course whilst serving a prison sentence. In 2009, Lee took part in an NVQ2 in Barbering course at HMP, Stafford. It was here where Lee first discovered his passion and admiration for barbering. Growing up in Birmingham and entangled in a life of drug abuse and criminal activity, Lee never considered barbering as an option – but little did he know that it would become one of the pinnacles in his life.

Reflecting on his time in prison, Lee pinpoints getting selected for the barbering course as a defining moment.

‘’I would definitely say this was a turnaround moment for me, along with a string of other moments which I probably wasn’t aware of at the time,’’ Lee said.

Throughout the course, Lee’s tutor recognised his drive and passion for barbering, prompting Lee to take barbering more seriously. Lee began providing haircuts to fellow inmates and even prison guards, building up a portfolio of work. In 2011, following his release from prison, Lee secured a barbering role and began working full-time for the first time since his early teens.

“When I was in prison my life was just a continuous circle, a vicious cycle and then I made a positive out of it and the positive was coming out and becoming a barber,’’ Lee said. “My mindset changed and then my life changed forever.’’

In the space of nine years, Lee worked for three different barbershops, which he expressed enabled him to stay focused and avoid turning back to his previous life of crime. During the summer of 2020, Lee made the bold and ambitious decision to open his own barbershop, Con Hair.

“This isn’t just a job for me, it’s a career,’’ Lee said. ‘’I could easily get a job in a supermarket, stacking shelves but I want something more. Barbering for me so much more than that, it’s a career and a lifestyle.’’

Amid a national lockdown, Lee created an Instagram page and quickly gained a large following. “It all changed for me in lockdown last year around June, July time. I went back into the barbers after lockdown and realised this wasn’t for me. So, I started my Instagram page and then from there it just grew naturally, now I’m on 2,750 and it’s all organic followers.”

Lee, who resides in Birmingham with his partner and son, wanted to open a barbershop so he could build a solid foundation for his son’s future. ‘’I have an autistic son, he’s six years old now and I want to have something in place for his future to make sure he’s happy when I’m not around anymore,’’ Lee said. ‘’With my own business, I can do that.’’

Previously, Lee was given little respect by others – something that barbering has changed drastically. The newfound respect Lee receives is one of the things he loves most about being a Barber. “You can be a misfit in this trade and still never get looked down on. I realised people had respect for me when I was cutting their hair which is something I never had when I was on drugs,” Lee said. “You get in very close proximity to people (when barbering), you get very close. You don’t let many people touch your face, moving and handling you but when you do, people start to relax and really open up to you.”

Despite the challenges he faced over the years, Lee admits he wouldn’t change anything. ‘’I try not to dwell on the past, but you’ve got to think about it because I want to know where I’ve come from. If I didn’t do my life the way it was with drugs and crime, I wouldn’t be me now. I wouldn’t be this strong-minded or motivated person,’’ Lee said.

In just over 10 years, Lee has turned his life around 180 degrees. The opportunity he was given all those years ago gave Lee a second chance in life – a chance to build and make something of himself.

Looking to the future, Lee expressed an interest in teaching barbering in prisons so that he can help others in the same way he was helped. “I want to go into the prison and show them, not what I’m doing now but to watch them progress and watch them go from a life of drugs and crime – maybe they’ve had a bad upbringing, and this is the only way they know life – and show them a way out and see how they progress,’’ Lee said.

When asked if he had any advice for someone who is in a similar position to where he was, Lee said; “My advice to someone who is in a similar position to where I was, would be to believe in yourself. Things are hard in life, but you can change if you want to win, you’ve just got to get it into your head that it’s doable. It’s so hard to do it on your own so if you’ve got people around you then let them help you through it.”

Today, Lee’s esteemed barbershop Con Hair Barbers is nearly always fully booked. His reputation and loyal customer base mean Lee doesn’t have to spend any time or money on advertising. Con Hair Barbers can be found on Instagram here.

Lee’s story serves as a reminder that despite a person’s circumstances, education has the power to change their lives. Changing lives through the power of education of primary objective of Complete Skills Solutions (CSS), formally known as Innovative Alliance. In 2019, CSS began providing educational programmes and courses within prisons to give people a second chance in life. These programmes seek to raise aspirations and tackle unemployment. Across the North-West, CSS’ prison education team have developed several partnerships with prisons and probation services.

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