You walk through the door. You don’t know what that smell is, but it’s pleasant. You open the fridge, crack open a cold beverage and sink into a comfy chair. Music lifts the atmosphere and whatever occupied your thoughts falls away as a warm voice says, “g’day”.
It’s not yours or your mate’s house exactly. But if the owner of Locker Room Barbershop, Daniel Gaitau, has his way, it soon will be.
“Welcome to the best part of your day” is the shop’s motto – and it’s his mission to make it so.
Daniel adheres to the barber stereotype – warm, chatty and with an uncanny ability to get you to open up.
This gift of the gab perhaps primes him for what’s arguably the shop’s higher purpose – raising men’s mental health awareness.
“I’ve been a barber for 12 years, so encouraging open conversation is not new. I’ve always connected with people that way – it’s kind of my thing,” he says.
The name Locker Room Barbershop is a play on the kind of candid conversation that happens in the locker room. The concept was a result of his own experiences.
“A few years ago, I went through a divorce and found myself in a sticky situation without the tools to get through it,” he explains.
“Navigating my emotions is not something I was taught through the schooling system. I felt a lot of pressure to ‘get over it’, shame and embarrassment that I was going through this tough time emotionally and I suppressed and internalised a lot.
“I tried finding an outlet for that. There were resources for mental health but nothing that invited me in; everything was cold and clinical. For men, accepting we need help is tough enough – I just needed an ear, people who could understand.”
While travelling overseas, Daniel discovered he wasn’t alone. He decided to create a second home where men could ‘unpack, so The Locker Room Barbershop was born.
In Daniel’s experience, mental health issues cannot all be viewed through the same lens and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
“The language for men is different,” he says. “Sometimes help looks like inviting someone out to have a few beers with the boys.
“I intend to create a safe space here. I can help by sharing my experiences, but mostly I want to be a bridge to services. I am not qualified in counselling, but I am qualified in empathy. I have a listening ear and a resource team behind me to link people to professionals.
“I enjoy my job as a barber but my passion lies in the mental health space. What I do inside the shop is the catalyst for my work outside the shop.”
Outside the shop, Daniel hosts men’s walks, which are open to all men on the first Sunday of every month. They kick off at 10 am at Henry Roland Park, come rain or shine.
“It an opportunity to get together and build a community of conscious men that we can offload onto if we need to, but no prerequisite if you just want to hang,” he says.
“It’s important to create new circles. You don’t need to ditch your friends, but there is strength in numbers and a problem shared is a problem halved.”
The Barbershop recently hosted a ‘Find Your Breath’ session at NPP Performance Training in Phillip, where a breath work facilitator took participants through breathing techniques – something Dan hopes to repeat every couple of months.
“We want to introduce men to life skills that can help us manage stress and make us more conscious of our emotions and how to manage them,” Daniel says.
He also hopes to reinstate the Barbershop’s pre-COVID Books and Beers club and to introduce a raft of other events throughout the year.
Daniel stresses it’s not a replacement for professional help.
“I don’t pretend we’re something we’re not. I just know we’re raising a lot of broken men, and if we don’t fix that, we repeat the cycle,” he says.
“I want guys young and old to know they can come in, read the paper, have a brew, chill out, have a haircut, don’t have a haircut – just come hang out.”
For more information, events in the mental health space or just a damn good haircut, book a visit to The Locker Room Barbershop … or just walk in and hang out at 6/2 Iluka Street, Narrabundah.