Hackney Changemakers: LA Saunders

LA Saunders at Mabley Green small
Looking to the Future: LA Saunders at Mabley. Green

I met Leslie on a business course run by Allia in Hackney. Her unusual ‘Hairstorian’ mission intrigued me and her energy was infectious, so we became friends. We are from completely different backgrounds and she’s opened doors for me into other sections of the community in Hackney. I’ve been welcomed warmly by low-key community activists and youth advocates whose work goes unrecognised most of the time but is crucial in keeping society together.

We’re collaborating on a project combining my experience in tourism with hers in youth/community engagement. She’s still building her website, but you can find out more at her Instagram for now or hear her on Reel Rebels Radio. Leslie’s project is for everyone and like me she wants us all to celebrate the local good stuff that goes unheard in the media. She’s a great speaker with a strong sense of purpose:

“I’m a natural hair consultant and a ‘Hairstorian’: a term I invented which means that I tell stories about hair. I’m here to tell your hair story which I see as our story. Hair is one passion but investing in the community that I live in is another – looking at the great work done by the people we have around us. We’re constantly bombarded with bad news stories in the media and I just want to celebrate all the good things that people are doing. But going back to hair, hair is everything. Everyone has it or has had it.

The Hairstorian is a word that I created: I want to tell the story of a person’s hair journey. I recognised there was a lack of support in the Afro-Caribbean community in terms of the therapeutic approach to hair: what that looks like in terms of the mindset of the person towards their hair and embracing natural hair. I wanted to change that mindset and one of the ways I saw to do it was to introduce a place where people can talk about their hair journey. Within that conversation it becomes a consultation. That person can explore the roots of why they denied embracing their natural hair.

I saw that on the flip side there was a need for healing, amongst everybody. Anybody that has hair can tell their hair journey. Just that space of being able to talk, communicate and speak how you feel as you talk about your journey, that’s a therapy and a healing in itself. So there are many layers to the Hairstorian concept. But it’s basically about a person sitting down and talking about their journey with their hair, from their earliest memory of it to their future intentions with it.

Stories are used as healing; imagine watching a photograph of the side or the back of somebody’s head, then you read their story but you don’t know who they are? You don’t know what colour they are, what religious faith their have, what their cultural concepts are? You just have a story and you just have the hair. It’s about not just repairing the relationship that that person has with their hair, but repairing the relationship that society has towards hair.

The isolation period helped me to transform the business into an online platform. I had thought of these hair stories maybe seven years ago now and the break forced me to get it off the ground. I haven’t posted any hair stories yet because I’m still working out who has ownership of those stories: where and when it can go and really giving credit to the people that have given me the honour to listen to their story.

Because this is not about me saying you need healing and you need therapy because you’ve got a broken relationship with your hair. It’s about that person giving me the honour to listen to their story because there’s no right or wrong and that story belongs to them. So I’m really working out the logistics of how to keep the stories organic and how each person can still have ownership over theirs, while at the same time sharing it on a local, national and global level.

I do other work in the community. I love working with young people because I see them as the key investors of our society and the ones will bridge that gap. There are lots of young people the media portrays as troublesome but I see them as fearless; they’re in that space where they just embrace anything, try anything. They’re just going for it!

Sometimes they struggle with accountability but then that’s our responsibility as a society to step in and guide and support them on their journey. And that’s why I love supporting community projects and community initiatives that look at building bridges between different people: with the aim that we have a common goal, rather than we’re from different backgrounds and we wanna do this and we wanna do that.

We all need to connect with each other, find our purpose, let our purpose serve ourselves and our community. Doing that, we are able to change not only ourselves but also change the world outside of us. That’s better than looking for an entity like the government to change things for us ,so we can then step into that. We can be the change that we want to see in our life.

If you want to know about many other Hackney Champions & Changemakers like this, join us tomorrow (BOOK HERE) or for your own group check out this inspirational tour, as enjoyed by Goldsmiths MA Social Entrepreneurs and more.