The new hairdressing academy that’s a cut above
By Gill Sherry
It’s fair to say that with two young children and a busy hair salon, Thomas and Tony Seisay already
have their hands full. But that hasn’t stopped them setting up a unique hairdressing academy designed
specifically for care experienced young people to give them the tools they need to succeed in the
Thomas and Tony, who married in March 2014, are both hairdressers but it was their experience of adopting children that led to the birth of the charity.
“Our two kids are from the care system,” begins Thomas.
“That’s where the whole idea came from. There are huge gaps for these young people so we wanted to set up this academy to equalise the opportunities.”
The couple adopted their son, Collins, in 2014 when he was two years old. Their daughter, Savannah, was just 18 months old when she joined the family in 2020.
“What would normally happen,” Thomas tells me, “is there would be at least three families going for one child. With Collins there was no-one, it was just us. With Savannah, she had 25 prospective families who then said no. We were the 26th.”
Acutely aware of how different the children’s lives could have been, Thomas and Tony were determined to do something to help those people with a care experience background.
“That’s the heart of the Haus of Seisay project,” Thomas continues. “If it wasn’t for us, they would have been in the care system.”
The adoption process, however, was far from easy, as Tony explains.
“When we first started adopting, we were Glasgow’s youngest same sex couple to adopt. It was very daunting because we were only 27 when we started the process. We didn’t know what the adoption world was all about. We didn’t know about the check lists.”
“You need to say, I’ll take age 0-4,” Thomas clarifies, “or I’ll take no learning disabilities, I’ll take this, I’ll take that. That form is then sent to a panel and they can only go with those guidelines. It’s quite bizarre.”
And quite stressful, I would imagine?
“Yes,” Tony affirms. “When you’re adopting in Scotland you’ve got to foster with the intent to adopt and then you’ve got to go to court. We’d had Collins at home for 12 months by that point. We’d bonded with him, made him feel secure, made him feel safe. It was very nerve-racking.”
From start to finish it took Thomas and Tony five years to adopt Collins. Thankfully, with their daughter, it was a little easier.
“Savannah was actually from London,” Tony tells me. “In England the parental rights are removed… so it’s easier. We had to fight for the right to adopt Collins.”
That said, Savannah’s adoption was finalised during the Covid pandemic so that too came with its challenges.
“We’re both hairdressers and obviously, with lockdown, we couldn’t work,” recalls Tony. “But she kept us busy!”
It also gave them time to think and make plans, as Thomas confirms.
“After lockdown we thought about opening the hairdressing academy. The more we spoke about it, the more we thought it was the perfect charity project. So the charity was official from October 2022. We are SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) approved and aiming to launch in April.”
I ask them to explain how the academy will work. Thomas enlightens me.
“There will be three levels. Level 1 will start at age 14. Within their school week they will come to us for four hours and get a very basic understanding of hairdressing. Then level 2 is from age 16, this will be the foundations of hairdressing. Level 3 is more technical and more intricate hairdressing.”
The aim is for each participant to achieve a hairdressing qualification. That said, it won’t focus totally on hairdressing but will include other aspects of salon life such as admin and reception duties.
“They’ll have a full employability service,” Thomas continues.
“We’re working with different companies that will come in and mentor and give workshops to the young people… health and wellbeing, confidence building… everything from CVs to money management. One of the mentors is from the care sector himself so he’s a positive role model for these kids.”
The charity will receive referrals from a number of sources including North Ayrshire Council but they can also be self-referred. Thomas is also keen to point out that the list of those who qualify for a place at the academy is longer than you may think.
“It’s people that have been through the care system but it’s quite a wide umbrella. It could just be that they’re living at home with social support or that they’re in foster care, residential units… or adopted.”
The process starts with a referral form which is then followed by an interview between the board of trustees and the applicant.
The charity already has 23 volunteers willing to give their time to the project.
“We had our first annual meeting and it went down a treat,” says Tony. “And we’ve got some great members like PR people, marketing, social workers, local teachers, adopted kids and parents.”
“We’ve had a great response,” adds Thomas. “North Ayrshire Council have been absolutely fantastic. They actually want us to do this for everyone… but we just need to focus the first year on executing this right and really remembering why this charity was built.”
All being well, the academy itself will be located in Irvine in premises that already hold special memories for Tony.
“When I was 15… I went with my mum to the salon where she got her hair done. The owner asked if I would be interested in being the Saturday boy. I agreed… which led to me doing a Thursday late night after school and every third Sunday of the month. They basically gave me the biggest chance to realise that hairdressing is what I wanted to do.”
Since then, the salon (The Full Works) has closed down and the owner, Ian McKenzie, has passed away. Tony recalls how he felt when they went to view the premises.
“I was really emotional. It just took me back, it was so surreal. But it’s really, really nice to go full circle.”
Thomas and Tony hope that those who are able to take advantage of the academy will also go full circle, starting out as students and going on to be a part of the academy themselves, running the academy hair salon or helping to assess new learners.
“There will be employment opportunities as the academy grows,” Thomas confirms, “and they’ll each get a three-week placement in our own salon so we can really focus on the individuals… their confidence, timekeeping, all the basic stuff to underpin any employment.”
It seems they really have thought of everything. They will even have a fully stocked fridge and freezer, uniforms and washing/drying facilities.
“We want to remove as many barriers as we can,” Tony declares.
The project will begin with an eight-week pilot exercise before launching into its permanent, full-time role.
“It’s good to have a purpose,” concludes Thomas, “and to be giving something back. It’s about breaking the cycle for these young people.”
For more information and to keep up-to-date with the charity’s news, follow Haus of Seisay on Facebook or Instagram.