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Cardiff Character: Alan Hillman

Classically trained barber Alan Hillman explains how his kind of shop is instrumental in the survival of local communities

Alan's cozy but neat barber shop makes a difference in the neighbourhood

Hidden away in Cathays is a small but pristine gents’ barbershop, owned by 54-year old Alan Hillman. This shop has been his for over 16 years now. He has been in the trade all his life and finally opened up this shop after years of working in other establishments. “I did an apprenticeship when I was 15, so I carried on and I just worked right through. I suppose that years ago I wanted to do something else, but then when you know something very well, you stick to what you know. I like getting on with people actually, so it’s just one of those things,” he says with a decisive nod after thinking through the path his life has taken. “I own the property now, so I’ll stay here until I retire, whenever, and decide what I’ll do then,” Alan says when asked about retirement, looking as though he never even considered it.

Born and bred in Cardiff, Alan has seen the city centre change gradually since he was a boy, and is doubtful about recent developments. “I still think that the city centre has lost something. St. David’s 2 has got the big shops, and they seem to have concentrated on the designer labels. They’ve lost a lot through the smaller shops. Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer the character of the smaller shops.”

However, Cardiff was a nice city to grow up in, Alan asserts confidently. “It’s a nice place to grow up. A lot of parks, like Roath Park, and the Castle. Not too big, not too small, and easily accessible. It’s a nice city.”

Sense of community

This local background is an advantage in Alan’s business. He has a steady client base and a long list of regulars with whom he has developed a close relationship. With a mischievous smile on his face, he says that this can make for some interesting conversations sometimes. “They tell me everything, it’s very interesting. They tell me secrets as well, you’d be surprised what I do here. It’s almost like a sanctuary; you’d be surprised at what they say in the chair, it’s almost like they want to talk to you, I suppose. Away from the outside world.”

Alan says that small shops like his, with their personal approach, are what keeps a community going. Chain stores might have designer brands, but he still prefers the classic main street. “A main street is vital. I think it should be looked after, it should be cherished, and small shops should be helped to keep going. People go there because they like the human contact. You don’t really get that with a massive chain.”

Finally, Alan explains earnestly how he has achieved that same comfortable atmosphere in his own shop for the past 16 years. “When you work with people it always pays to have a good memory. People like to be remembered. If you’ve got a good memory, and you can remember something about somebody, whatever it is, that will override technology. Technology will help you along, but we’re all still human beings, aren’t we.”