More than just a haircut

Posted on Monday, July 23, 2018

Anne Donovan and François Thibeault in front of the bus.

Anne Donovan, an alumna and former uOttawa employee, and Francois Thibeault, a current uOttawa student and employee, co-founded The Rolling Barber.

By Laura Darche

When Anne Donovan met neighbourhood organizations around the University to talk about the idea of a free haircut service for the homeless, she quickly understood that what she was proposing was of real value for those she wished to help. Getting a new ’do helps for interviews and boosts confidence. But a sympathetic ear with coffee also meets an important need.

The community was excited about the project and many volunteered to cut or wash hair, design the logo and retrofit the bus for The Rolling Barber. Others donated goods, such as the barber’s chair, sink and renovation materials. Donovan and Thibeault also invested a few thousand dollars from their pockets for all that couldn’t be donated and launched a GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaign.

Getting out of the office

Anne donovan looking at her cell phone while sitting in the driver's seat.

A bus driver’s seat is a great place from which to manage social media! Anne Donovan had long been looking to give a hand to the homeless people she would run into regularly on the way to work at uOttawa. When talking with her hairdresser, now a Rolling Barber volunteer, the idea of offering free haircuts came to her. Becoming self-employed two years ago finally gave her time to make her project come to life and provide concrete help for people in the community.

The “skoolie”

François Thibeault standing by the bus door.

Converting a school bus into a camper trailer was an old dream of Thibeault. Two years ago, when Donovan was looking for a friendly and affordable weekly roof to welcome users and volunteers, he suggested that they combine their two projects. And that’s how the Rolling Barber was born.

A haircut isn’t everything, but…

Client before and after haircut.

Maurice was one of the Rolling Barber’s first clients, when the team was doing tests in a borrowed space this spring. Neighbourhood charities were delighted with the initiative. Already, the bus has appointments scheduled for every weekend until December!

Hair professionals who care

A volunteer hairdresser dries hair of a user.

Response from neighbourhood barbers and hairdressers was very positive, with 20 or so joining the team of volunteers. A representative of Monat hair care product manufacturer offered to be a sponsor and provided the Rolling Barber team with everything it needed. 

No rest for old buses

Bus seen from the front, next to a church.

The bus, a gift from school transport company M.L. Bradley, was on the verge of a well-deserved retirement, but Donovan and Thibeault had other plans. The volunteer team was hard at work for six days during a heat wave, removing seats, painting the bus’s interior and exterior, and installing the floor, mirrors, water tanks, barber chair, sink, plumbing and electricity.

A new look

Bus seen from the side.

Why a white bus? Because yellow is for school buses, and white absorbs less heat, as well. The July 15 soft launch was a good test to see whether it was comfortable in the bus. When the doors, windows and roof hatch were open, it wasn’t too hot, despite the blazing sun and the lack of air conditioning. On the bus’s first outing, 19 people were served.

Connected to the community

Bus seen from the back, with yellow extension cord.

The Rolling Barber will take turns parking near its charitable partners, including Centre 454, the Ottawa Mission, St. Joe’s Women’s Centre, Cornerstone Housing for Women, the Somerset West Community Health Centre and the John Howard Society of Ottawa. That way, the bus can use the partners’ electricity and offer free cuts to their clients.


Follow The Rolling Barber on Facebook.

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