Volunteers’ Week | Maggie’s Swansea Volunteer, Lara

9th June

After being impacted by a friend’s passing due to cancer, Lara Johnson visited Maggie’s Swansea centre in the grounds of Singleton Hospital for support. Ten years later, the hairdresser with a salon in the city provides a free wig-cutting service at the centre which has proved invaluable to those for whom hair loss is a part of the cancer journey. 

Lara Johnson Lifestyle is an award-winning boutique salon in Mumbles and boasts an array of services like cutting, colouring, styling, perming, extensions and bridal hair, but around a decade ago, business owner Lara branched out into a much-needed – and perhaps overlooked – service: wig cutting and styling.

The service grew quickly and organically, proving to the stylist that it was a service people really wanted and needed.

The influx in queries about wigs coincided with Lara’s own cancer experience, as she lost a friend to the disease. After seeking support at Maggie’s, and subsequently being sought out by those with cancer for support with wigs, Lara reached out to offer her services for free.

“It was probably 10 years ago that we approached Maggie’s, and I’ve been volunteering here ever since,” she explained.

“I lost a friend around a year earlier through cancer, and I came here for a chat and for a bit of support. Once I came into the centre, I just realised it was a unique place.

“It was so lovely to have that support and it coincided with a time when lots of clients were phoning us up in the salon asking about wig-cutting services. 

“I’d never advertised it, it had just come about through word of mouth. In Swansea, there wasn’t anywhere people could go to have this kind of service. Over time, I realised that coming into a busy salon surrounded by people with lots of amazing hair probably wasn’t the right environment for someone going through a hair-loss journey. 

“I wanted to make a better, more unique experience for them, so I came to Maggie’s and I put together a proposal for borrowing a room here.”

The change of setting meant the experience could be more bespoke and personal, with cancer specialists on hand alongside Lara to offer additional support and information about hair loss and other impacts of cancer.

“It’s really all about building their confidence; explaining how to wear the wig, how to style it, and it’s giving them as much information as possible,” Lara continued.

“We also cover things like why they have hair loss, the length of time you’d expect to have hair loss, how long it can take for the hair to grow back. 

“All of those questions are answered and it’s done in a comfortable environment. 

“I’d encourage anyone to come along because I wouldn’t want someone struggling and not realising that they can come in and take on this amazing service that we’re providing.

“And when they come through the door for the wig service, they could then be introduced to all the other amazing things that Maggie’s offers.”

Lara Johnson Maggie's Swansea

As well as providing a way into Maggie’s for many people, Lara’s wig-cutting service also helps people retain their identity as they undertake a difficult and often very stressful element of a cancer journey.

“I get a lot of feedback from the ladies who say that when they face a mastectomy or even a double mastectomy, incredibly they are strong and can deal with that, but what catches them out is the idea of losing all their hair, because hair can be someone’s identity,” added Lara.

“To lose your hair, sometimes as quickly as overnight, can be shattering.

“I’m very aware of that, so my job is to give them their confidence back.

“It’s really all about building their confidence explaining how to wear the wig, how to style it and it’s giving them as much information as possible so they feel comfortable wearing the wig in public.

“I provide a service where I help them choose a wig initially, and then I customise that wig to suit them and make them it feel more personal to them - that can be life-changing.

“I don’t want to charge, I don’t want to profit out of someone going through an awful experience. So I volunteer here and it’s lovely that clients and come here free of charge and we can give people the support they need.

“When you come through the door at Maggie’s, you can’t help but fall in love with it: the space, how calm it is. 

“It feels like you’re at home, we make it very welcoming but we always need volunteers in any charity service, and their jobs could be anything from greeting people, to making teas and coffees. 

“I’d really recommend that people get in touch and join as a volunteer, because you are much needed and I think it’s something we really appreciate.”