Childhood wasn’t easy for Alison Brightwell.
Diagnosed at a very young age with a rare form of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma, Alison, and her family lived through a very scary time, full of treatment and hospitals. It all ended with Alison having to have her eye removed, to prevent the spread of the cancer further.
Fast forward a few decades, and you’d never suspect that Alison had such a difficult start in life. Now an accomplished barbering professional, Alison’s diagnosis and treatment hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dreams. If anything, it’s spurred her on even further.
Alison, from Peterlee in the North East, is a tour-de-force in the barbering industry. Having worked in the industry since leaving school, and owning her own salon for several years, Alison joined East Durham College, where she teaches the next generation of barbers.
Since joining the college, Alison has continued to blaze a trail for women in the barbering industry. In 2014, Alison was awarded the title of the first-ever female British Master Barber, a highly prestigious title only given to the very best in the barbering industry. In 2018, this status was enhanced even further as Alison was presented with the title of the first-ever female Grand Master Barber too – the highest award given out by the British Master Barber’s Alliance.
“It was a huge honour to be presented with the Grand Master title.” said Alison. “I was so shocked when I was awarded the Master Barber title, so to get the highest award they offer was a genuine surprise that I’m so thankful for.”
In addition to her Master and Grand Master barber titles, Alison shapes the very foundation of barbering education right here in the UK. As a member of the City & Guilds board for barbering, Alison is at the forefront of discussions when the barbering curriculum is reshaped to move with the trends of the day.
Her biggest achievement to date, however, has to the title she received in 2018. After being nominated by East Durham College for her incredible commitment to teaching, Alison won the title of the Times Educational Supplement Further Education Teacher of the Year, beating competition from a huge number of talented teachers from across the entire country.
You only have to look at the photos of Alison to see how shocked and humbled she was to receive the Teacher of the Year title. Visibly shaken and honoured just to be nominated for the award, Alison couldn’t believe she’d actually won.
“It just didn’t sink in for a while.’ said Alison. “I genuinely wasn’t expecting to get the award on the night and when they called my name…wow.”
It’s not difficult to see why Alison was given the award. Her passion for teaching is genuinely incredible, and Alison’s students benefit from her huge experience of working in the barbering industry.
Alison still works in the industry too, right here in the North East at Twins Studios in Norton, helping her to stay on-trend, and up-to-date with the latest techniques in the barbering industry. She is also regularly invited to prestigious hairdressing events around the UK, where she presents barbering live on stage to hairdressing professionals and event attendees.
On top of all this, she’s a campaigner for CHECT, the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, who specialises in support for families of children with retinoblastoma, just like Alison.
“Don’t let anything hold you back from pursuing your dream.” Alison said. “There’s nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it and have the right attitude and work ethic. I’m just a girl from the North East, and I can’t believe where I’ve got to now.”
Alison is truly a trailblazer in the industry. Not only a true symbol of determination for not letting her early childhood setbacks stop her, but also a trailblazer for women too, forging a path for female barbers to succeed in what is traditionally a male-dominated work path.