Ulster Cancer Foundation
How did you get into your position?
The post to head up the Ulster Cancer Foundation’s new service, Beauty for Life, was advertised on a job website. It was the first I’d seen for a long time that I thought would be ideal for me. I applied and was called back for a second interview which included a make-up demonstration in front of a group of six or eight women. I was absolutely delighted when I was offered the job.
Did you always want to work in this sector?
I’d never worked in the charity sector before. After my mother became ill I gave up my job as a beauty therapist and became her main carer. When I painted her nails or put some tan on her face it made the difference between her staying in bed all day and getting up. After she passed away, the idea of working for a charity really struck a chord. This job seemed perfect for me. My sister actually said it was my calling.
What training do you have that has helped you in your current role?
I’ve been in the beauty industry for about 10 years and owned my own salon in Belfast for seven years. After A-levels I did a HND in Beauty Therapy at what is now the Belfast Metropolitan College. I got my first job in a salon at 19 and have gained various qualifications including my Assessor’s Award, which is a teaching qualification. I have trained a lot of employees and young college students in different areas of beauty to the standards that I would want.
What kind of treatments do you offer?
I’m trained in the full range of beauty treatments - manicures, pedicures, nail extensions, electrical facials, massage, waxing and electrolysis. However, at UCF I concentrate on facials, make-up and mini-manicures.
We have a tailored 30 minute facial specifically for cancer patients, using the sensitive range from Clarins, who support us. It gives patients time-out for pampering and relaxation.
Then I do a make-up application and give one-to-one advice. It’s great for people who have perhaps had hair and eyebrow loss. I give them tips on how to apply their make-up and eyebrows in a natural way.
Each patient gets one treatment. So far patients have been mainly women, but the service is for men too.
How do patients feel after the make-over?
Great, really uplifted. It’s a boost to their confidence and improves their sense of well-being. It’s all about enhancing their self-esteem and simply bringing a little bit of glamour back into their lives.
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
UCF is a Northern Ireland charity which raises funds for research into new and better treatments for cancer and for education programmes to help people reduce their risk of developing cancer. For example we run stop smoking clinics with businesses and in the community, have healthy lifestyle programmes for schools, and our Man Van mobile unit visits clubs, groups and events bringing health checks to men in rural areas.
We also provide free services for thousands of local cancer patients and their families such as Beauty for Life, bra-fitting, counselling, helpline, transport for hospital appointments, walking groups, yoga, Zest for Life, art and creative writing therapy, and a family support programme. And we have 11 shops.
Do you work outside the building?
I hold one-to-one sessions at UCF’s Belfast Service Centre. I also attend group support sessions or events all over Northern Ireland and I recently attended a UCF residential weekend at Corrymeela for families affected by cancer, which was a great success.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need for your job?
Always have a smile! You need to be friendly; patient, empathetic and sensitive. You also need to be confident in what you are doing, especially for make-up demonstrations.
I must have a gentle, soothing touch - I often get compliments about my hands being warm and soft. It is also very important to know when someone wants to talk and when they need some quiet time.
What are the biggest rewards of the job?
Making people feel good and making a difference when they are going through such a stressful time. It’s a joy to come in everyday when you know you are going to make someone feel a little bit better about themselves.
Everyone so far has seemed genuinely pleased after their makeover and I love to see the bounce in their step as they leave.
I really enjoy my job. When you run a beauty salon there is the stress of meeting targets and producing sales, which you don’t have with this job. You are just trying to do something good for people.
And the biggest challenge?
It can be difficult coping with sad stories, particularly when you know the people you are treating have terminal cancer. But their courage and determination to make the best of life is inspiring too.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
A priest once said that a smile costs nothing, always smile and greet people no matter if they are strangers or friends - we don’t know what is happening in others’ lives. We might be the only person who speaks to them all day and that can easily make their day.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I love to go camping with my family - I have two girls aged two and five who keep me busy. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan and have read all the books. I haven’t seen the new movie yet, I’m putting it off because I know it’s the end of the series.
My main interest is beauty. When I am shopping I go straight to the make-up counters to try new products. I like socialising too, but even when I see my friends it’s often to do their nails or tan.