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The Bridge Interviews

Sue Lofthouse

Sue Lofthouse

September 2023

“… for the times, they are a- changing”

The change of ownership of Cameo, hairdressers to hundreds of local people for nigh on 40 years, is a moment to mark. By the time you read this issue of The Bridge, Sue Lofthouse will be approaching her final week as owner of Cameo, a business tucked away in Christmas Court off the High Street in Burford. It hasn’t always been there, of course; longer-established customers and locals will recall the salon at Grafton House, on T’cheur (the snicket on the south side of Sheep Street), and those with even longer memories will recall Sue’s sister Ann’s hairdressing business at Nova, on Witney Street.

Forty years at the helm have just flown by, Sue says. When she took on the lease at Grafton House on Sheep Street, Ann joined her and has looked after some of her customers for over 55 years; Sue’s longest-established customer is of merely 40 years’ standing. Sue has always loved hairdressing. It’s a job where building a trusted relationship with people is key. Hairdressing features high on the list of happy professions, she says. There are very few jobs where you touch someone, and that underpins the intimacy; people will confide in a trusted hairdresser in ways seldom found in other occupations.

Over the years, Sue has attended to the needs of famous people, titled people, children, the elderly, and those of all life stages in between, but most of all, to Burfordians. She tells the story of one Christmastime, on a Saturday with the salon fully booked, when an elderly, somewhat bewildered lady came in. She had no appointment, but knew she was to get her hair done for Christmas, so somehow she was squeezed in. She didn’t know her name, or where she was. It was only through ringing round the local taxi firms that Ann established who she was, and organised her being picked up. And only then did Sue and Ann establish that she had been dropped off at altogether the wrong hairdresser! Such care and kindness typify the Cameo approach.

Sue is convinced that, in hair styling, “what goes around, comes around”. At the outset of her career, everything was bouffant. The process was a set, then back combing, then placing/dressing the hair, and spraying almost to the solidity of a helmet. That arrangement would in all probability remain untouched until the following week when the whole thing was done again. For many, the time under the driers (no blow drying then) was an utter treat – an uninterrupted half hour with a cup of tea and a magazine.

Much has changed. Cubicles are gone (much to the annoyance of one local lady: “My charlady might see me having my hair done!”, said in outraged tone). Forward “Ogee basins” are gone – Sue has no regrets there – they caused much back pain. Perms for men (a footballer-led craze in the late 1960s and early 1970s) have faded, but Sue sees signs of a revival. Perms are Sue’s favourite work. The science and techniques of colouring have changed over time. Sue’s first training was at L’Oreal in Berkeley Square in London (now also gone), updated later by a course at Goldwell Academy in Mayfair.

It's not just in hairdressing that times have changed. Sue has seen the cash era give way to a hybrid of cash and cheques, and latterly to cards. Cheques were the most time-consuming to process as each one had to be written into the paying-in book, and cash far and away the dirtiest to process.

Conversations with customers have provided a rich source of helpful insight in her role as a town councillor, a role Sue has performed with diligence for 20 years. As a Chamber of Trade committee member, she and Gabi Schotten took on the revival of the wonderfully successful town fireworks’ display. Sue and Gabi now run it under the auspices of the town council, with essential support from our fire service team.

The change in ownership of Cameo to an experienced business-owner from Witney with her team of part-time professionals signals exciting new times. After the refit, Sue will return as a self-employed part-time member of the new team, looking after her regulars and easing the transition. The future will be strange, she says, but also a “huge relief”, allowing time for longer holidays to visit family in Australia, to garden, to do crafts and to get involved in building up the community in Burford.

It’s the colleagues and customers who have made the time fly by. As Sue steps away from the responsibility for business ownership, she has two messages – firstly a huge “thank you” to loyal customers, and secondly, “what’s coming next is exciting – just wait and see!”

Ruth Reavley

Sue Lofthouse
Sue Lofthouse
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