An inspirational lecturer proves women can be a cut above as part of International Women's Day

A stunned Alison Brightwell receiving her teaching award.
A stunned Alison Brightwell receiving her teaching award.

As the world marks International Women's Day we take a look at one female barber who is blazing a trail in the industry.

Childhood wasn’t easy for Alison Brightwell who was diagnosed at a very young age with a rare form of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma.

Alison Brightwell becomes the first female Grand Master Barber.

Alison Brightwell becomes the first female Grand Master Barber.

She and her family lived through a very scary time, full of treatment and hospitals, which 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 is a tour-de-force in the barbering industry - the first ever female Grand Master Barber.

Alison Brightwell - an inspirational lecturer at East Durham College.

Alison Brightwell - an inspirational lecturer at East Durham College.

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, becoming the first female British Master Barber, a highly prestigious title only given to the very best in the barbering industry, in 2014.

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.

She said: “It was a huge honour to be presented with the Grand Master title. 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.”

Alison Brightwell with some of her barbering students.

Alison Brightwell with some of her barbering students.

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.

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.

Honoured just to be nominated, Alison was shocked when she won, saying: "It just didn’t sink in for a while. 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. She still works in the industry and is regularly invited to prestigious hairdressing events around the UK, where she presents barbering live on stage.

On top of all this, she’s a campaigner for CHECT, the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, which specialises in support for families of children with retinoblastoma, just like Alison.

Her message to other women today is: "Don’t let anything hold you back from pursuing your dream. 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."