‘Life-changing’ charity delighted to be handed new Exeter HQ

Mary Pugsley with her Hair@theAcademy team: L-R: ?Jodie, Julie, Claire, Mary, Vicky, Leah and Tyler.

Mary Pugsley with her Hair@theAcademy team: L-R: ?Jodie, Julie, Claire, Mary, Vicky, Leah and Tyler. Photo: Hair@TheAcademy - Credit: Archant

Unique Devon hair charity delighted to have been donated new premises in Exeter

The new salon at the Cornerstone. Photo: Glen King

The new salon at the Cornerstone. Photo: Glen King - Credit: Archant

Mary Pugsley set up Hair@theAcademy in 2004 at Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, operating from a small salon.

A specialist training programme - the only one of its kind in the UK - Hair@theAcademy trains vulnerable young adults furthest away from education, in care, with complex needs and the homeless, achieving an outstanding 96% success record of getting students into paid employment or further education. All tutors are former learners.

Mary says: “Our ethos is ‘Education to Employment’ working with vulnerable young people in our community from all kinds of backgrounds and circumstances, including many who have nowhere else to go. We support them towards completion of work-ready qualifications delivering hairdressing, barbering, customer service, maths and English.”

Following relocation of The Deaf Academy to Exmouth, it was a race against time to find suitable premises to continue promoting inclusion, reduce exclusion, eliminate barriers to learning and participation for all those hard to reach students and expand provision to meet growing need.

Abi Hart was the first Hair@theAcademy student to view new salon with Mary Pugsley. Photo: Glen King

Abi Hart was the first Hair@theAcademy student to view new salon with Mary Pugsley. Photo: Glen King - Credit: Archant

Then The Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen came to Mary’s rescue, purchasing freehold property Cornerstone, so she could continue her good works. As part of its work the Exeter charity, based at the unique medieval Tuckers Hall in Fore Street, provides support for disadvantaged young people aged 16-25 to receive training and assistance to enable them into employment. This fitted perfectly with Hair@theAcademy’s delivery programme.

Current Master Ian Gardner says: “We’re absolutely delighted to help Mary and her team continue their amazing works helping the disadvantaged, thus relieving the financial burden on both the city and local community.”

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Mary comments: “It has been such a challenging journey so it was beyond my wildest dreams when the charity generously helped us expand into a wonderful new salon. It’s life-changing for so many in need and I feel so humble and grateful to them.”

Mary Pugsley proudly shows off her MBE, having received it at Buckingham Palace. Photo: Mary Pugsley

Mary Pugsley proudly shows off her MBE, having received it at Buckingham Palace. Photo: Mary Pugsley - Credit: Archant

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Local contractors converted the ground floor of Cornerstone into a new training salon including beauty rooms for massage and nails; a theory room; disabled toilet; an office for confidential meetings with social workers, and much needed breakout area for students. Upstairs, a generous office space is available to rent to bring in income to help Hair@theAcademy fund its training programme.

Devon-based construction professionals embraced the community spirit by offering specialist knowledge and services for free, helped to keep refurbishment costs down.

Plymouth Architects Design Group is known to support local causes using in-house expertise to ‘aid society’ where they feel it makes a difference. Dale Beeson, director, says: “ADG were keen to help as this project fits our CSR philosophy.

“We used our extensive experience to consider how best to meet the needs of students and space, including provision of initial plan layouts and general notes of any technical issues to be considered.”

Hoare Lea, an engineering consultancy with a creative team of engineers, designers, and technical specialists, provides mechanical, electrical, and public health (MEP), environmental and sustainability services. Surveying the premises, Karl Friedrich, partner at the Plymouth office, offered professional consultancy advice in terms of a realistic appraisal of the building to make it suitable for purpose.

Exeter Independent CAP Ceilings & Partitions Ltd, is one of the fastest growing interiors contractors in the UK. Co-owner Gary Rice offered professional advice, products and labour free of charge.

The striking external signage on Cornerstone was designed, installed, and donated by independent family-run Ken White Signs based in Tiverton.

Mary concludes: “It’s been like a local DIY SOS community project with generous support from so many professionals. I simply couldn’t have achieved these great results or afforded the cost of the conversion of Cornerstone without their help – thank you all for making a huge difference to those who need it most.”

Find out more here about the charity’s work


The Grade 2* Listed building now known as Tuckers Hall was built as a chapel for the Guild of Clothworkers.

2020 is the 400th anniversary of the granting of the Royal Charter to the Guild by King James I.

The woollen cloth trade thrived until 1800, at times making Exeter the third richest city outside London and a centre for international trade.

It is estimated that seven out of ten jobs were in the cloth trade during its heyday.

Numerous charitable endowments are recorded by the Guild from 1642 onwards, mostly directed at assisting and educating impoverished cloth workers.

Today the charity supports many local charities, including YMCA Exeter.


Did you know there is a Westminster MP for hairdressing and barbering? John McNally MP is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Hair Industry and a staunch supporter of Mary Pugsley and Hair@theAcademy.

The hair and beauty industry contributes £6.6billion annually to the UK economy with barbershops showing highest growth on the High Street.

With over 49,000 businesses, the hair and beauty sector employs almost 337,000 people across the UK.

The aim of the Hair and Barber Council (haircouncil.org.uk) is to raise standards, perception of the industry and improve professionalism in the sector.

The British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (BABTAC) is the longest established organisation in the industry.

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