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A mother’s legacy

PROUD DAUGHTER: Karen Adenegon is helping to run the family business

FOR MOST people leaving behind a legacy is a dream and is usually hailed as a remarkable achievement.

The late Heslyn Smith, the first person to open an African Caribbean hair salon on Station Street East in Foleshill, Coventry in 1978 is one who has left a lasting legacy that is being enjoyed today by generations of people with African and Caribbean origins.

The well-respected community figure passed away in 2007, at 68, following a heart attack at her home on the Caribbean island of St Vincent where she and husband Oliver had retired after 52 years living in UK.

But her memory lives on at Heslyn’s Hair Salon, now in Corporation Street, and is run by her daughter Karen Adenegon and son Nigel Smith.

Karen said: “She had a passion for it and loved transforming someone and seeing the customers’ faces after doing their hair. They would say, ‘Is that my hair?’, or ‘My hair is really growing’ and ‘your hands are really good for my hair.’”

Heslyn, a regular at the West Indian Centre in Spon Street, started off doing her friends’ hair from her home, before expanding to the garage to accommodate the masses of people who were seeking her services.

The search for a permanent premises began and with a loan from the bank, Heslyn’s Hair Salon was born.

Karen added: “She was always a good listener, even young people speaking about the problems they were having with their parents, would seek her advice. She was like an Agony Aunt who was very encouraging. She was always smiling, laughing, and she was always happy. That’s what attracted people here to the salon, as well as her warmness towards people and the way she always wanted to help people.”

Renowned for providing a high quality service, good knowledge of African hair care and a great family atmosphere, the salon also has a trained a number of aspiring hair stylists who have gone on to open their own businesses.

“It’s a credit to my mum…we have trained so many people and then they come back and say thank you for the encouragement,” said Karen.

In 1985, Heslyn was named Coventry’s Business Woman of the Year by the Women Enterprise Development Association (WEDA), for her entrepreneurial achievements, and for inspiring others to follow suit.

Karen explained: “She paved the way for other black salons to open, and they would all come to her for advice.”


INSPIRATION: The late Heslyn Smith

As a well-known figure, the salon attracted clients from neighbouring areas of Leamington, Ruby, and Birmingham.

Even those who had moved as far as London would return to Coventry for their treatments.

REPUTATION

The salon has seen generations of families walking through its doors, with clients as long and as far back as over 30 years, and so has the privilege of an outstanding reputation and goodwill to bring in customers by word of mouth.

Karen added: “Their kids have kids and we keep on progressing and because we are Christians we believe the Lord plays a big part in bringing people in.”

With many clients returning time and again, Karen credited the family atmosphere, along with a place where you could relax, share problems, unwind and even reconnect with old friends.

“People will come in and say, ‘I remember when your mum used to do my hair’. I have a picture of her in the salon and they say ‘oh, she is looking down on you’. It is really good that people have kept on coming for such a long time, and have continued to support us. Because of our service the name speaks for itself.”

The unisex salon that includes barbering by Nigel thrives on the diversity of its clients.

“When mum set up there wasn’t a lot of people from Africa in Coventry, but we now have so many clients from South Africa and Zimbabwe that I’ve now learnt so much about the continent. We also have lots of Chinese clients because of Coventry University and the University of Warwick. It’s really good to meet different people.”

Karen and Nigel’s vision for the future is to open a black hairdressing academy and extend their expertise to others.

“I miss Mum dearly and wish that she was still here,” added Karen.

“She has left a great legacy, which we’ll never forget. We thank her for all that we have achieved, because if it wasn’t for her I don’t think Nigel and I would be here in this business. I might have gone down a different avenue, so it’s helped me a lot. I just hope others will be encouraged by her and her story.”

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