Rowena Clarke, Julia Wright, Shelbie Webb, Nick Malenko, Cllr Maxine Clarke, Royston Blythe

Students with learning differences have combs and brushes at the ready at a new dedicated hair and beauty training salon in the West Midlands, which was opened by award winning stylists to the stars, Royston Blythe and Nick Malenko.

The Smile & Style salon has been developed by employment charity Landau at its Newstead training and enterprise centre in Stoke, which has remained open throughout lockdown to support the most vulnerable in society and to ensure those with learning differences receive the support they need.

Attending the opening alongside Blurton West and Newstead councillor Maxine Clark and salon trainees Shelbie Webb and Rowena Clarke were Royston Blythe and Nick Malenko, directors of award-winning West Midlands-based Royston Blythe Hair Salons and stylist to celebrities including Katy Perry and Jackie Collins.

The celebrity hairdressing duo pledged to return to the training centre later in the year and extended an invitation to trainees to visit them in their salon too. Nick also provided words of wisdom to the trainee students, saying: “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something — you can, because you are you.”

The salon features the latest hair and beauty equipment thanks to a partnership with specialist British manufacturer REM, known across the world for its hair and beauty salon production facilities.

Sonia Roberts, CEO of Landau, said the salon would support students working towards achieving NOCN Entry Level, Level 1 and Level 2 Vocational Studies qualifications in hair and beauty.

“We are so excited the salon is finished and can open as a facility for students under current government guidance for learners taking part in vocational training.

“It’s a superb addition to our existing facilities at Stoke and means we can support those service users with an interest in the health and beauty sector to gain the skills and qualifications they need to go on and gain employment in the industry.

“Until now, the training for our students has been largely theory-based but with the salon open, they can put all their knowledge and skills into practice.”

Investment in the disability friendly salon follows an increase in demand for vocational training opportunities for young people.

The charity, which is headquartered in Telford, has already started advertising for its September placements and will be opening the salon to the community to offer hair appointments to local residents once restrictions ease next week.

Stoke Training Services Manager, Sharon Bradshaw, added: “We are all very excited about the opening of the new salon. It’s a wonderful addition to the centre and broadens opportunities for our service users to gain new skills in a specialist area of work.

“We currently only have a small cohort of students using the salon at any one time and have guidelines in place to make sure everyone is kept safe.”

Landau has been operating its Stoke training and enterprise centre for the last five years, providing a range of opportunities for those with learning differences through its Creating Futures – Skills and Enterprise Programme.

Landau offers a wide range of qualifications from Entry Level to Level 2 courses in Employability, Functional Skills Maths, English and ICT as well as vocational led qualifications in Hair and Beauty, Horticulture, Hospitality and Catering, Sport and Leisure, Health and Social Care and Business Administration.