Words by Abi Scaife
Who knew a haircut could do so much good?
“I walked into Ben's barbershop in 2015 just looking for a haircut. We spoke about football and music and relationships and whatever else,” says Jack. Jack Baxter is one of the co-founders of The New Normal, a grief support charity, and he is recounting their humble beginnings. “Then I told him that my dad, Dave, was sadly dead. Ben's dad Steve was dying of a brain tumour, and we connected over that bond.”
“The conversations that Jack and I had in that barber chair [were] what sparked the foundation of our charity,” adds Benjamin May, the other co-founder and Global Lead at The New Normal. “We found that our commonality and conversation was the thing that gave us support. We decided that we wanted to give that support to more people.”
Thanks to a chance connection in a barber shop on Portobello Road, Ben and Jack are changing so many lives for the better. Grief is something that, sadly, we all have to deal with at some point in our lives - whether that’s through the loss of a friend, parent, or grandparent.
There’s no escaping grief, or the feelings of loss, and if you aren’t careful it can become overwhelming. Talking about your grief with a friend, a professional, or someone who can relate is just one of the ways to help.
“We continued to see one another outside of the barber chair. And then when Steve passed, sadly, in 2016, I welcomed Ben into the Dead Dad Club, as I called it then,” says Jack. “What we found was talking to one another really gave us the space we needed to understand the grief that we were going through.”
In 2018, Jack had what he described as a mental breakdown, and was encouraged by his mother to visit an ‘anxiety retreat’ - something he is incredibly grateful for.
Upon his return, he began talking seriously with Ben about grief, and how their conversations helped them cope better - and the rest, as they say, is history.
That year, Ben and Jack created The New Normal, a charity designed to help people navigate and work through their grief through peer support and conversation. They drew on the experience they had in their friendship with each other and encouraged others to follow suit.
“We sat down in a room with five strangers on the 21st of May 2018 for two hours. We spoke about our grief, about the people that we love, the people that were lost,” explains Ben. “And again, we found exactly that same support that Jack and I had, but here we were doing it in a group setting. That was the very first Good Grief meeting.”
Good Grief is a peer-to-peer support meeting organised by The New Normal - a chance for anyone who has experienced loss and grief to turn up and talk about how they are feeling with those who understand.
What started off as a single meeting with Ben, Jack and five complete strangers has turned into a global movement towards talking about grief. Today, Good Grief meetings take place online and in person, with specific factions in the Americas and Hong Kong, as well as the original UK meetings.
“People were coming who hadn't talked about their grief, hadn't spoken about their people for almost two decades - it was like, why is this happening now?” adds Jack. “But we'd found this sacred space, it just felt like when you walked into that room, you were in this bubble.”
To date, the New Normal has hosted 950 meetings for 8000 people around the world from 24 different countries. Their compassionate, peer-focused approach to understanding and navigating grief is helping people from all different backgrounds, who are grieving all kinds of relationships.
“As we've grown and evolved, we started to serve different communities,” explains Ben. “We acknowledged that our grief, what we had in … our relationship with our dads wasn't always what other people were experiencing.”
To that end, even more groups launched - Queer Good Grief and Black and Brown Good Grief are aimed at those in the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour who are grieving. Peer support looks different for everyone - and as Ben and Jack were able to open up based on their common ground, the aim is for these groups to make it easier for others.
“All of us are experiencing grief. All of us need a space to be able to speak,” says Ben. “That's why our meetings are there. They're completely free. We don't charge - we don't believe in charging people for access to mental health and bereavement care.”
Ultimately, the New Normal is about connection - bringing together those with shared experiences to help them process their struggles.
“At the charity, we always say if there's one, there's two. There's always someone going through something similar to you, although not exactly the same - someone that can understand,” says Jack. “Come to the New Normal, speak to us, we'll find the right space for you. And hopefully, you'll find your two.”
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
The New Normal. This charity is a completely free alternative to one-on-one therapy. Changing the way we discuss our grief, mental health and well-being in open and honest spaces.
The Good Grief Trust. This charity is providing vital resources for people experiencing bereavement, offering comfort, practical support and the knowledge that they are not alone.
The Loss Foundation. This charity is the only UK charity dedicated solely to providing bereavement support following the loss of a loved one to cancer.