Katie Walker's story: opening a beauty salon after escaping her violent partner
When talking to beauty therapist Katie Walker about her past, it’s hard not to get emotional. Walker is a survivor of domestic violence who went on to fulfil her dream of starting a beauty business after escaping a violent partner. At her salon, Bella Mode in Liverpool, she uses her skills in hair and beauty, as well as openly talking about her story, to help victims going through the same thing.
In October 2017, she was honoured for her heroism with The Prince’s Trust Young Achiever trophy at the Pride of Britain Awards and is now fundraising to open a domestic violence centre above her salon. “I want to show other victims that if you go through something like this, it doesn’t have to take over your life,” says Walker. She is nothing short of inspirational.
After training in Beauty Therapy at Level 2 and working for several local salons, Katie’s childhood dream of opening her own salon came to a halt when her boyfriend at the time passed away. After some time, she began getting her life back on track and eventually met her new partner, who wasn’t as he initially appeared.
“I thought it was a really good relationship. I didn’t realise how much I was being controlled by him,” she says. “I cut off my friends and family and my personality changed. I wasn’t as passionate about things – like beauty – as I was before. My whole life revolved around him and I didn’t realise it.”
After seven months, the relationship came to a violent end when her then boyfriend beat her so savagely that he broke every bone in her face. Walker spent the next three months in and out of hospital having her face reconstructed by specialists from all over the country.
“The night it happened was the first time I had met his friends and maybe it was the introduction he couldn’t handle because there was so much control there,” she says. “The truth is I’ll never ever know why he did it.”
During the recovery process, Walker’s face collapsed and she had to have emergency surgery. “I had plates put in my face because the bones were broken in so many places,” she explains. “I never knew if my face was going to go back to normal. It’s horrible looking in the mirror and not being able to recognise yourself.”
Walker has since bravely shared photographs of her beaten face to help empower others to escape violent relationships, and her former boyfriend – who she has never named “because if I do the story becomes less about how you can get on with your life and more about him” – has been sentenced.
However, Walker found it hard to readjust to normal life, suffering with depression and anxiety. “I closed myself off from the world and wouldn’t leave the house. I kept asking myself, ‘How could he do this? and ‘Why did it happen to me?’, but as soon as I stopped asking myself those questions and fixating on it, it was a relief. The control stopped and I could breathe again.”
Walker’s counsellor suggested she meet with The Prince’s Trust and take part in their Enterprise Programme for new businesses. It was there that she got the support and confidence she needed to open her salon in 2013, offering make-up, nails, waxing and hair treatments to clients using brands Salon System, Gellux, Just Wax, and L’Oréal Professional.
“Helping others feel good about themselves made me feel really good, so the more I got back into work, the more I improved. I started getting back to the person I was and sharing my story with others was a relief, like a weight off my shoulders” she adds.
Image: Katie during her recovery process
Now, Walker is fundraising to transform the two floors above her salon in Liverpool into a domestic violence centre where women suffering from abuse will be taught hair and beauty techniques, as well as offering counselling, confidenceboosting and self-defence classes. “I want to make these women feel good about themselves and have more confidence so they feel brave enough to open up about what’s happening to them,” says Walker.
To open the centre and keep it running for a year, Walker needs to fundraise £72,000, and since launching her JustGiving page last month, she’s already had £6,000 in donations. The money will pay for the fit out and help staff the centre with counsellors, life coaches and more. “A lot of people are going through this sort of thing. In the UK alone there were 1.2 million reports of domestic violence last year and that’s only the ones getting reported,” she explains.
The therapists who work in her salon are also undertaking awareness training with Women’s Aid so they know the signs of abuse to look out for in clients and can equip them with the right tools to get help. “The problem is nobody talks about the warning signs – the sudden personality change, anxiety or sudden need to become closed off,” says Walker. “I want my therapists to be able to give clients advice and point them in the right direction of where to get help.”
And it’s working, with many women who visit Bella Mode opening up to Walker about their situation. “One client told me she didn’t even want to work after what she had been through, but now she realises she can carry on with her life. She just wanted support and a safe place to talk,” she says.
“People won’t necessarily open up to their family and friends but they will talk to their therapist, who often becomes the client’s friend. This is why, in my opinion, all therapists should undertake awareness training as part of qualifying to work in the industry.”
For any salon owners interested in awareness training for their therapists, Walker recommends looking for local charities to partner with. Walker’s biggest dream for her own training centre, however, is bringing the help she received full circle. “I want to give confidence back to other victims and hopefully they will go on to do beauty in another salon or learn how to become a counsellor, offering their services at my domestic violence centre.”
Image: Inside Walker's salon Bella Mode in Liverpool