From South American armed car jacking to Doncaster Christian hair salon
Mum Paula Ashkenazi was just dropping her baby off at a nursery.
She had climbed out of the car, and rang the bell, ready to go round and get her four month old baby out of the vehicle.
But before she could get back to the car, a man leapt into the drivers seat. He had a gun.
Paula screamed at him to give her son back to her. Eventually, the man realised there was a baby in the car, and handed it over. At that point, she looked around and realised there was a crowd of people around her. It was a whole gang, with its members pointing guns at her.
She and her baby left with the car, and she rushed into the nursery.
That was in Guatamala, before the Mexborough lass returned to her home town after 30 years working away.
After that, she feels that nothing South Yorkshire can throw at her will faze her.
She has just started a new job in Mexborough – running what the community believes to be a first. It is a Christian hair salon, with a prayer room.
Some friends told her Mexborough could be rough when she said she was opening the salon, Heavenly Hairspray, at Main Street. She says nothing is likely to worry her after what she went through that day in South America.
“I was just glad that I got my baby back safely,” she said.
Paula, a committed Christian, is running the business at a property bought by another Christian, Chris Green, who has set up the business as part of a wider project which will also see a community centre on the upstairs floor. They will hold prayer meetings there, as well as other activities
Chris has moved to Mexborough from Uxbridge, after taking early retirement from his job as an accountant, and is keen to work in the community, especially helping people from deprived or vulnerable backgrounds.
The community centre will work with such groups as well as holding its prayer meetings. A financial adviser will be holding sessions to help people with budgeting, which he says has become an issue since Universal Credit started to be introduced, meaning people have rent money paid directly to them rather than their landlords.
Hairdresser Paula left Mexborough aged 21, initially getting a job on the QE2 cruise ship. On her return to England, she saw a job advert in the Free Press for a hairdressing job in Guatamala. She got the job. She planned to stay for a year, but ended up living there for 10 years, meeting her husband, who worked for an overseas government, while she was there.
After getting married, the family moved to New York and then to Venzuela and Panama.
She said: “I’m from Mexborough, but I ended up in Panama. I arrived back in England and was going to open a salon.”
Her original salon plan fell through, but she was offered a job by Chris, running the Christian salon he was setting up in Doncaster.
The salon was opened in December, by Baroness Caroline Cox.
But Chris wants it to be more than a hair salon. He wanted to do something to help the community.
The community room is already up and running, and is used by a non-denominational prayer group every Tuesday. He is looking for groups who can use the community centre.
He said: “This is one of the poorest areas in the country. It is a deprived community and one of the things about being poor, which we know from talking to people, is that you can feel forgotten. Mexborough has problems with drugs and so on, but there are wonderful people here who are just hard-up.
“We believe this is the place for our salon, and that is why we have done it up.”
Before the salon, the building had been occupied by the Guinness Trust housing association.
Chris said: “We have done the upstairs so we can do teaching and training and community meetings, and we are begining to get into that,” he said. “There is a lady who has skills in teaching English as a second language who is teaching refugees. We have a lady keen to talk financial management with people who are struggling with that.”
There will also be a counsellor operating from the building.
“There is a need in the community,” he said.
Chris retired aged 57, and took a degree in theology and leadership. He decided he wanted to work to help vulnerable people.
With his son already living in Mexborough and having met a woman from the town, he decided to move there too. Having moved to the town in April 2018, he started voluntary work there before setting up the salon project, and joined the Mexborough Life Church.
He also wants to work with disabled people at the venue, and is adapting it so that it will be fully accessible for disabled people. He will organise a minibus for transport.