Meet Josh Coombes, the guy cutting the hair of the homeless in London
‘It might not change their world but it might change how they feel on that day’
After the recent terrible events that have shaken the world, it is a breath of fresh air to hear about the people restoring our faith in humanity. Josh Coombes is a selfless young hairdresser from London, who takes to the streets on his days off and gives haircuts to the homeless.
He has always stopped to chat to the people on the street, so a year ago he decided to cut their hair as he had his equipment in his backpack. After that, he visited several cities in the South West and then made his way to London. It has now grown from Josh humbly posting a photo of the haircut online, to a global movement that encourages people to give up their time and use their skills to help others.
Initiated by Josh in 2015, the #DoSomethingForNothing movement has since been picked up by the Huffington Post, The Telegraph and the BBC. With friend and street photographer Matt Spracklen capturing the impressive imagery of the haircuts and CEO of Be Social Global Dave Burt providing a following of almost 2 million on Instagram, the idea went from a hashtag to a global movement.
We spoke to the 29-year-old Londoner to ask him where the inspiration for the movement came from.
Hi Josh. Thanks for chatting to us. So what made you decide to offer your hairdressing expertise to the homeless?
I was looking to do something more personal for these guys. A haircut is really important to give someone confidence or give them their dignity back but talking to them and making that connection is a huge part of it. It’s very much about the client and me. There have been times where I’ve cut up to 5 or 10 people’s hair in a day sometimes so it can almost turn into an outdoor salon. You approach these situations differently every time and you come across people who have history with mental health, abuse, drug additions, so it’s about being sensitive with your approach really.
When something awful happens in the world, I feel the same as everyone else: what can I do, this is a huge problem. This is sort of my answer to that.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being a street-hairdresser?
I’d say it’s making sure you’re prepared. We’ve got the technology with the cordless instruments so hairdressing can be quite mobile. My main priority is that my clients are comfortable so I make sure I’m prepared with face wipes and a neck collar as this maintains the salon experience despite being on the street.
This is Paul, 54 years old. I found Paul sat down on The Strand, one of the busiest streets in Central London. I wandered how many people he must see walking by each day. As soon as I approached him he gave me a big smile and I knew I'd enjoy getting to know this man. Paul was born in Yorkshire, he's been homeless for the last five years. After working as a mechanic for the majority of his career in the north of England, he moved up to Scotland to enjoy the next chapter of his life. Unfortunately things didn't work out quite as easy as he'd thought. Paul struggled finding work and when the money he had saved ran out he could no longer pay his rent. This led him to his first night on the street. Paul told me he got a cheap bus down to London, mainly because of slightly warmer climates and a new experience. He's been on the street here for the last few months and is hoping for a break soon, to get back on his feet again and back to a life he once knew. Meeting Paul was an experience I won't forget. We sat down and shared stories for an hour after his haircut and I couldn't have felt happier in his company. I could feel his confidence had increased ten fold. I thanked him for spending his time with me and letting me help him, doing what I love ✂️ #DoSomethingForNothing
What have you found is the best part of what you do?
I think the act of giving them the mirror at the end and seeing their reaction is what I remember from my experiences. They could be like “bish bash bosh, great job, thank you very much” and they’re happy because they don’t have to wash their hair so much, but sometimes you see their shoulders open up and their eyes are like “wow who’s this guy? I haven’t seen them in a while”. If you see any change in someone’s persona or attitude it’s so rewarding.
Do Something For Nothing can be one of those hit the streets and do good things ; help people out and show them there is humanity on the street.
What’s your vision for #DoSomethingForNothing?
This is already a global movement – with the help of Matt and Dave we’ve had posts from all over Europe as well as the US. We’re trying to create this platform to allow people to share their skills so our goal is to make this a big social movement by linking influences around the world through social media. We had 500 people meet in the middle of London and encouraged them to go out and Do Something For Nothing and spread the love all over the city. We’re like a band of brothers: we all bring something to the table.
I remember seeing the scar on Scott's face when shaving his beard. When I asked him about it he said – 'It happened when I was a lot younger and put it this way… it was no accident.' I realise at moments like this that everybody has a story. To find a way to connect with the people and listen to them can be important. #DoSomethingForNothing || ? @mattspracklen
If you could pass on one piece of advice to our readers, what would it be?
I’ve always done what I like doing. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to make a difference and inspire others to do just that. You get so much back from giving and I know that’s a centuries old ethos, but essentially it doesn’t have to be about anything. No matter what your religion, gender or ethnicity – it’s accessible to everyone. It’s about feeling empowered to be selfless. Essentially if you haven’t got a skill, just lending an ear can make a difference in itself.
What can students do to spread the #DoSomethingForNothing message?
Feel inspired to do this where you are. It doesn’t matter what your skill is, your time is the most important thing. Use social media as a good thing and use the hashtag to share your moments.
Check out the movement in action in the video below.