"It's not about the haircut, it's about the people." It's nearly 5 years ago that Joshua Coombes, a hairdresser from London, first post under the hashtag #dosomethingfornothing, inspiring people all over the world to find the power in human connection. We caught up with Joshua for our Everyday Action series to find out how Do Something For Nothing came about, and what it means for people now.
Our Everyday Action series was originally created to explore how we can each make small changes to our every day, that can make a big impact in the wider world. Over the last 2 weeks the definition of Everyday Action has taken on a whole new meaning for us, as we get used to a new routine of taking every day as it comes - adapting and working together to understand how best we can make use of our time and still remain safely connected.
For now, our Everyday Action series will share stories, new ideas and inspiration direct from our community, as we go forward into unchartered territory, together.
Photography provided by Joshua Coombes | @dosomethingfornothing
Tell us a bit about yourself and how #dosomethingfornothing started?
Do Something For Nothing was born really from a need in me to connect more to the people around me. Especially in a city like London, where I live, which can sometimes feel like a disconnected place socially. What was really affecting me was walking past people who were living on the street, who were experiencing homelessness. I was doing what I could, the small things, giving someone a bit of change, or buying them a coffee, but I wasn't having that conversation, to press rewind and find out who they are, to know their story.
I was working in a salon as a hairdresser. I really enjoyed my job, I've always been a people person and you can't not be when you work in a salon. One day, I was on my way to cut a client's hair, and I didn't end up making it to their house. I stopped by someone who was living on the street and started to chat with them, after a while I remembered I had my kit in my bag so I asked if they wanted a haircut, why not. That was the beginning. After that, I realised I had tangible skills to reach out to people, but it's more than the haircut, it's about peoples stories and lives. It's about dissolving the stereotype that surrounds thousands of people in the UK.
The imagery and documentation of this movement became really important. Not long after I had met a few people, I decided to take a before and after photo a post their story underneath. I needed a hashtag, somewhere for this to love and for other people to get involved. Those 4 words, Do Something For Nothing, made as much sense to me as anything.
Why do you think #dosomethingfornothing is an important campaign for now?
I think Do Something For Nothing can be an answer to anxiety. It can make you feel empowered. You can get a real high from this, and it's OK to recognise that. I want to go out and give my time. it helps me find my inner self, not just what's on the surface. How we use social media within this movement I think binds the gap between what we think of volunteering and charity work to just reaching out to people. It's not you should do this, but that meeting more people from different backgrounds, this will help you grow. #dosomethingfornothing are four words for me to connect and inspire people for them to know we are all valuable as humans. You don't need to know the solution, just go out and connect with people.
You have met a lot of people through this project, tell us about one of your most memorable moments.
The first person who came to my head was a guy called Humberto. The reason he and his story is important to me is that it shows you don't need to bookmark or appoint the time that you give to someone. I met him when I was o a trip to Los Angeles, underneath a highway, at a 'tent city' where people in very difficult positions, like Humberto, were living. I offered him a haircut and he said that sounds good but first he has to go get his watch fixed. I ended up following him for the day to this different pawn and watch shops to try and help him get it fixed. It wasn't what we were doing but the raw and real experience with this man who is in a very different situation to me. Whilst we were walking around we saw someone passed out on the street, someone experiencing homelessness and just not in a good way. Humberto checked the bloke was OK, still alive, and then went into the local shop, bought a bottle of water and left it next to him. A moment, a small moment like that to see someone look out for others, even when they are in the gutter themselves - but I see this humanity all the time with people who are living on the street. Of course, there is pain, mixed up emotions, drugs and mental health issues, but they still look out for one another.
As you say, you see a lot of pain when you are meet people who are experiencing homelessness. How do you keep your own mental health in check?
I'm human too. I feel anxious and fearful of the world and all the problems that present themselves in it. When I first began Do Something For Nothing I ran into it at a million mph, but I didn't pause and download my thoughts. I have learnt and still learning, that I need to be compassionate to myself as well as others. I used to think that sounded selfish, but it's not. It's like that saying, you can't love others until you love yourself. So I do things for me; playing my guitar, eating good food - you have to do what's good for you.
I also try to find the positives and that gives me the energy to go out and keep doing it. It's important to recognise you've got to work for yourself too.
For those who want to #dosomethingfornothing, what one thing would your recommend?
People might look at me and think, great but I don't know what I can do, but you'll be surprised. I know yoga teachers who volunteer in meditation centres, and someone who just has lunch with an elderly person who doesn't have a family. It doesn't have to be about homelessness, it is about people. When I give a talk I say, write down three things you love and three things you feel compassions towards, places you want to make better in the world - and then join the dots up.
What does Everyday Action mean to you?
My benchmark is really low. We are all going to have good days, bad days and sometimes there is a thunderstorm that we can't prepare for. So for me, Everyday Action, is to be able to wake up each day and live in gratitude and be grateful for the small things that present themselves. Don't try to look to change the world or people. Change the way you live and look at the world. Keep yourself in check. Say hello to the bus driver - or the person living on the street.