In an age dominated by conflict and crisis, a new generation is inspiring change from the ground up — like Joshua Coombes, whose mission to draw attention to homelessness has snowballed into a global movement, one cut at a time.
Chris hadn’t had a haircut since before Christmas, waiting for
the warmer weather to come. After a few years on the street he
still has a real positive outlook on the future, telling me ‘Life starts
at 30, mate.’ #dosomethingfornothing
— April 30, 2015
In a time when social media can amplify the most mediocre talents, and make a cause célèbre out of the most banal of subjects, there are also more important messages getting through; alternative lifestyle choices that don’t involve where you shop, or how much you spend — but involve transactions of a different nature.
You may or may not have heard of Joshua Coombes. If it was up to him, you probably wouldn’t know who he was; it’s the other stories, of the homeless people he meets and gives free haircuts to on streets all over the world, that have moved him to act. But Coombes’ own story is important to the message he is trying to get out; a message which moves beyond the stories of homelessness he shares on his Instagram feed — tagged #DoSomethingForNothing — to include us all.
It all started three years ago. At the time, Coombes was a hairdresser, working in salons in his native Devon. On the street one day, on his way to cut a mate’s hair, he happened to pass a homeless man whom he’d spoken with before. He decided to stop and ask if the man would like a haircut.
Just like that, from one spontaneous gesture, a whole movement was born — although it’s only been in the past two years that Coombes has fully devoted himself to this new life. There’s no more working in salons; instead, he goes out to the streets, either giving haircuts or talking about them. He’s been able to integrate paid speaking engagements with free ones, and to travel the world in his quest to reach more people.
He freely admits he doesn’t have a lot of money (he sublets his room in London when he travels, and lives pretty much month-to-month). But he also doesn’t worry about it, which is an important part of the message he is trying to get across; you can make things work. You don’t have to wait until you have it all sorted — the big bank account, the career.
As part of his campaigning, Coombes visits schools and speaks to young people. He admits to struggling to find the right balance when talking to kids; “It’s my truth. And I’m aware that this message will look different to different people. But the message is more that when you have a purpose to what you do, your life and everything else stems from that — it becomes a lot more real. Do whatever you want, go for the career, or whatever, but think about what is going to be your purpose.”
Coombes began his project on the streets of Exeter, and then in South London. But as he began to travel more — Paris, New York, LA, Ecuador, Alaska — an idea took hold. That’s what drives him now; the idea that a lot of people are unhappy with what they are doing, and how they are feeling. And not just homeless people.
What he’s learned from doing this is the power of serving others, and how we can use it to serve ourselves by giving purpose to our lives. This, in essence, is what the #DoSomethingForNothing campaign is all about.
The idea is to try to focus on the way we interact with one another every day. And that is the message he’s been amplifying on social media; “The haircutting has morphed into this message I’m trying to get across. But it’s not mine. It’s yours. It’s everyone’s. When you use your creativity, it’s no longer charity, it’s something everyone can engage with; thinking about what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning, and using this to connect and engage.”
(This original article continues in our Issue Eleven)