INTERVIEW: JOSHUA COOMBES X #DOSOMETHINGFORNOTHING

Enter #DoSomethingForNothing; a cross-regional, philanthropic movement that (as its moniker suggests) is encouraging just that.

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Meet Joshua Coombes: The British hairdresser who’s changing lives… one haircut at a time.

Art has long been a refuge during troubling times or circumstances. It’s a universal language whereby (even the smallest) acts of creativity serve to illuminate, or magnify our shared experience. Stirring powerful emotions, provoking necessary thought or action and above all, reminding us of our basic, human connectedness.

Championing this phenomenon: British hairdresser and avid humanist Joshua Coombes, who’s found a way to channel his creativity and penchant for storytelling into an inspiring global crusade. One that’s amplifying the plights (and voices) of those who are all-too-often overlooked in society – and motivating others to do the same.

Enter #DoSomethingForNothing; a cross-regional, philanthropic movement that (as its moniker suggests) is encouraging just that.

Founded by Joshua, that something-for-nothing is a three-pronged endowment, requiring little more than his knack for hairdressing and an open mind. Joshua offers free haircuts to individuals experiencing homelessness, lending a compassionate ear to their stories and (with permission) sharing these accounts via social media and other creative platforms.

“#DoSomethingForNothing began just over four years ago,” starts Joshua. “I was working in a salon in London and my eyes were opened to just how many people were living on the streets. And the figure was only increasing. Like anyone, I wanted to do something – anything to help.”

As for his first interaction, “It was after salon hours and I was on my way to another job. I met someone on the streets who I ended up sharing a long conversation with – when it hit me. I had my scissors and clippers on me, so I asked if he would like a free haircut. That moment was my first true entry into this new life chapter.”

“I’d always believed in the power of humans coming together as strangers, and sharing something [mutually] beneficial,” continues Joshua. “But this experience was truely something different.” Realising the incredible impact he could make on the lives of others – and the simple means by which he could restore an individual’s self worth and dignity – Joshua felt compelled to continue.

Soon the British native was providing free haircuts to a (literal) lineup of men, women and children experiencing homelessness across London. Next, Los Angeles, and before too long… the world. Though it wasn’t until Joshua began sharing his sitters’ ‘before and after’ shots – with the hashtag #DoSomethingForNothing – that the project began to really materialise.

The rest is, well history.

“In the beginning, I questioned how I should interact with people who had experienced such large degrees of isolation – people who had undergone so much pain,” shares Joshua. “It seems so obvious now, but it turned out the best means of connecting was to behave authentically – to interact in the same way I would with my friends or salon clients.

I made the decision to start sharing my sitters’ stories as I knew there were people out there who felt the same way I did. So many people feel hopeless or anxious about the state of the world (and rightly so), but our message was one of hope. You still have the power to enact change – even if you’re only one person.”

When asked about the importance of ongoing coverage and social support in shedding light on his work and the plight of the underprivileged (thus far the movement has received extensive media coverage, including a BBC short and an appearance on Netflix’s ‘The Story of Us’), Joshua’s answer is characteristically modest.

“I’m forever working on new ways that I can share stories. Coverage and press is important, but the heroes of these stories will always be the individuals I’m meeting. These stories need to be told in a way that can echo in people’s hearts – to motivate others to help in similar ways.”

One such mode of new storytelling? A multi-media exhibition titled ‘Do Something for Nothing: Light and Noise’, aimed at increasing the visibility of those experiencing homelessness – while amplifying their stories on a mass scale through a curation of stirring photographs and painted renderings.

Brainchild of Joshua and Welsh artist Jamie Morrison, the collection most recently graced Melbourne’s hip Brunswick region – thanks in part to haircare heroes (and advocates of authenticity) evo. A brand which Joshua holds in high regard, having collaborated with the team on their industry lauded, ‘Don’t Buy It‘ campaign.

All exhibition proceeds went to Melbourne based outfit HoMie; an organisation that supports young individuals affected by homelessness or hardship by equipping each with the necessary skills and education to support their working futures. The group also helps to dismantle negative perceptions surrounding homelessness – an effort at the core of Joshua’s ethos.

“I’ve always aimed to humanise,” says Joshua. “It’s normal to look at different people [with a certain lens], but when you consider people experiencing homelessness, they [unfortunately] tend to look a little different. You have to get past those gritty or [seemingly unpleasant] sensory elements, and consider the person in front of you.

The [before and after] pictures help to dissolve the [preconceived image of homelessness] and draw people in, but its their stories that hold the most power and relevance.

The hope is that through these accounts, people will not only dismantle, or dissolve their [preconceived ideas] but also feel compelled to learn more – to consider those nuances that are relatable to their own lives. Oftentimes, these individuals may have held similar jobs to those who are reading about them. Everyone has their own story.

Unfortunately the stigma and stereotypes will always be there, but it’s my hope that these stories will continue to help change these perceptions. Out of the hundreds of people I’ve given haircuts to, I’ve never once felt threatened or experienced any violence. It’s important to go in there with a genuine approach.

We all have the capacity to listen to each other, unconditionally and non-judgementally. Sure it may be harder to do with strangers, but there’s a huge group of people who are just like us – people who have fallen through the cracks, and yet are some of the most magical people you will ever encounter.”

When asked to share the most profound insight he’s garnered over the course of his crusade, Joshua responds, “Back when I was working in the salon, I used to think I knew how to listen to my clients. But over the past few years, I’ve learnt to how to truely listen – so much so that my mind isn’t reaching for anything else.

I’ve had so many special moments with these people. Moments in which I’ve simply been looking at them and receiving what they’re saying – while they’re receiving what I’m saying. It’s this act of being completely present. I’m constantly working to strengthen this skill, and it doesn’t always happen – but when it does, there’s no greater or more profound truth you can experience.”

And that my friends, is a true reminder of what it means to be human. A reminder for which we’re all incredibly grateful.

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This is Joe. PART 1 It was business as usual at Kings Cross train station. People walking hastily in every direction to catch trains they’re running late for, as others look up at the screens waiting for their platforms to be announced. I watched Joe sit with his head down and I wondered how long he’d been there. I said hello and he looked up… I asked him how he was. He nodded and said ‘I’ve been better, but thanks for asking.’ I suppose a question like ‘How are you?’ can seem redundant when the person you’re asking is clearly in a difficult spot. I fee that’s when it’s even more important to ask. I sat down and we had a chat. When I asked Joe if he wanted a haircut, he jumped up and said – “No way! Really?? That’s mad because I was saying to myself today, the next time I make a tenner, I’m gonna go and get myself a haircut.” We wondered around the corner to a quieter street to talk some more. Joe – “I was a boxer and I was a good one at that. I grew up in a rough part of Northern Ireland. The kind of place where big dreams disappear quickly. One person I knew got into boxing. You had to find something to draw your focus to. It was that, or get yourself into all kinds of trouble. It was difficult to get out of the estate that I grew up on…” But Joe did get out and travelled far. From the U.K. to living in the U.S, then Australia for some time. “Once upon a time I was fighting a lot. I had a manager for a while and he was able to get me some good fights. started moving around a fair bit. I enjoyed it. I was in shape. You wouldn’t believe it would you?” Joe said with a smile. “I loved being in Australia. That’s when I stopped boxing. I wanted to make a new life there. I’ve always worked all kinds of other jobs, lots of construction and things where I’m using my hands. But my visa crept up on me and one day they sent me back… There’s no life for me back in Northern Ireland so I came to London.” ~ Part 2 this week. #DoSomethingForNothing

A post shared by Joshua Coombes (@joshuacoombes) on

Join the movement. Follow the hashtag #DoSomethingForNothing on instagram (be sure to switch on notifications), or visit @joshuacoombes for more information.

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