Joshua Coombes was a fun loving musician and hairstylist in London. He loved his life, but he knew that he wanted a deeper connection with the world.
Flash forward to 2021 and he’s now the founder of #DoSomethingForNothing – a global social movement that encourages people to give their time for free, to those who need it most. From humble beginnings, this wonderful community project was born, after Joshua observed people sleeping rough.
“When I moved to London homelessness was in front of me every day”explains Joshua.
“I would often buy someone homeless a cup of tea, or give them some change, but I never really met them properly. I didn’t foster a conversation.” Like most of us Joshua didn’t know how to go further with this social problem. “The epiphany came one day when I had my things in my backpack and was on my way to cut a client’s hair outside of work for extra cash. But I didn’t end up making it there, because I saw a man who was sleeping rough and I had a chat with him and then offered him a haircut,” says Coombs.
Joshua quickly saw how cutting someone’s hair dismantled the barriers between them and how it became a transformative act. Five years on, Joshua says the real surprise is how much he’s learned from homeless people. While most people might be fearful about interacting with those suffering from mental illness or existing in such fraught circumstances, Joshua says he’s found the process incredibly enriching.
“I found the haircut really sat outside of their normal everyday experience,” he says. “That intimacy is something that matters when you are so isolated. For a lot of homeless people, their interactions are usually them needing something. Whether that be on the street from other homeless people or from charity shelters, or help with housing. It’s always needing something and it’s not a very dignified process. The healing power of a haircut Joshua says; “I think it’s about feeling seen, feeling transformed, giving them a sense of dignity, that sense of care and obviously with cutting hair there is also that element of touch that’s so important.”
“The stories I was hearing were just dissolving so many of the myths around homelessness. So I started telling, or rather re telling these stories on my Instagram and I would always sign off the posts with #dosomethingfornothing,” he says. From there his acts became contagious and he generated an overwhelming spirit of give back and generosity on the hashtag, small radical acts of love that fly in the face of a capitalist society based on money and self interest. This month Joshua’s book Do Something for Nothing will be released compiling the photographs and stories documenting his amazing work on the streets of Europe and America. More than 158,000 people now follow Joshua’s posts and he and his movement have attracted international media attention. In 2017, Joshua was featured in Morgan Freeman’s Netflix documentary The Story of Us.
“Stuff just started happening on the hashtag that was - just simple things - like helping someone to carry their shopping home or going into an elderly home and having a lunch with someone that didn’t have any family. Or maybe it was like a yoga teacher going into a rehabilitation facility and working with people - giving their time for free . And now for the last 5 years I have been going out and doing this ….. and it has been such an incredible journey where I have learned so much about myself and how to connect with a deeper part of my soul. It has given me a lot of growth as a person. ”Joshua Coombes, Founder of #dosomethingfornothing