Philips Beard Trimmers and VICE have teamed up to present YOUdoYOU, which features creative and compassionate people who change the lives of society's most vulnerable.

Last year, 170,000 people in London were classified as homeless. Despite being one of the richest cities in the world, this figure continues to grow at an alarming rate. But while governments stand by and watch, there are those who aren’t willing to let them go unnoticed. This series of articles explores the stories of three people who have quit their day jobs and dedicated their lives to devising innovative and interactive ways of giving support to and building the confidence of society's most vulnerable.


No.1 — Joshua Coombes: Making a difference one trim at a time.

The 30 year old Londoner has turned his own feelings of guilt upside down, and created a viral hashtag that is spreading altruism across the world.


Under a bridge in Shoreditch, Josh Coombes is kneeling on a busy footpath as he cuts the hair of a young man called Jason. As the pair chat away and cuttings drop to the floor, city workers file past and peer at them with intrigue. Josh and Jason met just five minutes ago, around the corner outside a newsagents. Jason is homeless and lives on the streets of East London with his partner Selina. For the last two years, Josh has been wandering around the city and offering free haircuts to people just like Jason.

“At first, it came from a place of feeling quite helpless about the situation of homelessness and how apparent it is in every city I visited,” says 30 year old Josh, who lives in South London and has been working as a hairdresser for five years. “I knew I couldn’t solve it, so how else could I begin to help?” 

He began carrying his hairdressing equipment in his rucksack rather than leaving it at the salon. On his days off, or when coming home from work, he would get talking to anyone he saw living on the street and offer them a free haircut. “Having access to the same amenities as us is not on their agenda. So trying to help them feel more dignified and confident is a big part of it.”

Most people are already aware of the homelessness problem in London. So this isn’t about raising awareness, it’s about raising compassion.

Seeing Josh in action it can, at first, seem rather trivial to offer those in abject poverty a haircut. But then, as the interactions play out, you realise it isn’t really about the hair cut at all. In the time he spent with Jason, he was able to learn the story of how he ended up on the streets; they talked about his problems and plans, offered help where possible, and even had a laugh. “It is an intimate thing,” Josh tells me, “When someone is literally cutting your hair, you have to drop your defences.”

For Jason, a sudden loss of housing was all that it took to send his life spiralling, and what was supposed to be a stop gap on the streets has turned into 6 months. “Doing this has confirmed what I always feared which is that it doesn’t take a certain type of person to become homeless,” says Josh. “It’s so easy to blame it on the person and sweep it under the carpet, but that is such a cop out for society. There is a barrel full of systemic reasons.”


Since starting, Josh has launched a hashtag on Instagram called #DoSomethingForNothing, where he posts his activities and encourages others to go out and do something. “Some people say charity should be just about you and that person and to some extent that is true,” says Josh, “but I also want to inspire people. Most people are already aware of the homelessness problem in London. So this isn’t about raising awareness, it’s about raising compassion.”

Since he started, the hashtag has been flooded with acts of direct altruism. There is a vet who visits homeless people with dogs and treats them. Another goes into elderly homes and has lunch with people who don’t get visitors. It’s taking off in different cities, and Josh has been invited to work with local hostels and even speak to young people at universities about things like altruism.

So, what next for his compassion project? “The idea is to set this up as a foundation. I don’t want it to look or feel like a traditional charity. I think this could be something different, that can get young people active and creative in helping vulnerable people. You don’t need to be part of a charity, or sign any forms, you can just go out today and do some good shit.”


No.2 — Suited & Booted: A charity supplying suits, confidence and guidance

In a central London basement packed with second hand suits, shoes, ties, and belts, Suited & Booted are in the business of transforming people.


At ground level, Fleet Street in London looks as manic as always; lunchtime queues stretch out of shops, car horns honk, and groups of tourists snapping photos of art deco buildings that were once the heart of British journalism. But take the door of 111, head down the steps underground into what used to be a Wagamama restaurant, and you’ll find Maria. Here, surrounded by an empire of second hand suit jackets, trousers, ties, shirts, braces, cufflinks and smart shoes, Maria has helped create a lifeline for people in need. This is the subterranean home of Suited & Booted: a special charity that helps vulnerable, unemployed and low income men get the right clothing and preparation in place for forthcoming job interviews.

Five years ago, after a friend working in the charity world told her there was a desperate need for men’s clothing, Maria set about creating a charitable service that could fill the gap. In her first year, she saw 800 clients. “Last year we saw 1,360,” she tells me, “which is a lot for a very small charity with no resources. We have one laptop and one phone to organise everything.” Now, they even have a waiting list.


The charity works through a system of referrals. Suited & Booted have over 180 referrers, ranging from charities like Crisis and Veteran’s Aid, prisons and young offenders institutions, job centres and hostels. Once a client is passed on to Maria, she and her army of volunteers get to work. Volunteers make this place tick: and they are constantly looking for more. There are costume designers and stylists on their lunch breaks or afternoons off who help sift through the donated clothes, wardrobe assistants who help organise, steam and measure everything, and even professional interview trainers from local companies.

But it isn’t just about the act of getting someone into a suit and tie. “The whole thing really changes their confidence,” says Maria. “Once they look in the mirror, they want to walk through the city. They want to go on the tube and not see people move away from them. It’s very touching. If you haven’t had much intervention in your life, then that moment can be very emotional. It’s transforming someone and, hopefully, helping them step into a different life.”

While we’re there, a client called Max drops in for his appointment. He was referred here from Soldier’s Arts Academy which is a charity dedicated to helping serving and ex-serving military men. After serving for the British army in Kosovo, Max started to experience mental health problems that caused his life to derail. He became homeless, did a stint in prison and didn’t know where to look for help. “That military pride stops you from seeking support,” he tells me.

He’s since managed to turn his life around. A musician since childhood, he’s become involved in theatre through the Solder’s Arts Academy and has even started putting on Shakespeare productions in collaboration with The Globe. Now, he’s in Suited & Booted getting himself fixed up ahead of an interview for full time work. “I don’t have many clothes which is why I was referred,” says Max. “It’s fantastic. Now, I want to volunteer here. I am fantastic at ironing and polishing. Before they give you a gun in the army, they give you an iron, teach you to sew and polish your boots.”

The whole thing really changes their confidence.

No.3 — Hopeful Traders: The clothing brand putting people first.

Charlie Wright felt like he’d been lucky in life and decided to do something for those who don't. Now, his ethical clothing brand is opening doors for artists society had left behind.


“The beautiful thing about art,” says David Tovey, “is that it doesn’t judge people. You can have a piece by Grayson Perry next to a piece by a homeless person, and people won’t know who has done either one. They just like it because it is art. It has the power to bring everyone to the same level.”

David Tovey is one of many featured artists to have worked on the clothing brand and social arts project that is Hopeful Traders. Set up by Charlie Wright, Hopeful Traders works with marginal artists who have experienced social issues – ranging from homelessness to mental health problems – to create artwork which then inspires a whole clothing range. The profits are channeled into a charity of the artist’s choice and getting the artist themselves back on their feet. “A lot of people think homeless people have nothing to give,” says David, “but Charlie recognises that there are talented people on the streets who just don’t have an avenue to give back.”

Charlie’s motivation to create Hopeful Traders came from a lingering sense of guilt that he’s been relatively lucky in life. “I’ve been given so many opportunities to do lots of different things,” he tells me, “but I’m very aware that there are of people who don’t get that.” He came across David’s work at Cafe Art (an initiative that showcases homeless artists) and decided to get in touch. David had won one of Cafe Art’s photography awards, and Charlie was keen to make him Hopeful Traders first collaboration.

At the time, David was still coming out of the darkest ever period of his life. After spending six years in the army as a chef before being kicked out for being gay, he started his own restaurant business in London. But in April 2011, at the age of 36, David suffered a stroke that resulted in memory loss and disability on one side of his body. “That was the start of a domino effect of bad luck,” he tells me. “Bad health, addiction, alcohol. I had cancer twice, a cardiac arrest, neurosyphilis, and I was diagnosed with HIV. I ended up on the streets.” In December 2013, he was stopped from committing suicide by a park attendant, who then helped him find shelter, and gave him some food and money. “He was the first person to ask me what was wrong,” says David. “It made something click in my head, and that was the starting point for my recovery.”

David’s recovery was largely down to the support given to him by a charity called The Pilion Trust, so when Charlie approached with his Hopeful Traders collaboration it made sense to raise it for them. They worked on the designs, creating a range of t-shirts and sweaters from David’s London-inspired drawings, and then they went on sale. By the end of that year (winter, when homeless charities need money the most) David and Charlie were able to send a cheque for £3,000 to The Pilion Trust. “From an artist point of view, I can’t explain how much I got from that,” says David. “Something I’d drawn had helped make money for the guys who had saved my life.”

It would be easy for Hopeful Traders to seek out sympathy from the public, and put stories like David’s and other collaborators at the forefront of their project, but it’s not Charlie’s vision. “We make quality ethically made organic clothes, with great pieces of artwork on there,” says Charlie. “We want people to buy it because they love it, not because they feel like they are doing anyone a favour.”

Something I'd drawn had helped make money for the guys who had saved my life.