WHEN a video goes viral, commanding viewing hits of a million or more, you come to expect the usual: booze-fuelled pranks from hollering American frat guys, some inane Buzzfeed creation, or cats doing, well… pretty much anything. Facebook is a breeding ground for absurd, mindless and irresistible clickbait. Still, we’re all guilty of watching, square-eyed and gormless…
It’s not anything to do with the hair you take off. It’s more about the human contact and someone giving a shit.
With that being said, almost seven million people have now watched a heart-warming video of Ged King, a young Mancunian barber who owns vintage barbershop Skullfades in Sale, perform a moving act of altruism. King cuts and styles the hair of the city’s homeless people, and has been doing so for the past six months.
It’s an unlikely expression of care and compassion for the city’s most vulnerable that has helped King raise funds for Manchester’s homeless charities, during a period when the city's escalating homelessness crisis is almost reaching breaking point. It is a small gesture that King hopes will act as a catalyst for more work to be done.
Though King, by his own admission, is just a ‘normal bloke done well' from the estates of Manchester ‘trying to give back’. We meet in his busy barbershop. It's a lads-lads haven with boxing iconography, cool vintage fit-out and two resident bulldogs. Ged is training his young, tattooed barbers to follow in his footsteps. Together they plan their next outing with supporting organisation Manchester Tribe and photographer Jenny Winstone. It's clear to see their passion for this initiative runs deep.
But how does cutting hair really help the homelessness improve their lives? Watch the video below:
Seven million views is a lot. Did you expect this reaction?
Ged King: “The interest on social media was crazy and I definitely didn’t expect it. It really is a lot. But I don’t really care about that, or whether it helps us look good. It’s the message. The viral video showed something very important and something very human.”
What inspired you to help the homeless in this way?
G: “Well, I’ve always done things for the homeless throughout my life. I’m ex-army, and a lot of the ex-forces guys are on the streets as well. I suppose that was where I first started. But it was when I saw a video of a barber over in America who looks after all the guys on the street, and I just thought he was brilliant. It stayed in my mind, the images of him looking after all these people. I thought there was something really nice about it.”
It's been six months - how did you get started?
G: “Firstly we opened up the shop to homeless people earlier this year. I would go over it in my mind; I’m trying to make money but I want to help these people - will it upset customers who are trying to get a haircut? Will they not want to sit where a homeless person was sat? But then I thought 'fuck it'. We clean everything properly. We’re very hygienic. This is why we have such efficient products to clean everything barber side. So, it’s more work but it’s mega.”
Ged King at work on the streets
Did you find it easy to approach people on the street? How did they take to you?
G: “I’ve wanted to do this for years but it took me awhile to make the first step. It’s quite a big thing to go out and approach people. A lot of the homeless have issues with trust, so it was hard. It doesn’t bother me now, it’s easy now. People in the homeless community know me.”
You say you’ve received some criticism, with some saying it’s ‘just a haircut’. How exactly does it help the homeless?
G: "Let me give you an example [shows picture], this guy, his eyebrows, his hair, his beard, made him look like a caveman and he would just grunt. We cleaned him up, lined his beard up, cut his eyebrows, gave him a fade and immediately we saw this transformation from a caveman – when you’re in a state of survival mode, because nobody gives a fuck about you – to a new person.
"It’s not just a quick service. Not just buzz cut. We’re actually taking the time. We’re looking after them properly. It does something to them. It’s good for their self-esteem. There’s a transition. He was a comedian, that guy. After he had the haircut he started telling jokes. Before, with all his hair, you’d have never thought he had such a good sense of humour. We made him feel human again."
Before - "He would just grunt like a caveman"
After - "We saw a complete transformation - we made him feel human again"
So it’s not just about their appearance?
G: “It’s not anything to do with the hair you take off. It’s more about the human contact and someone giving a shit. I purposely get a towel and rub their head - it’s nice, it’s nice human contact. And they don’t have that.
"It’s about somebody looking after you and taking that time to care for you. It comes out in the pictures. There’s this look, it keeps coming up in each photo, they’re completely engrossed in that moment. That’s the magical thing about it.”
You do all this for free. How difficult is it to run a business alongside this endeavour?
G: “It’s not just me that goes out. We have a team that goes out. Jenny from Manchester Tribe rehomes people for a living. She created the Manchester Tribe series. Together with the addiction coaches - people who were addicted and now help people suffering from addiction for a living - we all go out together.
“We also help people who are on job seekers allowance who are trying to improve their situation. You can come and get a haircut and some products for free, hopefully they'll get a job and come back on payday as a customer. We’ve seen that happen. Guys who have come in on their arse, panicking because they have a job interview and now come in every month as a loyal customer. So yes it also helps business.”
What is it you are hoping to achieve?
G: "Kindness is the main thing. What I’m hoping to do is promote kindness for all. We all know people we can help, whether it’s your family or not. You can do something for somebody in your life. Even if it’s just going round for a brew. A relative you don’t see a lot. What we do for each other is very powerful. It makes you grow as a person. We should help each other. I don’t know the meaning of life, which religions have got it right, but I do know that we should help people while we’re here. Everyone has a conscience. When you help someone it feeds your soul."
Ged and the Skullfades team