At Hair Force 1 in Romford, your haircut also comes with employment advice. Owner Anderson Boyce explains why he wants to give something back to his local community
Meet Anderson Boyce, owner of Hair Force 1 in Romford, a man on a mission to cut the rate of unemployment among the youths of east London and Essex with a pair of barber’s scissors. On the surface, it looks like any other barber shop. But spend time in Anderson’s company and you discover that there’s more than snipping and sweeping taking place. Anderson is shaping hair – but he’s also shaping lives.
Anderson, 35, launched the Career Cuts initiative in March 2017. The affable east Londoner gives free haircuts to local youths preparing for a job interview – simply prove you’ve got an interview and you’ll get a free haircut, as well as vital career advice from Anderson. A partnership is in place with both Ilford and Romford job centres, with more likely to follow suit.
“I’d got to a stage in my career where I thought, ‘How can this be about more than haircuts? How can I give something back to the community with which I have such an association?’” says Anderson, who first opened Hair Force 1 in 2009. “Initially it was meant as a small relationship between the YMCA and the local job centre, and that was it. When it got caught by the media, it spiralled from there.”
And that means the association could spread. Career Cuts could partner up with more job centres across east London, while there is even talk of going nationwide. However, as Anderson says, plans would need to be “airtight” before growing too quickly.
A key reason for the project’s success is Anderson himself. The local youths can relate to the charismatic barber, who urges them to say “Thank you” instead of “Cheers” in job interviews, and to wear trousers and shoes rather than tracksuit bottoms and trainers, all the while giving them a free haircut.
As a younger man, Anderson “made bad decisions” and was “pushed into the wrong crowds”. However, he’s the embodiment of what can be achieved by following your passion and being prepared to put in the graft. He’s been a barber for more than 15 years and has the vim and vitality of a man half his age.
“This was always about wanting to make a difference,” he says. “I come from a similar community and understand what they’re going through. I’ve been fortunate that I have a skill, cutting hair, and turned it into a sustainable business. Not everyone is in that position. I just want to help.”
One problem for young people, Anderson believes, is short-term thinking. Social media and music videos that flaunt fast cars, gold chains and ostentatious wealth give the impression that you can be an immediate success. “It’s the inability to play the long game, commit and work towards a goal,” he says. But Anderson pleads for more young people to have patience. “Everything in stages,” he advises.
While Anderson can’t quantify just how many jobs he’s helped people to get, one story in particular has left an indelible impression.
One young man had come to Anderson from the local YMCA, and had an interview with an electrical supplier in Ilford, via the job centre. As Anderson started to snip away while sharing wisdom, it emerged that there was a problem: the candidate couldn’t afford the travel fare to the interview the next day. “I just froze,” says Anderson. “This gentleman was stuck.” Anderson gave him the money and the customer did the rest: he duly landed the job.
“That’s the difference between one life and another,” marvels Anderson, puffing out his cheeks. “That was poignant. That one got me. That was mind-blowing.”
As Anderson says, he’s helped homeless people, people from the YMCA and different walks of life. However, “That one was the standout.”
When he’s not cutting hair, Anderson is cheering on his beloved Manchester United, and there’s something of the Sir Alex Ferguson in him. After all, both men champion emerging talent. On top of Career Cuts, Anderson has launched an apprentice scheme, and currently has five young men learning the trade. “Some of them have been homeless, through the social system, fostered,” he says. “They’ve all got different backgrounds. But they all have passion.”
And that is precisely what defines Anderson: passion. So what is it about a barber shop that sees men pour their hearts out? In the US, some barber shops are the centre of the local community, where men gossip, chat and share, and it seems to be a growing trend in the UK.
“The gloves are off,” beams Anderson. “You can unbutton the top button and loosen the tie. Guys generally feel free. More free than many other places. The things I get told! You think, ‘Wow, you feel really comfortable here.’ And that’s what you want.”