He’s out there, somewhere in West London..
If you have a problem, and if you can reach him, he’ll help. His website, which has grown from humble beginnings as an ad on Gumtree and a number of iterations over the last couple of years, describes him simply as an Anonymous free helper. He’s the Free Help Guy.
Unlike the 80s heroes, it’s not particularly difficult to contact him – his website at http://www.thefreehelpguy.com prompts you to reach out via email, Twitter, or Facebook – and his blog records some of the stories of the people he has helped. Like the A-Team though, he is extremely protective of his anonymity and privacy. What is truly amazing is the journey that he has been through, from what he has likened in interviews as something of a quarter-life crisis.
From taking six months off work from his job in digital marketing, he started offering to help people for free, and his project has grown from those simple beginnings to attract thousands of people willing to help him to help others. At first he put no thought into the cost of what he was doing – early projects included redecorating people’s homes, helping tourists explore the city, or finding people find lodgers from among the local homeless population. Instead he says that he wanted to explore expressions of value and worth that had nothing to do with currency.
Before long, he ended up deeply in debt and he was forced to take up work again as a freelance business consultant. He now continues to anonymously change lives as the Free Help Guy in his evenings and at weekends, checking in on requests for help each morning. He rarely engages in fundraising, and never gives money to people, but instead focuses on helping people to transform their lives and circumstances. The key to the success of his experiment seems to have been a unique combination of place, time, and technology.
The United Kingdom, and especially London, is a vibrant and varied place that is simultaneously caught between economic growth and deep pressing poverty. These are often found side by side within streets of each other. It makes for an incredibly vibrant and diverse place to live and work, but can also feel hugely isolating. At the same time, with the vast majority of people still feeling the economic pinch of recession, we are increasingly aware of the difficulties of those around us.
The immediate access of so many to news and opinion that has become so prevalent with the internet has therefore made it so much easier to let yourself see, feel and hear the stories of those around us. Even better, it allows people to re-humanise each other in an environment that many would see as intensely impersonal.
The Free Help Guy thinks that the success of his projects is indicative of a resurgence, especially among younger people, of neighbourliness. It may not be with the people who live next door to them, but instead with those who might only be a click or two away from you online. He likes to believe that everyone wants to do good in the world, but that the blurring effect of conventional living gets in the way. His work with people, and in encouraging others to take part in wider projects, is a valuable reminder that there are other ways of recognising and giving value to people, and if nothing else that warm fuzziness of helping people can be an immense reward along the way.