Relying On Generosity Of Strangers For Six Months Taught Me So Much About The Power Of Kindness
“The key is on the dinner table, come and go as you like, help yourself to food, stay out of my knicker drawer.”
That is not the kind of note you expect someone you hardly know to write as she leaves you alone in her home, but wow, I was moved by her kindness. Without her, sleeping on the street was a real possibility.
In the short time I had known this woman, one of the few facts I gleaned about her was that she loves nothing more than her six-year old boy, yet still, here she was, welcoming a relative stranger into their home.
I’m CK – a content creator, presenter & photographer. In 2015, I set myself an unprecedented challenge. Armed with just a bag of clothes, my camera and £100, I left my Sheffield home and made my way to London - a city I had little experience of.
My aim was to find one hundred independent musicians [my favourite breed of human] and make each one an offer. The offer was, “Hi, would you like a photoshoot? If so, you can pay me whatever you consider fair… there is no minimum price!”
The only rule of my challenge was that if I ran out of money before I successfully photographed one hundred musicians, challenge failed.
On reflection, I must have been nuts. Independent music is hardly renowned for its monetary abundance, yet here I was, throwing myself at the mercy of one hundred unsigned musicians. Moreover, given my modest opening balance of just £100, living in hostels, eating cut-price supermarket food and walking everywhere to avoid exorbitant transport costs was to be my life for the next six months.
Yes, to my astonishment, the challenge would take me six life-changing months to complete, but against all the odds, complete it I did. With my seed money of just £100 and each artist’s voluntary contribution, I was able to survive in one of the world’s most expensive cities, but how? Truth is, this challenge would have been impossible without the stunning acts of kindness I experienced at the hands of complete strangers.
Firstly, there was the small family living in Barnet, North London. They heard about my challenge via their youngest daughter, Alex, who stumbled across my adventure online. Alex sent me the following text message:
“Hi, you don’t know me, but I think what you’re doing is amazing and very selfless. Unfortunately, I can’t offer you a bed as this is my parent’s house, but I would like to make you a home cooked meal if you’re ever in the area.”
This message made my heart soar - providing a timely distraction from the horror of my rapidly depleting funds. I was three days into the challenge, and having not yet found an artist in need of a photoshoot, I had roughly £43 left
I would later travel to Barnet to meet Alex and her family – who lived in the most comfortable of London homes. From the outset, nothing was too much trouble for them – I was fed, watered and welcomed into the family’s evening tradition of board games and chat. The ‘old-school’ nature of their family togetherness was a beautiful thing to observe, somewhat heightened by the fact that my family were 170 miles away.
This was my first taste of true unadulterated kindness. I was overcome.
During the next six months, the many kind gestures I experienced would vary in size but were identical in heart. Alex and her family, for example, would give me a bed, food and shelter a dozen further times, but this was no more significant than the young ambitious singer who, due to having little money herself, paid for her photoshoot by buying me a beer and burger. All hearty food gifts were welcome on this challenge, I assure you.
A man sending me twenty-five pounds via PayPal after he discovered my electric shaver was kaput was no less remarkable than the singer who, following our photoshoot, gave me free use of his place while he went on a two-day fishing trip. Seriously, who leaves someone they’ve only just met alone in their house for two days? Well, as it transpired, a national radio DJ would display similar kindness just one month later.
This DJ found me via Twitter, swiftly hiring me to photograph the artists she managed and letting me sleep on her sofa many times during the challenge’s most difficult financial spells. She would leave me hilarious morning notes as she took her young son to football training while I slept deeply, utterly exhausted.
Sure, this woman had got to know me over the course of three photoshoots with her artists, but welcoming me into her home and trusting me with her big TV, Macbook and other valuables… well, this is the reason I consider this challenge a defining moment in how I now see humans.
Oh, by the way, I respected her wishes, and never touched her knickers.