Tackling homelessness with Gift Your Gear and Mikkel Juel Iversen.
In 2012, Rohan’s Gift Your Gear initiative was launching to enable a new generation to experience the outdoors and prevent kit from going to landfill. Our stores started collecting donations of useable outdoor kit and we now encourage these through two channels, instore or via post direct to Rohan. We sort and distribute the donations to youth organisations and charities across the UK.
At a similar time, Mikkel Juel Iversen was in the process of setting up a new production company. His aim was to create films that wouldn’t just entertain audiences, but would also draw their attention to key causes and issues, inspiring positive social change through the power of storytelling. On the Saturday before Christmas 2012, wanting to embrace and enact the values of his company, Mikkel and his business partner took to the streets of London to spend time with the homeless and give them Christmas presents.
To share his experience, Mikkel posted on Facebook, inviting friends to come along. A number of them took up his invitation, and several more sent donations and said they would be interested in joining next time. Since that first outing of eight people in 2012, Under One Sky has become a collective of over 1,400 volunteers in 2021. Over the past year and a half they have worked tirelessly throughout the lockdowns, providing daily support, a conversation and a meal 85,000 times to people without homes.
In 2012, Mikkel wasn’t planning to set up the national organisation that Under One Sky is now, he just wanted to do a good deed. But the more he shared the stories he had heard on the streets, the more people's interest in supporting his work, and attending the walks that are now run by Under One Sky and known as sky walks, grew.
"There was an air of desperation."
Over the past few years, Under One Sky’s sky walks continued to bring friendly faces, kind words and warm meals to the homeless. The plan was to expand further across the UK and Europe, and then the pandemic hit. As so many were told to stay at home, Mikkel found that out on the streets "there was an air of desperation, conditions were even worse than before." The Under One Sky team took to the streets every day, continuing to provide much-needed support to those in need. After a few weeks, journalist Amelia Gentleman from the Guardian joined them for the day and wrote about the experience. After that, Mikkel recalls “everything went crazy.”
Within two days, 600 people had registered as volunteers. A different TV/radio crew joined the daily sky walks for two weeks straight. Now, Under One Sky runs 15 walks and serves around 500 people every week.
Rohan's Gift Your Gear initiative and Under One Sky are joining forces. Today Mikkel tells us all about Under One Sky, their values, the work they do and how Gift Your Gear is going to support their future plans.
"Most people cannot relate to homelessness, but most people will be able to relate to the factors that lead to homelessness."
For Mikkel, the word homelessness is misleading as "it diverts attention from why people end up homeless". He says, the reasons why need to be understood and resolved, otherwise “in most cases, it’s only going to be a matter of time before those receiving support return to the streets.” These issues include childhood trauma, mental health challenges, poverty and social isolation. The team at Under One Sky believe that, "if we're to create a stronger emotional connection to the topic of homelessness, we should start focusing on some of those underlying factors."
There are three levels to the work done by Under One Sky: shifting opinion to remove stigma, building community and changing lives. Mikkel champions what he calls the "human-centric" approach. He explains: "our focus has always been on the human connection. It's always been around dignity." The support offered by Under One Sky starts with a conversation; groups of 5 volunteers cover set areas of the city on their sky walks, meeting people without homes wherever they are. That's really important to Mikkel, who says: "if you want to have a conversation, go where someone feels most comfortable. If you have people who are hungry or in need, why should they have to walk for a long way to stand in a breadline? We come and meet our friends where they are.”
"All these small things, keeping people dry, keeping people warm or cold, depending on the weather. It is making a really huge difference."
Under One Sky is active in London, Brighton and Cambridge. The outdoor kit that is donated through Rohan's Gift Your Gear initiative will make a big difference to the day-to-day lives of people living on the streets. As Mikkel says, "this is the concrete jungle instead of the nice, leafy green jungle. A really good jacket that will keep someone sheltered from the rain will make a huge difference."
But it's not just about keeping people dry. It's also about dignity. “If you're wearing dirty clothes, how can you go to a job interview? How can you go to a meeting at the council? It stops you from progressing in your own life" says Mikkel. The long-lasting, moisture-wicking and odour repellent fabrics that we rely on to take us up a mountain, or protect us from the elements on a coastal walk, are vital when it comes to improving the wellbeing of people without homes. Donations of durable, useable outdoor kit will go a long way to support Under One Sky in their mission to meet homeless people with a spirit of compassion, and a genuine desire to connect and create a feeling of belonging in our world today.
If you want to find out more, have a read through Under One Sky's website. And if you want to make a difference, Mikkel suggests volunteering, donating and acting out Under One Sky's values locally. This is just the start of the partnership between Rohan's Gift Your Gear and Under One Sky. We can't wait to see what it brings and keep you updated on our story. Here’s to the next chapter in our story.