Lunch with Leaders: The Importance of Creating Positive Connections

  • 23 February 2022

Auspire – Australia Day Council WA, hosted the first Lunch with Leaders for 2022, joined online by Short Back & Sidewalks Founder and CEO, Craig Hollywood, and Orange Sky Co-Founder and Chief Delta Officer, Nic Marchesi.

The two initiatives were born around the same time between 2014-2015, with the aim of helping people who were experiencing homelessness in their local cities of Perth and Brisbane. Short Back & Sidewalks works with volunteer hairdressers to give free haircuts, while Orange Sky provides free laundry and shower services.

Both Craig and Nic have been recognised for playing vital roles, with Nic having received the 2016 Young Australian of the Year Award with his co-founder mate, Lucas Patchett, and Craig more recently receiving the WA Local Hero Award for 2022.

The conversation began with Craig reflecting on his time since receiving the Award in November 2021, including his visit to Canberra for the national Australian of the Year Awards final just one month ago, which he described as “humbling to be around other Australians and hear all their stories and what inspires them.”

While both projects offer a specific service that may be otherwise difficult or even impossible for homeless people to receive, Craig and Nic agree that it’s the additional elements that are most rewarding and valuable to the volunteers and those doing it tough.

“When we thought we were solving a hardware issue and providing a hygiene service, it was really an opportunity to sit down and chat with someone while their life’s possessions were in a washing machine,” said Nic. “We rewrote our mission to positively connect communities by taking those bright orange vans with washing machines and with people from all walks of life coming together – whether that be a donor, a volunteer or a friend who uses the service.”

Echoing this sentiment, Craig added: “A lot of the people we meet tell us often that they feel forgotten about. It’s not just relevant to people who access the services – something like a conversation can be overlooked. The people who cut hair are, in a way, accidental counsellors. You put your head in someone’s hands and trust them with your thoughts and feelings. But the positive connection and conversation becomes even more important in a world like the one we’re living in today.”

During the conversation, Craig and Nic gave individual examples that demonstrate how important each simple interaction can be, from Craig’s very first connection with Godfrey, a man who travelled 50km on a bus to get his haircut, to people who return to Orange Sky even now they have a roof over their head, because they have made that connection with the volunteers. Craig also shared a heart-warming story of when Short Back & Sidewalks and Orange Sky did their first collaboration together – showing that all different positive connections are possible.

Attentions also turned to COVID-19 and the impact that the pandemic has had on both initiatives that struggle to social distance. Craig explained that they used those restricted times to look inward and plan to scale for the other side of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Nic and Lucas looked as far ahead as 2025, with an aim of tripling their impact and be twice as efficient, while looking at increasing their presence in regional areas and reducing their environmental impact.

This then led to a flood of questions from the Australia-wide audience. One viewer wanted to know more about Orange Sky’s environmental initiatives, which led Nic to go into more detail about using renewable energy.

There were also questions around the volunteers – the recruitment process and the ways that Craig and Nic acknowledge them – as well as challenges of running an initiative including that important first step, corporate funding and working with local councils.

Find out the answers to these questions and so much more from Craig and Nic with the full recording here:

Craig and Nic have both shown that with a great idea, a sense of purpose and a supportive team, you can create something that has a positive impact to thousands of people on so many levels. The relationship may start with a haircut or a scoop of washing powder, but the connection is made over simple conversation between people.

Look out for our next Lunch with Leaders later in the year.

This event was supported by the National Diversity and Inclusion Partner of the Australian of the Year Awards, Chevron Australia.

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