The idea for Under One Sky (UOS) came from founder Mikkel Juel Iversen's personal experience of supporting two homeless friends for one year on his own initiative. This gave him direct exposure to the myriad of challenges a person faces when forced to live on the outside, and insight into the traumatic experiences that were the root causes of each individual's situation.
At Christmas 2012, Mikkel invited some friends to join him and his colleague Yaqub Hussain to walk the streets of Central London to let those rough sleeping know that they hadn’t been forgotten, and to distribute Christmas presents. This walk became the unintentional birth of UOS.
From 2012 to 2019, UOS delivered a handful of large Skywalk outreach events each Winter, and the volunteer base grew steadily from eight people to over 600. UOS also became involved in supporting refugees living in the jungle camp in Calais.
By the end of 2019 UOS had supported over 4,000 homeless friends, and held Skywalk events in London, Cambridge and Madrid. Over the years the ‘life-support kits’ we distributed had evolved to include food, drinks, clothing, sleeping bags, gift cards, books, toiletries, and more.
Covid-19 was the incident which forced us to grow from a Winter pop-up campaign to a 24/7 lights-on operation. During the height of the pandemic our teams supported 600 people daily. In the first year of Covid-19 our teams served our homeless friends 75,000 times, and our volunteer base grew to more than 1,000 compassionate human beings.
Our baptism of fire to become an all-year round organisation was a clear sign, telling us the time had come to take a bigger step. Under One Sky is now into the first pages of the next chapter.
For us, everything starts with the individual human being. Those we befriend on the streets are often referred to as “the homeless”, “rough sleepers” and other dehumanising terms. We call them our friends to both celebrate their individuality and to highlight the equality in our relationships. All humans have the right to the same treatment and respect regardless of housing status, ethnicity, gender, social heritage, or any other label. We act in accordance with our belief that humanity is one family.
The foundation of our work is the power of human connection. While we do provide food and warm clothes, our priority is providing nourishment for the soul. Compassionate human connection is the oxygen we all need.
Our approach of walking the streets to connect with our friends is rooted in dignity. Why ask someone who has nowhere to put their belongings to travel far for a meal or a conversation? Why exclude those who have severe physical or mental health challenges from receiving support?
We live by and demonstrate these values: Love, Service, Community, Magic, Compassion, Courage, and Impact.
During our weekly Skywalks we have hundreds of conversations with our friends. Not only does this enable us to build strong and trusting relationships week after week, but they also help us to understand where we can immediately make a difference.
Our impactful work covers a wide spectrum: assisting with medical emergencies; facilitating reconnection with family and friend via bus, train, or plane; supporting our friends into work and accommodation; providing glasses, wheelchairs, mobile phones and bicycles; and much more.
Having a weekly street presence means we can have a consistent positive impact on our homeless friends’ mood, mental health, and sense of belonging. This is reflected to us through the trust, smiles and gratitude which our volunteer team experience on every Skywalk.
Going forward we plan to support a significant number of friends by helping them to move off the streets permanently.
Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE (Chair)
Founder and former CEO of Orchid Project (a charity devoted to ending female genital cutting) and Chair of the International Board at VSO (world’s leading volunteering development charity). Julia has been through the entire charity journey. She is a change-maker who has dedicated her life to making social change impact happen since 2006 when she left the corporate world. Her wealth of hands-on experience is invaluable.
Sara Carnegie (Safeguarding)
Legal Director at the International Bar Association. Employed barrister with over 24 years’ experience in the criminal justice system, public sector and more recently the corporate legal world. She has experience heading legal teams on two public inquiries, and working with the senior judiciary and across government to improve efficiency and influence policy making. She sat in a judicial capacity for the Council of the Inns of Court Disciplinary Tribunal for 7 years and was a member of the Advisory Board for the National Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse.
Amrit Maan OBE (Treasury)
Managing Director of the Punjab restaurant in Covent Garden. It goes without saying that it is a huge pleasure to be able to bring in Amrit more formally after the thousands of hours and meals he and team have already invested in UOS. Amrit is heavily involved in community work including being trustee of Seven Dials Trust, trustee of Khalsa Academies Trust, and Community Ambassador for the national charity Sharan Project that supports vulnerable women particularly from South Asian communities in Britain.
The Steering Team
Mikkel Juel Iversen (founder)
Mikkel started life in a hamlet in the Danish countryside. In his adulthood, it was a combinationof a career crisis, self-healing from a long-term illness, and discovering meditation that led himonto a human-centred path in 2003.
At the start of this journey, his efforts to support humanity were something he explored and practiced privately, while his professional life was with Universal Studios. Today, all Mikkel’s efforts are poured into making a positive impact.
In addition to running Under One Sky, he is co-founder of social impact entertainment agency TerraMedia, and the climate impact entertainment start-up Resilience.
Mikkel believes compassion-based community building is the answer to most social issues and is passionate about engaging people in shaping society.
Rebekah is a seasoned global social impact communications specialist whose work has seen her deliver a range of campaigns which engage audiences on the things that matter to us all: good health & wellbeing, education, opportunities no matter who we are, having enough food to eat, a roof over our heads, and being in a position where we can thrive.
At Under One Sky, Rebekah focuses on PR and communications, helping to tell different stories about homelessness which change perceptions and inspire action.
Brian’s mission is to relieve the suffering of others, helping them to reveal their true potential. His work as an UOS volunteer gives him the opportunity to have an immediate impact on improving vulnerable people’s lives. By building friendships through open dialogue, and a non-judgemental approach, Brian believes more trusting relationships with our homeless friends can be developed.
With many of our friends having experienced traumatic and difficult lives, quick fixes are not the answer. Brian recognises that all individuals have their own life experiences, with each case having its own unique story.
Kelly joined forces with UOS when she was running her own 'Street Love' homelessness project in London, as the philosophy and vision of the organisation inspired her and was something she couldn't achieve alone.
With her expertise in marketing, Kelly joined the team to increase UOS's voice, visibility and presence. Her personal interest and project is to enable entertainment and cultural activities to be easily accessed by our homeless friends.
In 2016, having found herself homeless at a late age through divorce, Rara had to start her life again. Through a chance meeting with Mikkel, Rara went on to set up her own small not-for-profit, focused on supporting those experiencing homelessness. She later went on to become an integral part of the UOS family, firstly as an Ambassador and Introducer, and latterly as a member of the Steering Team.
Nothing gives Rara greater pleasure in her life than to be part of such a passionate group of individuals focused on transforming lives with compassion and love.
Ben runs a business specialising in financial communications. Prior to launching his own company, he had a varied career in newsrooms, kitchens, festivals and investment companies. Throughout all of this he has maintained a passion for politics and social justice, particularly causes that do not receive mainstream attention.
At the start of the pandemic, Ben was shocked by the plight of our friends on the streets and helped UOS raise the profile of these issues among politicians and in the mainstream media.
Jamie joined UOS to share some love and light to those that need it most on the streets of London. His commitment developed into something further when he realised there are ways to get homeless friends off the cold streets and into permanent accommodation.
Jamie brings passion, love and truth to our friends and looks forward to continuing to support the amazing UOS community, making an impact and working towards ending homelessness permanently. This is his mission.