Norm McGillivray On Creating Lasting Positive Change Within The Homeless Community
Norm McGillivray founded Beddown in late 2018 with a view of helping the homeless, in particular those who sleep rough. Beddown provides access to a bed and a great night’s sleep through an innovative approach by activating pop-up accommodation at night in underutilised spaces.
He is partnering with Australia’s largest car park operator, Secure Parking, to pilot and bring Beddown to as many of the 8,000 people who sleep rough across Australia every night as possible, through activating and repurposing empty, underutilised car parks and other spaces.
Originally from the UK, Norm’s background has seen him work in the Automotive Industry for Jaguar and LandRover. In Australia, Norm has worked in Industry, Government and the Not-for-Profit sectors. Now Norm is challenging conventional thinking to address the massive social issue of homelessness here in Australia as he looks to implement his vision of ‘everyone deserves a bed to sleep in.’
Norm shares his insights into the founding of Beddown, a new organisation which aims to repurpose spaces, providing pop-up accommodation and other wraparound services to help the homeless.
Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Thomas Long] - To start things off, can you please share a bit about your background and what led you down the path of social enterprise?
[Norm McGillivray] - My background, as you would gather from my accent, I'm not a local boy to Australia. I came out to Australia from the UK back in 2008. My background is automotive and used to work for Jaguar and Land Rover cars back in the UK. My wife's a mental health nurse, so my wife had a position to come to before we left the UK and I gave up my job without a job to come to.
So we stepped off a plane in Rockhampton, central Queensland. First challenge was, ‘okay, where do they build cars around here?’ Which was interesting. For those that don't know, Rockhampton is the beef capital of Australia. So thankfully I managed to get a job with Queensland Government as a manufacturing specialist, linking in small businesses to subsidised government programs through a number of not for profits that would then deliver those programs. So I spent a few years in Rockhampton and my wife, bless her little cotton socks, was offered a position down here in Brisbane. I tried to get a transfer with Queensland Government, but unfortunately they never had a position for me to come to. So I gave up my role in Queensland Government, but thankfully one of the not for profits that we used to partner with heard I was coming to Brisbane and approached me to join them. I went through a number of different career progressions within that organisation over nearly eight years.
Now coming from an organisation which is a not for profit, heavily funded through governments, state and federally, is interesting because when governments come and go, so does funding come and go, and so unfortunately they fell victim to some funding cuts. Recently I was made redundant and I thought, ‘right, okay, what's gonna be the next chapter of my career? What do I do next?’ And working in the not for profit sector for nearly eight years, I thought, ‘well maybe it's time to follow in applying for a few jobs?’ I thought, ‘well maybe it's time to start my own not for profit charitable organisation?’ So I experienced homelessness from a personal level when I was a young child and my mother and father were happily married. My father had a successful business, he was a shop fitter, he was a carpenter by trade and he would've been in his early thirties when he was hit by a massive stroke, which sort of immobilised his right hand side and his face dropped, which impeded his speech. And that was pretty much the end of the business for him, and then not too long after that, I think my mother, having a small child, and now my father was disabled, that put a lot of pressure on her and I don't think the relationship was able to withstand that. So they separated and got divorced and my father found himself on the streets of London, effectively homeless. And this is back in the 1970s. So it's hard to comprehend what it was like back then. There's a lot of great services out there now, but back in the 70s it's hard to imagine what it would have been like. Anyway, to cut a long story short, my father actually passed away at the age of 42 by massive heart attack in London and he died lonely on the streets of London. So a big part of the motivation for Beddown is I never had the opportunity to help my dad at the time because I was just a young fellow.
Now here we are, 40 years on, and I've got the opportunity to do something about it and help someone else's mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter.
So here I was, made redundant and thinking, ‘right, okay, so how am I going to help the homeless? And in particular those that are sleeping rough?’ To set the context in terms of numbers from the last census:
there's over 116,000 people deemed to be homeless here in Australia with over 8,000 people every night across Australia that have to sleep rough.
So that's people that are sleeping rough on the streets, on benches, under bridges or in parks. And in 2019 this is unacceptable to me.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us Norm. For our listeners who maybe don't know about the work you're doing, can you tell us a bit more about the Beddown project?
The aim of Beddown, is predominantly sleep deprivation is a massive issue that those that are sleeping rough around Australia or even other parts of the world face every day. And this has a massive impact in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. The main aim of Beddown is providing those who are sleeping rough access to a bed so they can get a great night's sleep and in turn affect their health both physically and mentally in a positive way. When I was thinking about creating what is now Beddown, I was sitting at home thinking about the issue and then thinking, well how can I solve or address that as an issue? And I didn't really want to bring a service that is already out there and there's a lot of service providers out there doing some great stuff. It had to be different and it had to have a meaningful impact. I was sitting at home thinking about this as a problem and writing all sorts of post it notes and sticking them on the wall as possible solutions and, and not really getting anywhere. I was thinking about this over a few days.
Sometimes what I find is, whenever you're hitting a roadblock in terms of creative thinking and coming up with a solution to a particular problem, sometimes it's best to take yourself away from that environment. Go and grab a coffee and do something else, maybe go and do a bit of reading, watch some TV or just something to clear the mind.
So this one day I took myself out for a coffee and some retail therapy at a local shopping centre.
When I got to the shopping centre, I'm not sure what people's religious beliefs are, and not sure if the planets were aligning, or my father was looking down on me at this day, but I pulled into the shopping centre car park, opened the car door and that's where the lightbulb moment happened, because the car park was empty and I just looked around this space which was sheltered, very clean and it hit me instantly, ‘I wonder if we can turn this particular space into a space that could accommodate people to get a great night's sleep?’ I got pretty excited walking around this empty car park. I took my phone out and there's this app on the iPhone called ‘Measure’, which allows you to measure space in augmented reality. So here I was walking around this car park bay measuring the space and there was someone in a car looking at me quite strangely, thinking, ‘I wonder what this guy is doing, is this guy crazy? What is he up to?’ So I got quite excited, had those measurements, went around the shopping centre, grabbed a coffee, did some shopping, then rushed home, started doing some research online, couldn't find anyone that was doing anything in car parks in particular; turning the use at night into an accommodation perspective. And helping the homeless, get a good night's sleep. I started doing some more research in terms of mattresses, because the last thing I wanted to do was carry big massive mattresses around car parks because logistically that would have been quite challenging. Air mattresses have come a long way in recent years.
You haven't got to have foot pumps or inflate them with your mouth anymore, they've got built in an electric pumps and you can plug them in and they inflate very quickly and deflate very quickly.
Following that, the next part of the puzzle was, ‘okay, so who are the major car park operators here in Australia?’ And when I was doing my research came across Secure Parking. Who are actually Australia's largest car park operator. They have over 600 car parks over Australia and New Zealand. And I went to their website, saw who the executive team was, (Peter Anson is the CEO), found Peter on Linkedin, sent him a few messages. And to cut a long story short, we interacted over email and messaging, sent him the pitch of what I thought Beddown was going to be and how it could operate. I was a bit worried that when Peter received the email that he would think that I'm some crazy guy wanting to put the homeless in his car parks across Australia. But thankfully, he saw the vision and, and quite quickly was interested to talk more. So we met a few weeks later. I told him about the backstory of my father, got into my PowerPoint pitch and within a few slides, he said that they were going to be onboard to pilot and trial Beddown, but then look to scale around the country within their infrastructure. What we're looking to do with Beddown is to take spaces that are busy during the day, but are left vacant or empty at nighttime and then activate and repurpose those spaces into pop up accommodation, by putting beds and wrapping around other services around Beddown that help repair the quality of life. The beauty of car parks, is there are car parks in every CBD across Australia. They're easily accessible by those that are vulnerable and homeless and it allows us to provide shelter, security and a space that's very easy to activate to let people get a great night's sleep and then in the morning we can deactivate that space and you turn it back to its normal business use.
I'm looking to build Beddown on three core foundations of which there are also action drivers for us to implement. The first one which is pretty logical, is
we believe everyone deserves a bed to sleep in.
The second one, which is in two halves is about the repairing quality of life and then building a life for quality; wrapped around the premise of providing someone a safe, secure, comfortable environment to get a good night's sleep. Looking at bringing in other complimentary services delivered by other great organisations, charities and nonprofits, items such as laundry and showers. So if you think of the likes of Orange Sky Laundry, health and wellbeing services, mobile doctor and nurse teams, counselling services, food and beverages. So someone can get access to a shower, laundry, medical services or something to eat and have a drink and then go and get a great night's sleep. Then the next day you feel nice and refreshed and being able to face the day. Then from there building a life of quality is to then link and understand our guests; where they are currently in their life and try and link them into a longer term solution. Whether that be accommodation, education and training or rehabilitation or a combination of all those factors, which then feeds into our final foundation, which is to expedite the end of Beddown.
We achieve our vision by getting everyone that is sleeping rough off the street into a longer term solution so we're not required anymore.
We're actually being driven by that end goal.
I think that's really valid that you're attaching core beliefs to your project and you’re using it to drive your project forward. What have been the greatest challenges you have had personally pushing Beddown forward and how did you overcome them?
It's an interesting question because there is a number of challenges and there remain to be a number of challenges. I guess the biggest challenge I've had since starting Beddown and coming up with the idea is access to limited resources, which has meant I've had to get quite creative. If someone had said to me a few years ago “Norm, you're going to set up this organisation which is going to look to address the issue of homelessness and you're going to have pretty much next to no resources to do it,” I would have probably laughed him out of the room. But having been through this process, if someone said that to me, now, I'll say, “nah you're talking rubbish.” Because when I first came up with the idea, I quite quickly estimated that I would probably need in the region of about $40,000 to get Beddown up and running and that was to cover costs such as legal costs for setting up a charity, website, insurances, hiring equipment, buying equipment. So there's a great platform out there called “GoFundMe”. So I set up a page on GoFundMe with a target of $40,000 and maybe my timing was a bit off, because I did this in December of last year, Christmas around the corner, January, lots of bills come in and set the page up. Some donations started to come through. Dribs and drabs. I got to about $2,000 and I wasn't really happy with the traction it was getting for me to enable Beddown to get it up and running. So I had to get a bit creative and start reaching out through networks and get access to other people that could potentially help me to achieve what I wanted to achieve.
Thankfully other people were reaching out once they started to hear about what I was looking to do with Beddown. Some organisations reached out and they're helping me to create the Beddown website, which launched just before Christmas last year. Bureaucracy has been quite an interesting challenge as well, because believe it or not, (and maybe this is a bit of my naivety, as once I got Secure Parking onboard I thought, ‘right, great. Let’s start putting people in car parks and start welcoming our guests and start providing a great night's sleep.’) But unfortunately, when you're using a car park, which is deemed to be a car park, during the day and at night and you want to change its use into what's best termed as temporary accommodation, you need to go through certain rules and regulations within council. So that's been quite challenging and I understand rules and regulation, but unfortunately bureaucracy gets in the way and just slows everything down, which is quite frustrating, especially when you want to start helping people immediately. Thankfully I've been able to meet and form great relationships with organisations that can help me through the various rules and regulations. That's a planning and building code and compliance and they've jumped on board when I've told them my story and what we're looking to try and achieve with Beddown. They bought into that and provided their services. Bearing in mind, I've got no resources whatsoever to pay for things like planning, consultancies and websites and stuff. People have jumped on board with the vision and been providing those services pro bono. So thankfully building relationships to get around those different challenges has been a blessing and I've been so grateful for those people and organisations that have come on board or have reached out and wanted to be part of Beddown.
Another challenge which often are faced, which has probably been self inflicted, is being solo, trying to create Beddown and trying to wear many different hats. It's been a massive challenge and trying to spread yourself across all elements of setting up a charity has got quite painful for me because some things I'm really good at. Some things I'm not, so spreading myself too thin. I've had to realise to start reaching out and asking for help. And thankfully, again, I've met some great people that have wanted to help me. One of my big weaknesses is administration. And I'm not really good sitting in front of a computer drafting things like operations plans and business models and all this sort of stuff. But thankfully I've managed to meet some great individuals out there that have volunteered their time, that want to help and who are helping, which has taken that weight off my shoulders to focus on more the stuff that I am sort of have proper strengths in.
Having to stretch yourself out in terms of resources and skill sets, is definitely very relevant to a lot of different people. What advice would you like to give our listeners who are very keen to startup their own projects, but are finding it hard to take the leap?
I guess depending on where people are at in terms of their idea and their passion and what drives them. For me, when I came up with the concept of Beddown and I got my first bit of validation, I guess the best way of describing it was, there’s a point in life where you're settling down and you might have a family and you're going around, you're looking to buy or rent a house. You might look at a whole heap of different houses and then you walk into a house and you immediately get the feeling of, ‘I can see myself living here.’ I have a sense of belonging with Beddown within me. It was almost that feeling that I've just described; I knew it was the right thing for me to do. It just felt that I was meant to be doing this. So for any of your listeners out there that have a feeling, they just might need to do a bit of validating in terms of the idea, but the stronger that feeling grows, you just need to go with it. My advice is to go with that feeling.
If you feel as though it's the right thing to do intuitively and you know deep inside that it is and you connect with it, go for it.
What have been your keys to measuring and communicating your success with your project?
Everything at the moment is leading into a pilot and a trial here in Brisbane, here in Australia. Once we get to that point, I’m very much an advocate of having some research done up front. So the number of beds that we fill every night, the number of hours of quality sleep, their impact on health and wellbeing over the trial period. And then as things scale and as we grow, we’ll look at things like the number of guests that we service. This is going to be particularly interesting because ultimately we want to put ourselves out of business, and we're setting up Beddown with this future in mind. Tracking guests as they come and go is quite an interesting one because it’ll obviously peak and spike in the early days, but then as time goes by we want that to decrease. We want people not to be coming into Beddown. And so measuring that is going to be quite important. The number of people that are accessing longer term solutions as well. So there's a number of people that are exiting Beddown and then going into a longer term solution, whether it be accommodation, employment and training and education or rehabilitation. Those are the sort of things that we want to measure. Collecting that data and obviously being as transparent as we can with our networks and our community and letting everyone know what the impacts and benefits have been with the people that are coming through Beddown. So being totally transparent.
What do you believe are the most important traits of a startup project to ensure sustainable, positive change in the community?
It's all being driven by passion, by determination or tenacity. You've got to put in the hard work, you’ve got to put in the hours, you’ve got to know that you're on the right track. You've got to build your network around you. You've got to learn from your network around you.
And through my experience to date, I'm adopting the Taylor Swift method. And you're probably looking at me, going, “Norm, what's the Taylor Swift method?”, Well, it goes a little bit like this. Throughout your idea of conception and when you're going out and you're talking with people and you're conveying what your idea is going to be, you're going to have the players who are going to play and the haters who are going to hate, and you're going to have to just shake it off. There'll be people that you tell your idea to that just won't buy into it. And they just hate the idea. And there'll be other people that will love it and want to be part of it.
You want to focus on the people that love it and want to be a part of it and don't totally dismiss the haters, because they might offer some constructive feedback, but if they're just hating on the idea in general, you’ve just got to shake them off and move on.
Relationships are a big one for me as well. And like I mentioned earlier, early on, building relations, relationships and relationship management. When it comes to social enterprises, you’re going to be making a big impact in a community somewhere around the world. So having the right relationships in place to bring those stakeholders on board is, is very key too.
Are there any particular inspiring projects or initiatives in the community that you've come across recently which you believe are creating some really positive impact?
I take my hats off for people that are making a positive difference in the world, but one that's called my attention recently is an organisation here in Australia called TradeMutt. These are a couple of tradies that are looking at a way of talking positively and connecting with one another about men's mental health and looking at suicide prevention. The way they do this is they've created a range of super loud tradie business shirts that spark a conversation and start talking about particular men's mental health because there's blokes [who] bottle up our emotions and don't like to talk about anything. We’re too proud about who we are and maybe feel a bit embarrassed about our own mental health. It’ll be an interesting one to watch because their shirts are nice and loud so they stimulate conversation.
Are there any books that you'd like to recommend to our viewers?
I'm not one for actually page turning, I’m more of a guy who likes to listen to audiobooks because I do a lot of driving. I like to listen to audiobooks and there's probably three that come to mind. First and foremost, there's a great book out there for any entrepreneur. It's called Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. He's one of the co-founders of Nike and it's a great story of determination.
Passion Entrepreneurship is just a great, great book. I've listened to that about four or five times now. I keep going back to it. It's just such a great listen or great read depending on what your preferences. Also, I love everything about Elon Musk and what he's doing in terms of innovation and Tesla and SpaceX. So the biography by Ashlee Vance is a really great insight into the way he thinks.
Finally one that I listened to most recently is by a guy by the name of John Carreyrou. It's about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. It's called Bad Blood. I highly recommend the read on that in terms of the early conception, how it came to power, then the demise of the organisation.