This love story began at Sydney Mardi Gras, these two love birds Caroline de Castro and Nicole Oxenbridge realised quickly their mutual love for caring for their community was going to be a beautiful union.

They have both worked to provide support, resources and health promotion to communities in the HIV sector in Australia. Nicole spent part of her life addicted to drugs, after hitting rock bottom and seeking help herself she discovered a desire to compassionately support others in a similar situation. “I just wanted to make a difference, I wanted to reduce the stigma that is attached to disease and addiction”.

After being together four years, Nicole (an Aussie) and Caroline (a Kiwi) decided to move to New Zealand for a quieter life. Nicole says,“I was really just existing in Australia but in New Zealand I felt like I was just starting to live.” However, Wellington proved to be a real struggle on the wallet and as they watched their savings begin to dwindle. They began to apply for many jobs, but the work they applied for meant they’d be paid less than the benefit and this wouldn’t even cover the cost of their living. Some weeks were harder than others, they would depend on the food bank for sustenance to keep their energy to push them forward towards a happier, healthier life. They were struggling to find friends as they weren’t socialising much and didn’t have family in Wellington either, but they did have each other.

The Ministry of Social Developments, “Be Your Own Boss” course gave them the skills and support to start a social enterprise called Fresh Desk, a commercial cleaning business. They made sure the work they provided wasn’t just the minimum wage, as in most cleaning jobs, and they paid their employees the living wage. They also made sure each one of their team members were given the opportunity for growth by paying for their education to upskill via  NZQA National Certificates. They explain with excitement and pride that their supervisor in Wellington, a single mum with 3 kids who, having completed National Certificates in cleaning, is now working towards her NZQA level 4 Business Management course with an NZQA certificate.

Their move to Auckland was prompted by acceptance into the Launchpad Work Accelerator Programme run by the Ākina Foundation. The requisite of the course was that they have plans to operate in Auckland. They arrived in Auckland this year and began to work with customers whose values aligned around treating people well.

Currently employing a team of 10, Fresh Desk is currently recruiting four full-timers and four part-timers after securing an exciting cleaning gig this month, which they are delighted about.

It’s obvious by their choice of language that they care more about how many lives are being affected rather than their business profit percentages. These women have a big drive and purpose. They measure their impact by regular anonymous wellbeing surveys with their employees which include questions like - have you been able to afford to go to the doctor when you have been sick? This isn’t your normal workplace survey question now is it?

As Nicole and Caroline’s purpose is to make an impact, and they also wanted to support their customers to be as environmentally friendly as possible, using green cleaning practises such as choosing eco products that meet the Environmental Choice standards and helping their customers monitor their quantity levels of recycling and composting.

Fresh Desk is all about a quality clean, they know that their customers are expecting a great job done and that is absolutely what they’ll get. “When people are respected and cared for they care more for the job at hand and they’ll put in the effort to not forget the details that result in an excellent job” explains Caroline.

The girls call themselves “cleaners disrupting poverty”. Their goals are to be nationwide over the next few years so they can make a bigger impact. They believe if they didn’t like working at a pathetic rate as a cleaner in their early days in Wellington ($15.60 per hour!) why would they want to pay their team that? They want to raise awareness of what people are getting paid here in New Zealand and first hand make a difference to renters and parents and others struggling to provide for themselves on a daily basis.

What the girls love most about working at The Workshop is the people in the community and the fact they can bring, Peg, their three-legged dog to work – “It means I don’t need to see her sad eyes looking at me saying, where are you going mum?” explains Nicole.

This dog gets more belly rubs than any dog I know. Here at The Workshop we invite well-behaved dogs to be part of our family. We even keep doggy biscuits on the fridge for good doggies (our little secret).

These girls are doing a great job making The Workshop spic and span with green cleaning and their positive social impact!


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