Orange Sky Laundry

Two recent graduates of St Joseph’s College Gregory Terrace were named 2016 Young Australians of the Year for their innovative efforts to help the homeless. Lucas Patchett and Nicholas Marchesi created Orange Sky Laundry to wash and dry the clothes (and possessions such as blankets) of those living on the streets. With two industrial strength washing machines and two dryers in each van, the volunteers who staff the mobile laundry service can travel to a variety of destinations where the homeless gather. And while the machines are operating there is the opportunity to draw up a chair and chew the fat with those who come to use the service. 

Established in Brisbane in July 2014, Orange Sky is expanding down the eastern seaboard with vans now operating on the Gold Coast and in Sydney and Melbourne. Adelaide, Perth, the Sunshine Coast and Darwin are also on the agenda.

Lucas spoke with The Ricean recently:

This idea came to fruition about 15 months ago.  Primarily for a couple of reasons: first, we had this idea of improving the hygiene standards of the homeless and we could do this through a really simple idea of washing clothes. The other catalyst for the service was that we were looking for something to do after we left school. While at school we had been involved in food services and other outreach programs. I suppose it was really easy at school to volunteer. After school finished we found we – and our mates - still had a lot of energy but no big platform for volunteers.  Nick and I really wanted to kick something off for us and our mates and to also improve the hygiene standards of the homeless and so that’s where Orange Sky Laundry came from.

Nick and I are pretty impatient … Nick owns an old van. We had lots of people say ‘no’ to us then one day we walked into a meeting with Australia’s largest laundromat services company and told them of our dream to put washers and dryers in the back of the van and driving round to wash and dry clothes for free. They said the ‘machines are never going to work in the back of a van’ … ‘people aren’t going to give you clothes in a basket to wash’ … But we encouraged them to participate in our journey and worked it up and eventually they said ‘Yes’ and twenty minutes later we were downstairs in their warehouse picking out washing machines and dryers. And then followed three or four weekends in Nick’s garage and endless trips to Bunnings to work it all out.

The first wash that we did was a significant moment in my life I think. The gentleman that we helped out – Jordan – had gone to school just up the road from Terrace, completed the same degree at Uni. He was five or ten years further down the track. It was really eye-opening to first find out that one or two or three little things that can go wrong or a few bad decisions or poor life turns and you can find yourself in a really terrible situation.

Everyone’s first reaction to the concept is that they are really blown away why no one has ever thought of this before. 

We kicked off in Brisbane about 15 months ago. Rolled out another service and trialled it up north and then took it down to the Gold Coast. Then Melbourne and south eastern Victoria and a couple of months ago in Sydney. We plan to launch in Perth in a few weeks’ time and also the Sunshine Coast in a few weeks’ time. With the momentum we have we are moving pretty quickly.

Do we go in other directions? We’ve been talking a lot about this at Orange Sky and we feel that we can do a couple of things really well – clean clothes and make conversation. One of our key goals is coordination. Whether that is through conversations or whether that is through working with a number of other services – food vans, medical outreach services etc – the conduit or magnet connecting all these services is where we see our commitment. So I think sticking with the laundry for now but as to the future? Currently we run training and employment opportunities so that some of the fellows who use our services during the week will come down and wash clothes for a local hospital where they are trained by us and employed by the hospital to wash their volunteer aprons. So that’s a really cool project we are looking to expand over months ahead. Also all our T-shirts are screen printed by our friends on the street, as are all our volunteer uniforms. And sometimes we run promotions where we sell the T-shirts – all are screen printed by our homeless friends who we pay so it’s another employment opportunity for them.

We are rolling out a school mentoring program which involves two representatives and one teacher from each school coming to our headquarters where we share a bit of our story and workshop with them and they can take the message back to their school. Last year we were lucky enough to be ambassadors to Catholic Education week in Queensland. We went to about 30 schools that week and maybe 50 in the month either side, so we have visited lots of schools or shared our message with lots of kids from Prep to Year 12.

VISIT ORANGE SKY LAUNDRY: http://www.orangeskylaundry.com.au/