The sun is rising over an unassuming Brisbane park and a large orange van is parked in the middle, its doors flung wide open. Inside, washing machines whirr away while the patrons, members of the local homeless community, sit chatting on fold-out chairs with young volunteers. This is the daily routine of the world’s first mobile laundry service designed for the homeless. Its founders, 21-year-old best mates Nicholas Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, started Orange Sky in Brisbane in July of 2014 and have since expanded to six cities across Australia.
“We had a strong passion to start a charity, predominantly run by young people, that could also better connect the community,” says Nick of the pair’s initiative. “It may seem like a granted – you wake up and put on a fresh set of clothes – but for countless people each day, it’s not a reality.”
After getting their hands on a van, the duo fitted it out with two commercial washers and dryers and headed to parks across the city where they not only clean clothes, but also provide a non-judgemental ear when needed.
“What we stumbled on was a world first – something that connected communities, reduced the transmission of diseases but most importantly, improved the lives of others.” Expanding into Melbourne and Sydney after their successful Brisbane setup, the charity now washes hundreds of loads each week at various locations across the country. Nick attributes a large part of their success to the advantages of youth.
“I think that our youthfulness has been an opportunity to look at things differently, and led us to come up with a solution that has been overlooked,” he says, adding that their model has thousands of hours of positive, nonjudgmental conversation.
“A lot of us love coming here because we can socialise, have positive feedback and see another face,” says David. It’s this sort of impact from Orange Sky that saw Nicholas and Lucas named the 2016 Young Australians of the Year.
“We were terrified but also excited and humbled to get called out by the Prime Minister. It was such a privilege and we are so blown away,” says Lucas. “We are really excited to leverage off the award to spread our message, help educate Australians and expand our services.”
But as with most start-ups, it hasn’t been all clear skies for the boys, who have had to overcome significant logistical and practical issues along the way.
“The biggest thing for us is this has never been done anywhere in the world, so there is no precedent for how it should work,” says Lucas “Driving up into a park and wanting to connect into been “very scalable”. Plans to expand to Europe are also in the works. “We put our expansion down to time, effort and a lot of wonderful people helping,” he says. “The biggest thing has been working on how we communicate, build and operate as we aim to keep the Orange Sky service consistent, especially as we aim to set up a service in Brussels.”
Regular client David Shuman is a big fan of Orange Sky’s work.
“They only just started and man, it’s awesome,” says Dave. “I could never actually afford to get my clothes done, because it was either eat, get bus tickets or wash them. “It makes us feel confident because we aren’t walking around with dirty clothes, because then you wouldn’t be able to be seen. So at least we are up with everyone else.”
David is one of over 105,000 Australians without a home. These are people who have faced a myriad of complex issues and hardships, such as sudden job loss, domestic violence, family conflicts, mental health issues and the high cost of living. Orange Sky volunteers try to stand alongside individuals, understand their situation and build meaningful relationships. Since they first flung open their van doors, volunteers have fostered thousands of hours of positive, non-judgmental conversation.
“A lot of us love coming here because we can socialise, have positive feedback and see another face,” says David.
It’s this sort of impact from Orange Sky that saw Nicholas and Lucas named the 2016 Young Australians of the Year. “We were terrified but also excited and humbled to get called out by the Prime Minister. It was such a privilege and we are so blown away,” says Lucas. “We are really excited to leverage off the award to spread our message, help educate Australians and expand our services.”
The duo found that issues of trust and red tape have been best overcome by leveraging established relationships within the community.
“It’s been about building up that relationship with the homeless community and also showing people the value in contributing.”
Read the full story in Issue 32.