Lucas Patchett, co-founder, Orange Sky Laundry

Your life can change in an instant ...

Every night in Brisbane, around 300 people are sleeping rough, whether it be under a bridge, in an inner-city alleyway or in an empty carpark. Homelessness is one of the harsh realities of humanity and a sad truth many of us may try to ignore, but two gutsy 20-year-old Brisbane lads have had the initiative to do something about it. Lucas Patchett and Nicholas Marchesi have launched Australia’s first mobile laundry service, offering Brisbane’s homeless community free access to washing and drying facilities via machines stored in a bright orange van. The not-for-profit, volunteer-run organisation is currently in the pilot stage, testing demand and viability before potentially being rolled out across the country next year. Beyond providing the fundamental service of laundry, the charity is working to break down barriers, battle stereotypes and offer hope to locals in a time of need. The Weekend Edition caught up with Orange Sky Laundry co-founder and engineering student Lucas this week to talk big dreams and small beginnings.

How did the idea for Orange Sky Laundry first come about?
It was something Nic and I had spoken about for a couple of years and it became my priority when I returned home from a trip overseas. The main reason we did it was to have a charity run by young people, for young people. There’s a lot of energy out there, so we wanted to harness it. We thought about doing a food van, but we have so many in Brisbane, and the hygiene aspect had been really overlooked.

How long did it take to put the plan into action?
Probably a week after I got back from overseas, we sat down and I said, ‘Let’s do it. I’ve got three weeks of free time before uni goes back, let’s knuckle down.’ So we started to ramp things up and set up meetings. One of our first big hurdles was getting a laundry company to donate machines, which was a great step in the right direction. It probably took six weeks to get the van on the road from when we decided to get into it.

You’re both only 20 years old, what advantages and disadvantages did your young age bring?
Probably both ways. Sometimes we’d sit down for meetings and they’d say, ‘You have to do something for us to take you seriously.’ One of the first questions people would ask was, ‘Who’s supporting you? What organisation or church?’ And we were just mates who decided to do this. But for the most part, it’s been pretty good, even just getting around social media is really easy for us. Nic had also run a business before so he had that experience, and we’ve got a really good team behind us.

What have been the greatest rewards so far – I imagine you would have developed friendships with your regulars?
Yeah, definitely. We’re starting to get a regular schedule and we do see some people every week, which is great. It’s really rewarding building up relationships with people. We’ve had about two or three people who were there on the first day, and now two have gone off and they’re back living with family. So it’s good to see a few people actually transition off the streets. Hearing the stories has been really rewarding. At the end of the day, it’s not about laundry, it’s about those conversations and building up those relationships over time, so that when the time does come, you can point them in the right direction.

What’s the big dream for Orange Sky Laundry?
We want to be Australia-wide by the end of next year. The cool thing is we have partnerships with a chemical company and laundry servicing company, both of which are Australia wide, and LG, which is an international company. So it’s a very scalable model; we can get a van on the road in two days, and then after that it’s just about establishing a schedule and finding where there’s a need for it. The other major hurdle, which is the only thing holding us back at the moment, is finding a vehicle supplier. Once we get that, we can start rolling out vans …

How can our readers lend a hand?
It’s very exciting, yesterday we just got Deductible Gift Recipient status through the Australian Tax Office, so donations of $2 and over are now tax deductible. Readers can check out the website to purchase laundry cycles, follow us on Facebook and there’s a volunteer application online as well, so get amongst it!

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt on this journey so far?
I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned from our friends on the streets is your life can change in an instant. I was talking to a guy the other week who was a chemical engineer and he made a couple of bad business decisions, and didn’t have that family support network behind him, and now he’s been sleeping on the streets for the last month. And a guy we met yesterday, he went to uni, finished his degree in agricultural science but there were no jobs for him. At the end of the day, we’re all people, we’re all made of the same stuff, so I guess just really valuing that support network that all of us take for granted.

Image via Emilie Ng.


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