Home' Inclean : INCLEAN May-Jun 2015 Contents 14 INCLEAN May/June 2015
By Jo Cooper
A little orange van made its way into the Brisbane charity sector
last year. Despite its small size, its effects have been immediate
and profound. The brainchild of two local 20-year-olds, Nicholas
Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, Orange Sky Laundry is Australia’s first
mobile laundry for the homeless.
For three hours each weekday morning, the Orange Sky Laundry
van (the fleet has now grown to two) cn be found at one of 10
locations where other homeless services, such as food vans, are
provided. There, volunteers wash and dry an average of five loads
of washing for free and enjoy chatting with those using the laundry.
Then the van returns to the Salvation Army’s Brisbane Street level
Mission in Fortitude Valley where it operates as a laundry for the rest
of the day.
“Our aim is to reduce the strain on resources, restore respect and
raise health standards,” Marchesi said. “Those three things are
conveyed in our daily operations.”
Watching Marchesi and Patchett at work, it’s clear they are
passionate about what they do. The banter with clients is warm and
genuine, their enthusiasm is contagious – and the bright vans with
their innovative fit outs make it clear this is a unique operation.
“We wanted to start a charity run by young people... we threw a few
ideas up in the air and came up with hygiene standards, and had the
crazy idea of putting washers and dryers in a van,” Marchesi recalled.
With the support of laundry solutions supplier Richard Jay, the pair
were able to fit out their first van with two industrial washing machines
and dryers over a couple of weekends in a garage and launch the service
July 2014. They got things moving quickly by taking personal capital risks,
forming partnerships and using online and social media marketing.
Very soon, the quirky van with its bold goal of helping the homeless
was attracting local and international attention and media interest. “It
all happened crazily at the start when Nick was still working fulltime,
and I was heading into exams at uni,” Patchett revealed.
Processes have been streamlined since then; supporters such as
LG are now on board to supply machines, and Symbio Australia
provides the chemicals. Washing takes 27 minutes (up to three
people’s washing is done simultaneously in separate bags) and drying
can last between 10 minutes and an hour. To date, the original van
has completed more than 500 washes and the newest van more than
100. “Through our washing and drying process we can address
most, if not all, disease,” Patchett stated.
Word has spread, and the service is proving popular among the 300
or so people that sleep rough in Brisbane. Marchesi tells the story of
Greg, who had a solid income and ran his own business until long-ter m
illness led to homelessness. “We were able to wash and dry his clothes
and provide conversation,” he shared. And then there is Rivers, another
homeless man who was washing his clothes in the Brisbane River with a
If you ever doubt that real innovation and social change can
be driven by someone in the cleaning sector, think again. Two
young friends in Brisbane have let nothing stand in their way
as they created what is quite possibly a global first: a mobile
laundry to support the homeless. And, as they tell INCLEAN,
the story of Orange Sky Laundry has just begun.
Nicholas Marchesi (left) and Lucas Patchett
Orange Sky mobile
laundry is changing
lives, one wash at a time
bar of soap until Orange Sky Laundry came along.
“We don’t think we have the solution to solving homelessness,”
said Marchesi. “But really nice things can come from having fresh
One of the most important components of Orange Sky Laundry
is its volunteer workforce. Already, 40 volunteers are working in
Brisbane; mainly energetic people aged 18 to 39 who may have
struggled in the past to find simple ways to help those in need.
“It’s good to hear nice outcomes from everyday volunteers chatting
with everyday people on the street,” Marchesi pointed out. “From
those relationships being formed there are really great connections.”
More than 130 have applied to volunteer across Australia: and that
cross-country focus is the next goal for Orange Sky Laundry. Marchesi
and Patchett have already started operations in Cairns in February
this year when Cyclone Marcia struck, and they were able to help
out those in Yeppoon, in central Queensland, who were left without
power and, in some cases, without homes.
Now they are eyeing off “a pretty impressive expansion,” hinted
Patchett, aiming for 15 services opening throughout the nation
this year. “We’re putting systems in place where we oversee it, but
volunteers run it,” Marchesi explained. “It’s a very lean model. It’s
proven to work and now it’s just about getting into different areas.”
But this growth will require more financial backing, particularly
considering it costs about $60,000 to get a single Orange Sky Laundry
van on the road. The two founders are supported by a board that
includes Richard Jay and Symbio representatives, and welcomes interest
from other corporate supporters – particularly in the cleaning sector –
interested in becoming involved in the charity and its expansion.
“All our supporters took a massive risk in working with us and I think
they have a strong investment in what we’re doing, but it really pays off in
how their image is portrayed in the community,” Marchesi pointed out.
“Having received donations for Orange Sky Laundry from all over
the world, it verifies that what we’re doing is something good,” added
Marchesi. It has also fuelled a vision whereby the charity can assist with
disaster recovery, broaden its network of hygiene services to things such as
street showers, and even employ and train homeless people.
“I can see it being an international thing in 20 years’ time. It will
be something that helps hundreds of people on a weekly basis,”
For Patchett, the biggest lesson so far is how quickly life can change.
“I’m studying engineering and someone whose clothes I washed told
me that six months ago he was working as a chemical engineer. A few
things go wrong, a few bad choices on your part and you’re on the
street,” he exclaimed. “But it’s great that we can be the ones to give
them a helping hand to get back on their feet.”
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