Not many people can say that an experience they had when they were 15 years old, has had such a significant bearing on their life’s purpose and direction.
But, that’s exactly what happened to Lucas Patchett & Nic Marchesi, best mates and co-founders of Orange Sky – the world’s first free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness.
“At the age of 15, Nic and I were lucky enough to go out on our school’s food van in Brisbane. To see people just around the corner from where we went to school every day, who were sleeping rough, who were doing it tough in all different forms; my eyes were open to such a big issue at a very young age. It really stuck with me,” says Lucas.
Nic adds: “Prior to going out in that van, we didn’t realise there were people out there in our own backyard who didn’t have access to things that we took for granted, like a shower or a clean set of clothes. We wanted to find a way to help them.”
With that experience etched in their hearts and minds throughout the rest of high school and university, Lucas and Nic launched Orange Sky in late 2014, when they were just 20 years old.
“Orange Sky started five years ago with a really crazy idea to chuck two washers and two dryers in the back of an old van and drive around and wash homeless peoples’ clothes for free,” says Lucas.
Although their initial intention was to improve hygiene standards and restore dignity for Australians experiencing homelessness, they soon discovered they were providing a much more valuable service – genuine and non-judgmental conversations.
“What we realised after our first wash with a gentleman by the name of Jordan, was that Orange Sky had very little to do with washing and drying clothes. It had everything to do with sitting down and having a chat. These conversations are now Orange Sky’s mission. We positively connect communities all around Australia and New Zealand through washing and drying clothes, through providing safe, hot showers; but most importantly, having a chat,” says Nic.
What started as a simple idea to help people in their local community has grown to become a hugely important service across Australia and New Zealand, including 30 mobile vans and 2,000 volunteers who wash and dry over 10 tonnes of laundry and provide 150 safe, hot showers, every single week. Importantly, at every Orange Sky “shift”, volunteers will put out six orange chairs, where people can sit and have a chat.
To date, Orange Sky volunteers have engaged in more than 185,000 hours of conversations, helping to challenge the perception of homelessness and positively connect communities all around Australia.
The team is also helping to challenge these perceptions by referring to people experiencing homelessness as their “friends on the street”.
“Our power lies in our mission of positive connection; and at its simplest form, is having a conversation. We’ve been personally blown away when being out on shifts and seeing that we can have these amazing vans and what they offer; but what people really need is human connection. A common thread we see in all of our services is loneliness and isolation, or disconnection. By sitting down on an orange chair and having a chat, some incredibly powerful things happen,” says Nic.
The ‘social entrepreneurs’ have made such a significant impact in the community that they were named Young Australians of the Year in 2016. More recently, Orange Sky was voted #1 in the inaugural Kochie’s Business Builders Power List, which “shines the spotlight on the most influential players in Australia’s small business and start-up sector” and “showcases the movers, shakers and influencers who are making their mark”.
While they never thought Orange Sky would get to where it is today, Nic attributes their success to the strength of the collaborative partnerships they have formed: “We’re proud of our mission – every day people positively connect through really simple ways. We’re proud of that community, we’re incredibly thankful for our friends who trust us with their only possessions in their life, and more so, the opportunity to have a conversation for an hour or two. We’re proud of our thousands of volunteers that put their lives on hold to go out and help complete strangers through conversation; and we’re proud of our supporters and working with organisations, like Roche, in continuing to fund our operation. We couldn’t operate without these three pivotal parts of the community coming together.”
Importantly, the value of the work Orange Sky undertakes is measurable. The team contributed $9.5 million in social impact value last financial year, ensuring 40 per cent of Australians experiencing homelessness had access to Orange Sky services.1 This includes the value - to both friends on the street and volunteers - of services ($3.54 million), quality of life ($5.1 million) and health benefits ($860,000).
“One of our core values at Orange Sky is collaborative partnerships and what we’re really proud of is knowing that Orange Sky is not alone on this journey. Orange Sky wouldn’t exist without partnerships and we’re really excited to grow those partnerships in the future,” says Nic.
Roche is proud to partner with Orange Sky as it realises its mission to positively connect communities around Australia and New Zealand. To find out more about the work Orange Sky does and how you can help, please visit: www.orangesky.org.au.
- Deloitte 17/18 Orange Sky Social Impact Report (adapted for 18/19 Financial Year).