We Tagged Along With Orange Sky Australia To See How A Mobile Laundry Makes A Difference

Orange sky

It’s hard to miss the Orange Sky crew — that glaring-orange van catches your eye from a mile away. As I walked up to check out the Newtown service in action a couple of minutes early, I wondered if anyone would be there yet, but it was already bustling.

Brad (the volunteer who heads up the services in Sydney), was there with a smile as bright as the van itself. He’s been with Orange Sky — a free mobile laundry service cooked up by a couple of clever 20-year-olds — for about six years, now. He affectionately refers to those young founders, Lucas Patchett and Nic Marchesi, as ‘the boys’, given he’s got a couple of decades on them.

Back in 2014, those boys had the idea to chuck washing machines and dryers into the back of an old van and do free laundry for any folks who were doing it tough. After a couple of failed starts, they finally got the machines working and realised there’d be nothing to do while it was spinning…

So, on that first day, they had a little chinwag.

“Our first friend was a fella named Jordan who went to school just up the road from me and studied engineering at the same university that I was partway through,” says Lucas. “He had worked as an engineer around Brisbane in some big firms. I can just remember all of a sudden having that ‘aha moment’ where this guy was eight or nine years older and I was on the exact same path — but in a totally different situation.”

During that chat, Jordan said it was a long time since he’d spoken to someone without feeling judged.

Eight years on, Orange Sky may have expanded with vans across the country, mobile showers, laundry pods, landromats and crews that help after disasters, but non-judgemental conversations are still at the heart of all of it.

According to the most recent census data we have available (from 2016), in Australia, more than 116,000 people are estimated to be experiencing homelessness.

“Generally the misconception is that this is all about those 10 people that you might see on your way to work or when you walk around town, but it’s much broader than that,” says Lucas. “Only about seven per cent of people experiencing homelessness are sleeping rough, so it’s actually people who are couch-surfing, in crisis accommodation, refuges or sleeping in tents and cars and those things.”

Orange Sky welcomes anyone to engage with its service — only referring to the folks who do as friends. All volunteers and friends are local and usually stick to the same shift time, so solid connections can form.

Everyone I chatted with had stories of friends who would move away and continue to commute a good 30 to 40 minutes to see their regular crew. Even Nic and Lucas themselves, who have a bunch of employees and thousands of volunteers these days, still do regular laundry shifts to stay connected with the community.

As Brad shows me around Rebecca (yes, that’s the name of the van. Donors who fund them get to choose), he explains how there are plans in place to give her an upgrade.

Later in the year, Orange Sky will drop exciting announcements about enhancing their fleet of vans. Orange Sky’s new innovative arm, Team Delta, is currently working hard to create more reliable and sustainable vans. We love to see it.

Sweet Rebecca. Look at her go.

Another reason Orange Sky is working on innovation is because of one huge goal the team set in 2020. They want to triple their impact and help 40,000 people in 2025. Last year’s total sat at 22,000 — so Lucas says they’re on track, but still have a long way to go.

Last year, the focus was on figuring out options that would work in remote communities.

“Laundromats are lowest cost and lowest barrier to entry, so we’ve now got shifts running in Wagga Wagga, Dolby, Castlemaine and Toowoomba,” says Lucas. “Finding what works for each community is what we’ve been focussing on. Now it’s bringing them into those communities.”

Part of what brings more impact to those communities is donations. Orange Sky doesn’t get government funding, so if you’re keen to help the team triple their impact to help more folks than ever, you can purchase a $10 raffle ticket through Play For Purpose. Every ticket bought contributes to a charity like Orange Sky, and puts you in the running to win a first prize worth $250,000 — a win-win.

To date, nearly $150,000 has been raised for Orange Sky through the Play For Purpose Raffle, which has resulted in over 6000 loads of washing and 6000 showers for people doing it tough.

While those loads of washing and showers certainly make a difference, I think Campbell, a friend of Orange Sky’s that I chatted to on a cold and gloomy Thursday, summed up the meaningful impact of Orange Sky best:

“It’s a beautiful day.”