The 2016 Young Australians of the Year – Nick Marchesi and Lucas Patchett – first became passionate about social justice when they were students at St Joseph’s College in Brisbane. With the Orange Sky Laundry, they have found a way to make a real difference in the lives of homeless Australians.
It was the lyrics to a song that inspired the unusual name for the world’s first mobile laundry service, a project founded by two Brisbane boys for people experiencing homelessness. The song ‘Orange Sky’ was written by Alexi Murdoch, a British singer-songwriter, and speaks of solidarity with sister and brother, dreaming of a better way of reaching out, and love found in community. The lyrics ‘In your love, my salvation lies’, are clear in their message of hope for a better world.
‘Nick and I love the song, love the message and we love the colour orange. The name has kind of stuck for the last year and a half’, said 21-year-old Lucas Patchett, one of the founders of Orange Sky Laundry.
In January this year, Lucas and his friend Nicholas Marchesi were jointly named the Young Australians of the Year for the ingenious initiative they started on the streets of Brisbane, which has now spread to six locations around Australia.
‘Nick and I were brought up in really supportive family environments, and it was really enforced when we were growing up that idea of treating others as we would like to be treated.’
Educated at St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, a Christian Brothers’ school in Brisbane, the boys were involved in justice initiatives in their teenage years.
‘Throughout school we were involved in food programs, which included handing out food from a van. Twelve of us would go out, and three or four people would cook a barbecue and then the others would just chat to people.’
Both Lucas and Nicholas continued with their passion for justice and at just 19 years, both wanted to do something to address the issues affecting homeless people in Brisbane.
Orange Sky Laundry offers a free clothes washing and drying service. They partner with service organisations, soup vans and go to places to have a face-to-face connection with people in need.
‘The idea was sort of an evolution, starting with the idea of a food van, but it grew into this. There’s nothing like this anywhere in the world. We operate 46 services across six locations. We believe our core mission is to connect the community, that is the homeless community and the volunteer community’, he said.
‘Since Australia Day we have been fulltime volunteers with Orange Sky Laundry and we are really excited to grow and develop the service all across Australia. We really believe that we have lots of momentum, and we want to make the most of the year.’
Lucas and Nick are grateful for what they have, and pragmatic about their mission. They know they have been born into comfort and feel responsible to address societal inequalities.
‘We wake up every morning with a set of clean clothes to wear. We think everyone has that right’, said Lucas.
‘Every one of our vans has two commercial washing machines in it. People are incredibly positive. At first it’s about building rapport, and we need to go about convincing people that we aren’t signing any one up or pushing any beliefs or politics on anyone. The reaction from a lot of our friends on the streets is disbelief, because no one has thought of this before. They are just blown away that we are able to wash and dry their clothes right there.’
Every night, more than 105,000 people are homeless in Australia, and the Orange Sky Laundry is one of many warm-hearted and innovative projects that has taken a holistic approach to addressing that need.However, the Orange Sky Laundry isn’t simply about providing a service without any connection. Lucas and Nick also want to address the loneliness of our society and build a community experience.
‘Once we press the button there is half an hour of washing and drying. The first time we washed we realised that while that is going on is a real opportunity for really positive and non-judgmental conversation’, said Lucas.
To find out more, go to www.orangeskylaundry.com.au.
For the classroom:
A quote often attributed to St Mary MacKillop is, ‘Never see a need without doing something about it’.
What needs are there in your local community that you could do something about?
View the reflection questions and activities for 'Under an orange sky' here