DPC speakers series with Orange Sky laundry
Multifunction room 1 and 2, Level 41, 1 William Street, Brisbane
In October 2014, two best mates had a crazy idea to put two washing machines and two dryers in the back of a van, and wash and dry clothes for people experiencing homelessness.
Nicholas Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, the 2016 Young Australians of the Year, founded Orange Sky Laundry – a world-first, free mobile laundry service to assist the homeless. On a mission to improve hygiene standards, Nicholas and Lucas stumbled across something bigger and much more significant – the power of a conversation.
Good morning and welcome to the first Speaker Series for 2020, hosted by the Department of Premier and Cabinet. My name is Rebecca McGarrity, Executive Director of Social Policy within the Department Premier and Cabinet and I'll be your MC for today's series. I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting and pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging.
Today I'd like to welcome our guest speakers, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, co-founders of Orange Sky Laundry and would also like to welcome all of you staff invited from across the Queensland Government here today. These Speaker Series events are designed to provide you with an opportunity to hear from Australia's leaders – to learn from their stories and experiences and to be inspired to think and act differently in your roles as public servants.
Today, we're very fortunate to have Nic and Lucas with us to share their personal stories and the evolution of Orange Sky Laundry. In Queensland Government, our role is to develop policies and solutions to improve the lives of Queenslanders. Often, it's easy to dismiss a simple idea, so today I hope the story of Orange Sky Laundry will inspire you to think outside the box and to develop simple solutions to address complex problems and drive meaningful change in Queensland.
Before I welcome Nic and Lucas to the stage, I'd like to tell you a little bit more about them and their Orange Sky Laundry venture. Our speakers today are born and bred Queenslanders growing up here in Brisbane and attending Gregory Terrace High School. After a few years of finishing high school, Nic left his job as a camera operator, an editor for the ABC and Seven network, and Lucas took a break from his engineering and commerce studies. What started as an idea to improve hygiene standards and restore dignity to communities most vulnerable – soon evolved into something much bigger and more powerful.
Orange Sky Laundry is a world first providing a free mobile laundry service for the homeless people. Orange Sky started as a couple of washing machines in the back of an old van in 2014 and now operates 31 vehicles in 27 cities across Australia, providing nearly 1.4 million kilos of washing and accompanied more importantly by more than 200,000 hours of conversation. On Australia Day in 2016, Nic and Lucas were jointly named Young Australians of the Year for their social entrepreneurship and have since received various other awards and recognition for their community and social impact. And, more recently, the duo were named recipients of the Medal of the Order of Australia for Outstanding Achievement in Service.
I haven't heard our guests today speak before, so I'm very much looking forward to hearing from them, so please, without further ado, join me in welcoming Nic and Lucas from Orange Sky Landry.
Thank you Rebecca and it's a real privilege to hang out with you for the next 40 minutes. Rebecca hasn't heard us talk before and she might have accidentally read out the wrong bio because today we're actually going to spend time giving you a budget update because it's an election year so we thought that we would have better opportunity getting us included on a line item then just to talk about that. Obviously, I'm not a comedian so I'll quit making jokes. Rebecca, thank you for the Acknowledgement of Country and at this point in time I also want to acknowledge that Orange Sky operates on lots of lands around Australia and pay our respects to those elders, past president and emerging.
Conversations change our lives. We had great chats this morning, conversations on the weekend with our families’ conversations over Christmas with our families and over the next 40 minutes or so, Lucas and I want to share a couple conversations with you that without a doubt have changed our lives. One of those conversations happened to me growing up here in Brisbane. I was home alone with my mum Claire, my brother Matt was in swimming training, my dad Paul was down in Sydney, working.
It was pitch black, my mum came into my bedroom and she said Nic put your school uniform on, we're going. I thought it was a little bit weird, but I jumped in the car, put my school uniform on and said mum where are we going? She said Nic, we're going on Eddie’s van, and as soon as she said that my heart sunk. Eddie’s van was my school’s food van that fed the homeless. I never met a homeless person, I didn't know what to say, I didn't know what to do and what to think. All these incredibly judgmental things just rushing through my teenage brain. And we kept on getting closer and closer to the park in Fortitude Valley and I'm getting more and more nervous. I just didn't want to be there. My mum jumped out the car and I'm sort of hiding in her shadow. Then this big voice yelled from the park Claire! Thought it was a little bit weird and this man looked over my mum's shoulder and he said you must be Nic. I said I am Nic, who are you? He said I'm Harry, it's a real privilege to meet you. How's your brother going in swimming training, is your dad back from Sydney? Harry was just like my uncle and my granddad. He had the same stories that went on and on and on forever. He had the same terrible jokes. The difference was that Harry was sleeping on that park bench. And I'm going to school that day and later that night with my family and thinking about Harry. What decisions he had or hadn't made, what positions he had or hadn't been in to put himself in that situation.
I want you all to take a second to just imagine, if it's possible, to imagine that tonight like Harry, you're actually homeless. What cash or little cash you can get together is used to get some food so you're able to survive. So, if you found yourself with a couple of bucks in your pocket – would you actually spend it on washing and drying clothes? How high a priority would that be when you're hungry, when you're cold, when you’re scared and really when you don't know where you're going to be from one day to the next? In 2016, the census found that that's the reality for 116,000 Australians every single night. Of that massive population, 58% are blokes, 42% female and if you break that down across the whole population here in Australia what that means that tonight is one in 200 of us are homeless. Now, after hearing these stats and meeting people like Harry throughout high school, Nic and I really wanted to find a way to help. We were incredibly inspired by that energy, that creativity of people in our generation, so we hatched a crazy, crazy, dream. We were going to improve the hygiene standards for the homeless. Sounded pretty simple and after meeting people like Harry we thought this is something that's been overlooked and we can maybe do something about it. So we sat down at a cafe one day and we started throwing ideas around. We weren't too sure what it's going to look like, but we eventually landed on this really crazy but simple idea. We were going to build a free mobile laundry service for the homeless. Thought sounds pretty easy, thought you know could maybe help a few people. Nic owned an old van, thought we'd get a couple of washing machines, chuck them in the back and make it work and it's going to be as easy as that. We thought, well, we need some serious washing machines, so we jumped on Google and typed in serious washing machines. The first company that comes up is this company by the name of Richard J Laundry. These guys are perfect. They've got ones as big as this room, down to ones you might see in a laundromat. Sent an email off, start talking to one of their sales guys. He was talking $1000 a month leasing and if we break the machines you have to pay all these crazy excesses. Nic and I were funding the whole project ourselves at this point and these numbers were simply out of reach.
So we threw one last lifeline out to this guy and said is there someone a bit higher up we can talk to about sponsorship, we think that this is something that can really, really help people. Just so happened it was a family owned but nationwide organisation. They agreed to a meeting, the managing director and Nic and I rocked up late in t-shirts, shorts and thongs. Walked into this big fancy board room and told this massive company about our little dream. We want to build a free mobile laundry service for the homeless. Do you have any washing machines we can chuck in the back of an old van?
Now Caroline, who’s the managing director, sat across the table and said you guys are absolutely crazy. The machines are not designed to put in the back of a van and no one is going to wash and dry their clothes in a park.
Now by that time five years ago, and even still today for Lucas, unsure of how to use the washing machine still to this day. Lucas and I promised this company that was absolutely serious about laundry and invited them to be part of our little dream and invited them to participate in our journey, something that was thought to be crazy and impossible. But the crazy thing was they said yes. So now we have these two massive washing machines and two massive dryers and no idea how they worked. But the process of a few weekends, we managed to find a way to get these machines in the back of our vans and this is what we did...
Video with music playing
So, we had this van and had two washing machines and dryers in it. We had this generator that was going to power it all up. We thought it'd be a good idea to name the van, so we named the van Sudsy and we're ready to go through the streets of Brisbane. Except there was one small problem. I just got my license, so I was way too scared to drive his van and massive trailer. So, I threw Lucas the keys and he was in charge.
So, we hadn't done too much testing with Sudsy, but we thought what better place to start then out on the streets and what better location to start then alongside our old school food van.
It was the same place we met people like Harry and all these people who are so important in shaping this into what it was. So, jumped in the van, drove down to the park and mounted the curve, parked perfectly up alongside the old school food van. I was in charge of setting the van up and Nic was in charge of finding some washing. So, started going through the setup procedure and unwound the hose, went over to the council tap – there's a $12 tool you can buy from any hardware store that lets you steal water from the council. That's how you do it that's fine.
So, started borrowing water from the council. Unwound the power cable, plugged the power cable into the generator, turned the generator on and a big plume of black diesel smoke, put the waste water and Sudsy was almost ready to go. There's one final switch to flick into then we're good to wash. Meanwhile Nic had found some washing. There's a young guy named Jordan who had a couple of t-shirts, couple of pairs of boardies in his backpack and he was ready to be the first ever wash. So, I jumped in the van, flicked the final switch and heard this massive bang. I turned to Nic and said I don't think washing machines are supposed to make that noise. I thought I might call up this Richard J company and ask. I had the phone number for this guy by the name of Dan. Now Dan worker for Richard J and I think he might be the world's angriest laundry technician. Just two weeks earlier, Dan said this is never going to work and when it breaks, I'm going to have to fix it.
So, I get on the phone and I'm like ‘morning Dan, how's it going. The machines made a bit of a weird noise this morning when I turned it on and now it says C E on the screen, what does that mean?’ He said, ‘Lucas, that means critical error. You’ve broken both machines. I told you that this wouldn't work.’ Now that was a pretty testing time for Nic, for Jordan and myself because we've been added to that long list of people that throughout his life had let Jordan down. But Nic and I were determined not to make that list any longer, so we got on the phone to Caroline, begged and pleaded and for whatever reason she agreed to give us two more washing machines. We went out that afternoon, dropped the broken ones off. Sorry Dan, drop the broken ones off, thanks, the new ones. Took the new ones, installed the new ones into Sudsy and Sudsy was hopefully fixed. However, the next morning we're like let’s hit the streets, same time, same place except Lucas you're not allowed to touch the van at all, so Nic was back in charge.
So, I was adamant that Lucas's driving broke Sudsy, said chucked the P Plates under the van and drove down, nearly crashed into the old school food van and started stealing water again. Fired the generator up, big black plume of diesel smoke but there was Jordan. The previous morning we'd let Jordan down. We grabbed Jordan's t-shirt, boardies and a few other things, chucked them in that left washing machine. Top button, bottom button, bang. C E. The disappointment on Jordan's face, on Lucas's face said it all. This is something that had to work and was something that was hopefully going to work. So the same spot that Lucas called Dan, the world's angriest laundry technician I called Caroline, the big boss. I said good morning, Caroline, how's it going? She said Nic you know those really, really, really expensive washing machines, I said Caroline it's going so great. Jordan was waiting for us this morning and this is something that's going to work. Lucas and I are going to stop funding this whole project ourselves, we're going to register a charity we're going to be a corporation, we need 7 directors, Lucas and I and our mums are in and we want you to be on the board. Think you've got a lot of experience running a national laundry company, good technicians, good governance. Lots of washing machines, do you want to be on the board of Orange Sky? She's like gosh Nic aren’t you moving a little fast? I said no Carolyn, Lucas is back to uni, do you want be on the board? Hey Carolyn, what about two more washing machines? She had to say yes now, she was on our board. We apologised to Jordan, we packed up, went back to the workshop.
Sorry, Dan these ones are definitely broken. Grab some new ones, went back to the drawing board, we're doing so much wrong. We weren't converting the power correctly so we're frying the circuit boards, we weren't putting the shipping bolts in so every bump or not Sudsy went over cut a wire or broke a tube. So back to the hardware store, four clamps, two occhy straps and Sudsy was hopefully fixed. So, for the third morning in a row, the third day taking this frustrating van out, Lucas was in charge.
So, it almost like Groundhog Day, jumped in the van, same time, same place went down to the same park and the third morning in a row, there was Jordan. For whatever reason, Jordan was still willing to trust us with his only possessions in the world. So, we to turn everything on, loaded everything into the machine, top button, bottom button and everything started perfectly. At that point it was a massive sigh of relief for Nic and Jordan and for myself. But we also had this moment of realisation. What do we do now? We've been so focused, so blindsided on getting this van to technically work but once it did work, we didn't really have a plan for what was next. And it is so simple. Jordan and I just started having conversation and I'm confident that conversation not only changed my life, but also change the trajectory of Orange Sky forever.
Jordan went to school just up the road from me, he studied engineering at UQ, which is the exact same degree, exact same university that I was part way through studying. He'd worked as an engineer in some big companies around Brisbane, but all of a sudden, he'd fallen on some tough times, become disconnected from his family, from his community and found himself sleeping on the streets and washing and drying his clothes in our van. I've never been so mind boggled that someone who was almost the future projection of my life, maybe 8 years down the path, could have similar backgrounds, similar family situation, could be in that situation. Jordan though talked about the positivity he could already sense that Orange Sky was bringing into the park. For three mornings in a row these two idiots in the bright orange van had rocked up, but continually coming back for more. Jordan said that was a having a tangible impact on the park. Jordan though really illustrated for me, I think that first morning, and I think started the shift change of Orange Sky being around laundry and more focus being around our conversation. That conversation has truly changed my life forever and I think set the tone for thousands and thousands of hours of conversations that would follow on orange chairs all around Australia.
So, there we were in October 2014 here in Queensland, wanting to do one thing to simply wash and dry clothes for free. However, what we stumbled on here in the streets of Brisbane was a little bit more. We’d stumbled on a world first, something that connected the community, reduced transmission of really bad diseases, but most importantly and most simply, improve the lives of others. Now in our first one month of operation with our dodgy van Sudsy, with no working fuel gauge, no second gear, an unverified bank account and maxed out PayPal account, some website we made with Microsoft Word and crayons, we were lucky enough in our first one month of operation to receive over 2500 unique donations from 24 countries around the world. But the coolest thing was in our first one month of operation here in Queensland, we're lucky enough to wash and dry over 300 homeless friends’ clothes for free. It was one of those first ever mornings Lucas and I were just way too keen to find dirty laundry. We knew there were some friends living on the banks for the Brisbane river. So, we got up nice and early, I picked Lucas up and we went down along that river bank and probably to this morning some of the most desolate conditions I've ever seen anyone living in here in my own hometown. There's a blue tarp along the mangroves, there was a mattress and there were three garbage bags that just absolutely screamed dirty laundry.
And I remember walking up to these garbage bags even more nervous than meeting Harry or waking up Jordan. I remember saying good morning and there was dead silence. I remember saying good morning guys and there was dead silence. I remember saying good morning I'm Nic and two remarkable people came out from that blue tarp, Mick and Natasha. Mick was struggling with a really bad hip injury, Natasha was struggling with her personal hygiene in that situation. Over the next few hours we were able to wash and dry all their clothes and eliminate those bad things like bedbugs and scabies and mould. We also talk about the healthiness of the mind at Orange Sky. Constantly being damp, constantly being dirty, the impact that would have on our minds, we were able to raise that at Orange Sky through a really simple thing like washing drying clothes. And this photo we took when we passed Mick back those clean, warm clothes from the dryer, he told me something that I will never forget. He said, Nic, I have never washed these. And it was reminded to me that morning here in Brisbane that there are people just out there in our own backyard that didn't have access to something that I took for granted.
The next conversation that really helped shape Orange Sky happened maybe 18 months after we met Mick and Natasha. Now it's sort of started building a bit of momentum here in Brisbane we started going to Redcliffe, Ipswich, Logan and all of a sudden, had a new van in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth. But Orange Sky was starting to grow onwards and upwards. We'd almost got in this cycle of just put a new van out there, go to a new community and just keep on doing that. I think Nick and I almost started to become numb to the impact of clean clothes a little bit which sounds terrible. But it wasn't until one morning I was sitting out on the Central Coast of New South Wales launching one of our vans and the first morning we were washing on the Central Coast. We were set up there at the Community Centre with no washing then all of a sudden, a lady turns up in a white car and out jumped out with two massive garbage bags with her two daughters following behind her. Thursday morning didn't think too much of it and then in the next couple of hours we got to know Joe and her kids very well. She shared a little bit of our story and we're lucky enough to capture something on film. Here is Joe's story.
It is so easy to go from being an awesome member of society to being on the street. It happens in the blink of an eye. I was renting a house and doing fine paying $450 a week because that was all I could get. And I was fine, I was working part time and bringing up my kids as a sole parent. Then I lost my job in November because I injured my shoulder. And in that three months, I used all my savings to pay my rent and got a month behind in my rent and that's all it took. And I went from living comfortably in a four bedroom house to living in my car. Thankfully I was lucky enough to get emergency housing at a caravan park but even that has its difficulties. You could be moved or you could be somewhere else. You never know where you're going to be in 4-5 days’ time. And the community services that are there is the only thing that puts you between total desperation and managing. But if it was just me, I don't know, I think I'd be ready to give up but it's important for the kids to feel like they have some sort of normalcy. Clean clothes is the most basic of needs, to just be clean and comfortable. Everyone knows that shower and clean clothes, how good it makes you feel.
So, Joe touched on there, she said everyone knows how good clean clothes and a shower makes you feel. And it wasn't till that morning was sort of unfolding a little bit, the jokes shared, the reason her kids weren't at school that morning is that they didn't actually have clean uniforms. But I think that really drove home the point straight then and there to Nic, myself and the whole team around the simplicity of washing and whether it's around disease eradication, bringing people together for a conversation or something as simple as clean clothes so kids can go to school, I think Orange Sky can sit across every single one of those platforms.
Lucas and I are just two, normal, everyday blokes but we decided to challenge the ways we perceive and interact with the world around us through a really simple idea like washing, drying clothes for free. We believe as Queenslanders, Australians, governments, as charities it doesn't matter, to make the biggest impact in our communities, we must do things differently. But we must continue to look at ways that we add layers of value to the services we provide and like Lucas said the most important things that our vans carry aren’t the washing, aren't the tool that lets us steal water, it's the six orange chairs. And every day we're looking at how we can add more layers of value and connections, over those chairs. So that's why about two years ago we opened our doors to a brand-new van. And that van’s name wasn't Sudsy, that van’s name was Monty. We we're driving Monty down to the same park in Spring Hill, that only a few years earlier we'd had all those disasters with Sudsy and we're absolutely terrified. We hadn't done too much testing, we didn't want another disaster to happen and we rocked up and a gentleman by the name of Dave was there. He said boys I love this; can I jump on in? I said absolutely, Dave, jump on in. Here's what Dave was up to.
Reporter: It's a crisp August morning and Dave 'Busy' Shuman is enjoying his shower, except this is no ordinary shower. [Dave] It was awesome mate it was hotter than Taylor Swift. You can come here get your clothes washed, there's a park just across the road, get in the shower, stand around then you're nice and refreshed and ready for the day, it's awesome.
Kahlah: Having a shower when you're homeless, it changes you, it changes your day. It basically just enlivens you, it freshens you up.
Dave: It’s a human need and as a human being we all need to actually feel good about ourselves.
Following the success of Orange Sky showers, we were lucky enough like that video said to launch a shower van in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Orange Sky's now got 32 vans in operation around Australia and New Zealand and launching our 33rd one this week in the northern rivers of New South Wales. Every week these vans go to over 290 spots at the same time, same place every week, but they're never alone. They're working with an amazing drop in centre or church or food service provider or counselling service provider to add our small piece of value to the incredible work that they do in their communities. Every week these vans are run by 1800 incredibly compassionate and empathetic volunteers that put their lives on hold to run our services. Every week these vans wash and dry over 10,000 kilos of free laundry, facilitate over 200 safe, hot showers.
But far from every load of washing or shower given, the biggest impact Orange Sky has had or will ever have, are on those 6 orange chairs. Every week around Australia around 1300 hours of incredibly genuine and non-judgmental conversation take place and each and every second of those conversations don't only improve our homeless friends’ lives but our volunteers’ lives. So, imagine if it's possible to imagine that probably the majority of us in the room here today, who have never experienced homelessness before, suddenly became homeless in a natural disaster.
Reporter: They usually wash clothes for the homeless but with residents here in Yeppoon unable to use their washing machines their services are in high demand.
Resident: I’ve probably been in this stuff for about three days.
Resident: We were huddled in the back of the laundry watching tin fly from a to b and mate you just don’t know how bad it really was.
Reporter: It could be weeks before power is restored to some areas of cyclone ravaged Central Queensland so charity organisations like Orange Sky Laundry have come here to help make life just that little bit more comfortable.
Resident: Never ever seen a storm like that before. The rain, the lightning, the thunder, that one was quite a scary night, we didn’t think we were going to have a house left.
Reporter: Wwith just the sheet on their back. Luckily for them the team at Orange Sky has been driving around the flood effected areas with their laundry on wheels.
Reporter: The Wilson’s River peaked at 11.5m, the highest in 43 years.
Orange Sky volunteer: Washing clothes isn’t going to save anyone’s life or fix anyone’s home but it can make that little difference that can help people get back on their feet.
Like the video mentioned, Orange Sky been lucky enough to respond to a number of different natural disasters, wash and dry over 20 tonnes in response, and whether that's the bushfires in South Australia, the bush fires that are happening or continuing to happen across the country – our vans right now set up in Mallacoota in Victoria, where we're washing clothes and helping firefighters get their uniforms back into ready use for their duties over next couple months and we know that community recovery doesn't happen in a day and Orange Sky, that small piece of the puzzle can really play into those and we've had so many different stories of people who have been affected and most notably a couple of weeks ago we were talking at a conference and straight afterwards a lady came up, gave us a massive hug, tears down her face, said you guys really helped me out after cyclone Debbie and I never thought that I'd have to use your service. I think again it just brought home this point around how simple something simple like laundry can cut across so many different boundaries for everyone I think in Australia and across the world.
I just want to put this map up here once more to point out for one more special dot on here that I thought would be remiss of me not to touch on before we wrap up and open up for a few questions.
The dots right up the top of Queensland are right next to a beautiful little community by the name of Lockhart River. Now the story behind the Orange Sky Service starting at Lockhart River started a number of years ago, we were in a room very similar to this at a medical conference down in Melbourne. A lady got up behind the lectern just like that, and she said there's an epidemic happening in our community and no one is talking about it. Two in three kids in the Indigenous communities will contract scabies before the age of 1. That's worse than any other any other country around the world, and it's happening in our own backyard and yet no one is talking about it. Scabies is something that shouldn't exist in Australia and there's three really simple things to combat it. One is an ointment to get on top of it, two is education to stop it coming back and three is hygiene practices. The biggest component of which is laundry. Nic and I were standing at the back of the room and when she said that word laundry, we sort of looked at each other and said, well, we know one or two things about laundry. Maybe this is something we can help them with and that's really where the journey behind Lockhart River started for us a couple of years ago. Looking a bit more into scabies it can turn into terrible crusted scabies and can actually lead to kidney failure and death. It all starts from not having good hygiene practices and not having access to simple things like washing machines. So we thought, well, starting to talk to some of our supporters and eventually one supporter said, let's do it, here's the money to make it happen and let's do it in Lockhart River. That was really where the story behind that little dot started, the next little video's a snapshot into the work Pytham and the truck up in Lockhart River is doing and continues to do and now also Palm Island and the Menagrium as well.
Siobhan Jackson, Principal at Lockhart State School: Orange Sky is taking a great way to address the skin needs because they’re washing the clothes at a particular temperature and they’re able to kill mites and things like that people are getting and it gives kids an opportunity to come to school.
Resident: What people don’t realise it’s actually going to be a good educational tool in many respects. It’s going to be one of those tools that connect, help people with education. I think it’s going to do a lot more than just wash clothes. The mobile laundry, I think it’s going to add value in many senses; health, education in our community, in culture. In many peoples, I think that’s important.
Late last year I was lucky enough to be up in hot, humid Lockhart River and a conversation again on a cheap, plastic orange chair that I don't think I'll ever forget. It was with this little dude Archie. Archie and I were hanging around the van for a couple hours and then Ben who took this photo and he just kept on taking this little boy’s photo. It got to a point that I just thought it was a little bit weird. Until it clicked with me that every time Ben put the camera down, Archie went back to scratching the sores on his arms and his legs. Ben was just simply distracting this little boy and I think when you look at this ecosystem, a couple of hundred kilometres from the tip of Queensland, a tropical climate, generations of family infected dogs and our small piece to the puzzle, I can't help but think about what the Mayor said so well in our video is that we're all just people. And just like we're all here today, every garment that we put into our washing machines is different shapes and sizes, different textures. Our garments have imperfections, it's just as like us as people where all here today in different shapes and sizes and we to as individuals have our own imperfections. But when we come together, whether it be here, or up in Cape York, we can sit down and we converse and we can connect some profound things that happened. And that's why we very quickly rewrote our mission from those early days of improving the hygiene standards for the homeless. Our mission at Orange Sky is to possibly connect communities.
How we do that each and every day is through really simple things like laundry and showers, but most impactfully and by simply is through the power of a conversation. I think now is a really nice time to press pause and open it up for some questions. We have one most common question and if you ask that you can have this banner here.
What do you do if someone doesn't have any other clothes than the ones they're wearing?
So it's a great question and it comes back to a lot of what we do, which comes to community collaboration. So here in Brisbane, for instance, we do have a small amount of clothing donations and stuff that we can give to people, but we don't have that in every location that's on that map back there. But what it comes back to is really working with those different providers, clothes are in massive supply and for people to have access to, so for us it's about linking in with those providers and people that can and do that, but I think after that it's around building that sustainable wardrobe. So, I think everyone in this room would have a favourite pair of pants, a t-shirt or something like that and it's no different for people who are doing it tough. So having a sustainable wardrobe that can become a prize and possession so that we can actually look after and launder each week. But in the starting instances it comes back to either us or working with another group and sort of get someone sorted and that might be through summer or even winter getting some warmer clothes as well. So yeah, community collaboration and then sustained wardrobe following that as well.
How do you decide which community you're going to go into and how much interaction, do you do so hopefully you get the support from there?
Like Lucas said, 16,000 people are homeless in Australia and a report done by Deloitte last year was that roughly 40% of Australians homeless population now have access to an Orange Sky service. So, we're not even halfway there in the amount of vans or services that we can provide and really, how we look at our service provision is we bring it back to an economic impact in the community. So, we worked with Deloitte in putting an economic value to our output so whether that be washing, a shower or a volunteering hour. Essentially what that meant is that last financial year we were able to create $9.5 million of economic impact in the community and what that means is that we can now look at every van and see how we can optimise that. So the great thing about the van being on four wheels that can operate anywhere that operate 24/7 is that we need to look at how we can get as many volunteers engaged and taking those vans out. There's some vans, like our vans in Perth and Auckland that are our most heavily used vehicles and then there’s some vans like say Port McQuarrie, we’ve got a van that can be used more. But it's also looking at a lot of our statistics come back to population and so like Lucas said one and 200 people are homeless in Australia. So, a lot of our vans are in areas of higher population density, but now, what we're looking at and talking with colleagues earlier is actually providing more affordable assets into areas. So, at the moment it costs 150 grand to build a van and 150 grand a year to run the van, so in a community say like Mount Isa or Rockhampton, at the moment it’s a hard push for us to get that level of investment into a community. But there are absolutely people that are lonely and isolated. So we look at homelessness population, we look at partners to work whether it be someone like St Vincent de Paul, Rosies or Sunny Street Medical Centre here in Queensland, we look if there's volunteers in the area to run it and then the fourth sort of piece is someone to fund it and whether it be a philanthropist or corporate partnership to work in that area.
What have you learnt over the last 5 years in providing service through volunteers, staff and putting up with me?
I think so much is the short answer. There is a tremendous amount that we've learned and if it is through something like building a team, we've now got 40 staff that work for us here in Brisbane. But nationally and even into New Zealand as well. I think when we talk about Orange Sky, we often talk about our three key touchstones being friends, so people we support, our volunteers, people that are on the coalface making it happen and then the supporters who enable it to happen and us as Orange Sky team members that sit in the middle of those three touchpoints. I think for us probably one of the biggest things I've learnt is that if we can establish some core principles through that, that sit in all three of those touchdowns and internally with our staff team, that can I think, transcend sometimes the challenges and stuff. Even heading into New Zealand there's a lot of angst put into us by different people on the ground there, saying you know the Maori culture and there's so many cultural considerations that you need to take and you don't want to miss step and so many of these sort of foreshadowing and then warning stories that we had. But then when it came down to it, what Orange Sky is built on, it's built on compassion, it's built on treating people the right way and treating people how you want to be treated and I think that sometimes can transcend cultures, can transcend religions and those sorts of things. That I think is similar from a friend's perspective, from a volunteer’s perspective to a donor's perspective. Simple things like giving someone a call and thanking them for making a donation like that I think sounds so simple when you say it, but when you're on the journey and in the madness of it all, sometimes can be left on the side. But ultimately those donors are the people that fuel Orange Sky, the volunteers, same way and the friends, that trust that we have been able to make it happen. I couldn't summarise it in one thing but that would be a key thing. I think one thing I’ve taken is that sometimes those core principles that you can engrain from a really early point can transcend all those other challenges and set the tone for how things are going to continue to happen.
How do we interface with rough sleepers and how do we connect them in with long term solutions?
In regards to the rough sleepers a really interesting statistic that came out a couple years ago is that the average time that someone is rough sleeping in Australia is seven years and the best time to get someone off the streets is in the first 3 months of living on the streets. The interesting thing about Orange Sky is that we see people throughout the continuum of their homelessness journey so we see people potentially living pay check to pay check that are currently not sleeping rough, we see people that have just had their first night on the streets and we see people who are chronically homeless or living in sort of secondary accommodation and what's really important across that whole continuum is the importance of connection. So, Orange Sky doesn't have houses, we don't have social workers, we don’t have doctors but what we have is time and through that time we can sit down and connect. But also what we have is connectivity. So, all of our vans connect to the internet and we sort of plug into services and what's really important for our volunteers isn’t preaching or teaching or fixing, it's to connect people. So, services like Ask Izzy or Service Seeker, if someone is in need of a service our volunteer works alongside that friend empowering them to get the help that they need. Sometimes that connection happens on the first shift, then sometimes it's on the hundredth shift and I think what's really important is that there are a lot of service providers out there doing incredible work who have lots of available time, but there's a disconnect around people feeling comfortable or people being aware of people having the right information to see those services.
What's your most asked question?
It hasn’t been asked yet.
It'll come up I reckon, it's never not come up, so I’ll be surprised.
How was your relationship with Dan, the washing machine repairman?
Lucas, who's Dan?
Dan's a really interesting one of someone who I suppose, was in that the doubter camp to start, but then and now he's still with Richard J, still comes out and not no longer begrudgingly, comes out and services machines and sort of checks in on them from time to time. He's definitely in that advocates camp now as well. So I mean he's no longer the world's angriest washing machine technician, he's one of the nicest I think, so that's a pretty common question actually.
Why Orange Sky?
It's the most common question, you get that banner right there. Orange Sky is the name of a song that's by British singer songwriter called Alexi Murdoch and the song talks about helping your brothers and sisters and everyone being underneath an Orange Sky. Orange Sky isn't politically or religiously associated. We love the name, we love the colour, we stuck it on our first van and we have a pink suit.
So the question was, as far as doing laundry and showers, and is there something else on the horizon or what's next?
I think it's a common question, what's next, what's next for Orange Sky is delivering our mission so whether that be build 1000 vans or 10,000 volunteers, what’s really important is that in its simplest form that we continue our service and not letting anyone else down like we did with Jordan on the first day. But also, what's really important is now that we've got these communities like I talked about earlier, it's adding those layers of value and about a year ago we got $1,000,000 from Google to commercialise our software that we built. So, when we launched our first van down in Melbourne, outside of Queensland, we had no idea if that van went out, who's volunteering, who's rostering. We couldn't find anything in the market to help us onboard volunteers or manage services or report incidents or measure impact and we didn't want to pay staff member to run every van. We didn't have the money and we didn't think that that would be the best use of a resource. So our first ever staff member at Orange Sky was a software developer and now the teams grown out to an incredible team that have just launched a product a year ago called Campfire and that tool is to help other charities collaborate more efficiently but help them amplify their impact. So any organisation that has issues with onboarding volunteers, managing incidents, managing impact, can use campfire to operate. But then what's really interesting is building a marketplace around that. So since starting Orange Sky we've had 12,000 people apply to be a volunteer and we've only got those nearly 2000 volunteers out every week. So there's 10,000 people out there in Australia that at some point in time wanted to help Orange Sky and we haven't been able to work with them. So there are organisations here in Queensland that don't have volunteers then don't have potentially the exposure that Orange Sky has got, but there's still a workforce out there that wants to help. So I think the next biggest piece for Orange Sky is Campfire, it's a revenue stream also for Orange Sky. So we're trying to not be relying on donations out our whole life so we can help the sector, we can also provide a revenue stream for Orange Sky and then secondary to that is using Campfire to help us scale. So now the biggest growth in assets in an impact in the next 12 to 24 months will be more assets into New Zealand, it'll be more assets into remote Indigenous communities and more assets that are a more affordable cost. So, watching those smaller services in our first prototype of that is in Mackay at the moment.
What opportunity do Lucas and I still have to get out there and be part of Orange Sky?
It's still a massive part of what we do. I was out on a shift this morning hanging out, Harry, who we mentioned that first slide, still comes down who's in a house now but still comes down for that piece of connection in that community with those volunteers that I know he looks forward on each Tuesday and Friday morning just up the road in Fortitude Valley. So I think for us it's so important, again coming back to those touchstones I was talking about before. Stay connected to our friends, to say connect to our volunteers and Nic and I spend a lot of time with our donors as well. So that really keeps us centred I think in the middle. So try and get out once a week and if we're traveling will sort of be out most days that they we're out on shift because it's such a good option to one, see how the vans are going, seeing how the different communities operating in, how the volunteers are going as well, so it's definitely really important thing to keep us centred. I might just wrap up with one little video and final thought.
Kay McGrath, Journalist and family friend: When Nic and Lucas brought up the concept of throwing some washing machines and dryers into an old van and driving it around, my first reaction was well that’s a big idea how on earth are you going to pull it off?
David Koch, TV Presenter: It’s easy for us to make a donation to a great cause and that’s the easy step. But we never actually put the effort into making a difference to someone’s life and that’s what Nic and Lucas do every single day to a group of strangers that most of us would walk by and ignore.
Kay McGrath: They had to build trust. These people are handing over their most valuable possessions, their clothes, to these total strangers. They didn’t want to be judged. Were they being sold something, was it political, was it religious? No, the friends on the street love the service.
Lucas Patchett: Some of these guys and girls who live on the street unfortunately are ignored for 99% part of the day, so one at a time, morning, noon or night a conversation with one of our really friendly volunteers can have a huge impact.
Dave, friend on the street: It’s about knowing that someone cares. That’s what it’s all about. Knowing that someone cares out there.
John, friend on the street: I think having clean clothes means that I can go on with my life and go to job interviews and have conversations with people and on public transport without feeling ashamed.
Unknown: These are two young twenty-year old’s, passionate, enthusiastic, inspirational young guys that have solved a simple problem in a very innovative way. Promoting respect and just engaging in those homeless communities and giving them something that we all take for granted.
Nic Marchesi: It’s very daunting that there’s homeless people all around the world and we are the only ones in the world providing free mobile laundry. So we hope to one day see Orange Sky helping people every minute of the day.
Kay McGath: I think it’s really warmed the hearts of so many people who now know that there are others out there that genuinely and deeply care about there wellbeing.
David Koch: It is so simple, it has this ripple effect that can impact people’s lives forever. What Nic and Lucas are doing is a bit of magic.
Dave, friend on the street: It’s hope, it’s all about hope. You get up in the morning, you’re looking for whatever hope you can.
It's really as simple as that and what Dave, that legend, says so well in that video, it's knowing that someone cares and it's all about hope. What I hope is that when people like Mick and Natasha or Archie wake up tomorrow morning and the morning after, they now know that there's a community of people all around the world that actively and deeply care about them. I hope as passionate individuals working here in Queensland, you can continue to remind yourselves that through your conversations at work and through the policies and conversations and projects that you do in the community, you can create some amazing connections out there. But most importantly what I hope we can take into the rest of this week, the rest of this year is that each and every one of us can remind ourselves individually that we don't need a bright orange washing machine, we don't need millions and millions of dollars, we don't need thousands and thousands of hours. Each and every one of us can deliver hope, each and every one of us can care. We just need to remind ourselves about the power of an awesome conversation.
Thanks for having us.
Thank you very much, Nic and Lucas. I think I can speak for everyone here today and say what an inspirational and motivating talk that was and it's a shame I haven't heard you talk before. Because I think I can definitely take some of this back to what we do here in social policy. So thank you very much for that. Are you guys hanging around or you going? Yeah, they'll be here for a couple of minutes. If anyone has any extra questions that they want to they want to talk to them about, but we do have to finish now. So thank you everyone for coming along to the Speaker Series talk today. We look forward to seeing you at the next one, which is in June during Reconciliation Week.
So, thank you very much.