At each annual ANMF (Vic Branch) delegates conference we host a public charity of choice. In 2023, this was Orange Sky Laundry.
Orange Sky Australia is the world’s first free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness. It was founded in a Brisbane garage by two 20-year-old mates, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett. In late 2014, they installed a couple of washing machines and dryers in the back of their old van and visited parks around Brisbane with the aim of washing and drying clothes for free.
‘It’s actually pretty tough to get washing machines to work in the back of a truck!’
‘They took this old van out on the streets to see if they could find people who would use it,’ Orange Sky’s Kristanna Sutton told delegates. ‘They found someone who was willing to wash their clothes in the van, but it wasn’t until the third day of trying that they got the machines working: it’s actually pretty tough to get washing machines to work in the back of a truck!’
The same person, Jordan, showed up each day until his clothes were washed. This persistence let Nic and Lucas know they were onto something, and what started as an idea to improve hygiene standards and restore dignity to people doing it tough has since evolved into something much bigger and more powerful.
Connection and conversation
Importantly, while washing and drying were the impetus for Orange Sky, one of the charity’s major impacts stems from something else: connection.
A key part of the Orange Sky service are the six orange chairs that volunteers who run the vans pull out on every shift. In the time that it takes to wash and dry someone’s clothes (about one hour), there’s not a lot to do but sit down and have a chat. This provides an opportunity to have a genuine and non-judgemental conversation and helps to provide a person doing it tough with a positive connection back to their community.
‘We don’t have a religious agenda or political agenda. We don’t even try to solve their problems,’ Kristanna said. ‘We’re just there to open a conversation, to have a genuine chat. So, we quickly worked out that the chairs are pretty important.’
Orange Sky now has over 2000 volunteers around Australia, and vans in more than 37 locations. To date they have provided Australians doing it tough with over 1.9 million kilograms of free laundry, 20,000 showers and 330,000 hours of genuine and non-judgemental conversation.
Orange sky in the outback
Orange Sky has vans in all capital cities and in many regional and remote areas – including in remote Indigenous communities, where the service offered is more bespoke.
‘The idea came from a conference not unlike [the ANMF delegates conference], where our co-founders heard a presentation about the third world crisis in health that was happening in our own backyard,’ Kristanna told delegates.
‘Diseases like scabies and rheumatic heart disease were prevalent across so many of these communities. And one of the key ingredients to helping with this was laundry.’
In these communities, Orange Sky provides the same service with free laundry and free washing, but they also work hard to make sure that they fit in with the community, and its needs.
They consult with the communities and build relationships, they partner with local organisations (including those who might offer other services such as soup kitchens or hairdressing), and they aim to employ local people – giving ownership to the community.