A UQ Engineering student and his best friend were awarded the prestigious Young Australian of the Year Award on Australia Day last month.
Lucas Patchett - currently completing a Bachelor of Engineering/Bachelor of Commerce - and Nic Marchesi founded Orange Sky Laundry, a fleet of purpose-built vans kitted out with washing machines and dryers, in 2014.
They have been offering free laundry services to the homeless ever since and their innovative and charitable idea has garnered interest from local volunteers,
major sponsors and the National Australia Day Council Board.
"Nic and I are really excited and very lucky to have received this award,” Patchett said.
“It gives us a fantastic platform to promote our message, which is to start a conversation about homelessness.
“Without people knowing very much at all about this topic there are 105,000 people sleeping on the street every night in Australia.
“If people don’t know about this problem, then they certainly don’t know what to do about it, so if we can start a conversation and get the message our there about this major problem, hopefully people will find simple ideas like ours that will have a significant impact.”
Whilst Orange Sky Laundry predominantly operates in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, Patchett and Marchesi are keen to leverage their win to expand their operations.
“We’re hoping to grow and expand Orange Sky across Australia and help as many of those 105,000 Australians as we can,” Patchett said.
“We’re launching in Perth shortly and then looking to go to Adelaide, Hobart, Darwin and Canberra, covering off the major cities and then going regional.
“The good thing about being on four wheels is that we can be really responsive; we don’t necessarily know yet how many vans each city needs, so its all about finding the demand and being responsive to that demand.”
In addition to a national presence, Patchett and Marchesi hope to help the many millions of people sleeping on streets throughout the world.
“As well as Australia, there’s actually no one in the whole world doing what we’re doing, so its exciting knowing that we could provide this service internationally and have a significant impact.”
Patchett suggests their impact is simple but effective: providing a connection point for so many different services through cross promotion, while also offering clean clothes and conversations.
“We’re giving people back the basic human right of having a good chat.”
On how his time at UQ has impacted his early career as a social entrepreneur, Patchett suggests that while it seems engineering might not necessarily be related, he feels he’s drawn on his skills every day.
“At the core of engineering is creative solutions and solving problems that have been looked at the same way for a long time,” he said.
“The fact that we have no background in social work means we’re looking at things through different eyes with a different perspective on an industry that’s been looked at the same way for a long time.
“We’ve shaken things up.”
Patchett and Marchesi volunteered regularly throughout high school, predominantly working on food vans and outreach services for the homeless so were exposed to the major and ever-increasing problem of homelessness from a young age.
Their early experiences prompted them to consider a career path with impact.
“We toyed around with the idea of a food van but then stumbled on this idea of putting washing machines and dryers in a van and driving around doing laundry for free!” Patchett said.
“We funded it ourselves to get it up and rolling.
“We already owned a van and the machines were donated to us.
“But since then its really evolved, and we’re now a registered charity with over 300 volunteers helping us out.
“Our entire organisation is volunteers including Nic and I, and we’re passionate about keeping it that way.
“It’s purely supported through donations from the public as well as a few key sponsors who supply us with the machines.”
To get involved with Orange Sky Laundry, start a conversation about homelessness today to raise awareness of this major national problem, and visit their website to volunteer or support their award-winning initiative.