By providing jobs and training opportunities, Vanguard Laundry Services is offering people not just a pathway to financial independence, but the chance to reclaim their lives. Addressing SVA supporters at a recent partnerships event, founder Luke Terry gave insights into the work of Vanguard and some of the people it’s touched.
As a teenager, Luke Terry learned first-hand how a job can make the difference between feeling hopeless and feeling hopeful. Struggling to fit in after a move from rural Tasmania to Sydney, and filled with a sense of loneliness and isolation, the offer of work one day literally saved his life.
‘I remember finding a real sense of purpose and meaning through work,‘ he recalls, ‘and I remember the real value of relationships and being able to feel like a part of the community again.’
Now as the founder of Vanguard Laundry Services – a social enterprise commercial laundry in Toowoomba, Queensland – Terry aims to ensure that people living on the fringes in regional Australia get the same chance to turn their lives around.
Addressing urgent need
An initiative of local non-profit organisation the Toowoomba Clubhouse – of which Terry is executive director – Vanguard provides employment and career opportunities for individuals previously excluded from the labour force, particularly those marginalised due to mental health conditions.
Talking to a room full of SVA supporters at a recent breakfast event, Terry explained how he’s confident Vanguard can make a difference and went on to share inspiring stories of the impact the laundry is already having since Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull officially opened its doors in January.
‘Mental health effects more Australians than cancer and diabetes combined,’ he says. ‘And mental health sufferers have a life expectancy in their 50s, versus 80-something for the rest of us. From our work in regional Australia, we know this is something we can change.’
The laundry has the capacity to wash 60,000 to 70,000 kilos of washing every week, and to date has employed 23 individuals and provided 10 more with career development pathway support via its in-house career service. As Terry says,
‘This isn’t just about giving someone a job who’s been long-term unemployed, this is about helping them develop a job and a career.’
To help put the work of Vanguard into context for his audience, Terry recounted exchanges he’d recently had with two of his employees, both of whom started with Vanguard in January.
Dean, he says, came to see him to discuss a big decision he’d just had to make about whether to stay on Centrelink or stay working at Vanguard. When asked the outcome, Dean said, ‘I chose Vanguard and I chose to give Centrelink the flick.’
As Terry surmises, ‘That was really powerful to show that we’re making an impact and giving people the confidence to make that big decision, because once you get off [Centrelink] it’s really hard to get back on again.’
The other conversation Terry chose to share that morning was one between himself and another employee, James, who he’s known for the past seven years. James had been doing a money management course Vanguard offers its employees through Westpac and was really pleased with how it was going, particularly because he’d saved enough money to be able to visit his daughter. Terry said he didn’t realise he had a daughter, to which James responded, ‘Yes, it’s not something I ever tell people, but she’s 19 now and we’ve never met.’
Looking to the future
Referencing his work in the local community over the years, Terry says, ‘We’ve helped more than 200 people just like Dean and James, and our vision and our mission is to help thousands more just like them.’
To achieve this, he has an ambitious growth strategy for the laundry. ‘We started with one customer when we were opened by Prime Minister Turnbull in January. We’ve now got 40, and the goal is to have 80 customers by the end of the year.‘
Looking further ahead, he says the aim over the next three years is to create 100 career and training opportunities for people who’ve been exited from the traditional government employment service systems, giving them not just a job but the chance to transform their lives.
‘When you give people a job you give them the opportunity to feel like a part of the community again and you give them the opportunity to have a sense they can carve out their own path again and, most importantly, you give them the opportunity to have a life worth living again.’
SVA was instrumental in getting the $6 million laundry project off the ground and the focus for the partnership moving forward is on developing a financially sustainable business with scope to grow and scale its impact.