“When you help people back into work, it gives them a sense of being able to change their own path,” says Luke, founder and Managing Director of Vanguard Laundry Services.
Opened by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in January 2017, Vanguard Laundry Services is a state-of-the-art commercial laundry based in Toowoomba, Queensland, that employs people with a lived experience of mental illness who have struggled to secure employment.
It was made possible when Toowoomba’s St Vincent’s Hospital offered a nine year laundry contract as an anchor client in return for building the facility. The laundry now has over 80 customers and 41 employees with several others having already transitioned to mainstream employment.
In addition to being an employment launch pad, Vanguard operates with a unique social enterprise employment model, offering career and vocational advice, on-the-job assistance and career guidance, courses and training.
“Mental health issues affect more Queenslanders than cancer and diabetes combined,” says Luke. “Traditional government-run employment programs have a success rate of 14% in helping people unemployed with mental illness get to 13 weeks of employment. Our Toowoomba social enterprise programs have a success rate of 75% for 26 weeks and beyond,” said Luke.“Imagine you have a corporation of 40,000 people behind you – that’s what it’s like working with Westpac.”
Luke says Westpac has played a pivotal role in establishing Vanguard Laundry Services. In 2013, Westpac Foundation provided a $10,000 Community Grant to develop the business model for the social enterprise laundry. Two years on, Westpac Foundation assisted in funding the establishment of the laundry with a $100,000 social enterprise grant. The foundation has also provided a range of non-financial support from Westpac employees in the areas of human resources, web development, event management and marketing. Recently, Westpac provided $1.4 million in equipment finance to fund the laundry machines.
“Imagine you have a corporation of 40,000 people behind you – that’s what it’s like working with Westpac,” says Luke. “Not only was their early support vital in attracting other supporters to the project, but its skilled volunteering program has allowed us to tap into the skills of Westpac employees – in particular our Westpac Community Ambassador, Cara Jones.”
Cara, Regional General Manager, Southern Queensland, Westpac Consumer Bank, says it’s been incredibly rewarding to work with Luke and the Vanguard team. “Our local Westpac team is very involved and are now running financial first steps workshops and interview training to support individuals as they look to transition into jobs beyond the laundry,” she says. “We hope to be offering local work experience opportunities soon too.”
Luke’s vision and commitment have also been recognised with a 2017 Social Change Fellowship from Westpac Bicentennial Foundation. He is using his Fellowship grant to meet and learn from some of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, and also attended TEDGlobal 2017 in Africa.