Beacon Laundry officially opens

Today a new social enterprise commercial laundry, Beacon Laundry, created by White Box Enterprises has officially opened its doors in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, creating life changing employment for 75 local individuals.  

Located in Bangalow, 15 minutes’ drive from Byron Bay, it is a jobs-focused social enterprise designed primarily to create jobs for people who have been shut out from mainstream employment due to their life experience or background.  

Amongst the first laundry employees is Mel, a former family services practitioner who is now six months into an addiction recovery program and thriving at Beacon Laundry.

“I used my last $50 on fuel to get to the job interview at Beacon. I had enough food to last me for the week. If I didn’t get this job I was going to have to sleep in my car,” said Mel.

“This job has rebuilt my self-esteem, connected me to community, and gives me the flexibility to put my recovery first” said Mel.

According to Beacon Laundry founder and White Box Enterprises CEO, Luke Terry, “Every community needs a Beacon Laundry.”

“We’re a jobs-focused social enterprise. What this means is we’re set up not only to deliver an incredible laundry service to local hotel, motel and accommodation providers, we put our employees first. Particularly people like Mel, who may need an extra level of support that mainstream workplaces don’t provide.” said Mr Terry.

Mel’s story is not dissimilar to her peers at Beacon Laundry or others within the Northern Rivers. Hit hard over the last decade with droughts, bushfires and the devastating floods, the region experiences higher than average unemployment rates, around 6% compared to 3.3% NSW rate.[1]

After losing his wife to renal failure and his farm to fire, John lost his remaining possessions in the 2022 Northern Rivers floods. John struggled to find work and a place to live and as a result his mental and physical health declined significantly. After securing a job with Beacon Laundry, John reports that his life took a turn for the better.

“For me, Beacon Laundry has become just that – a beacon of hope for a better life.” said John.  

Beacon Laundry is the fourth jobs-focused social enterprise incubated by White Box Enterprises – an organisation determined to mainstream these businesses in Australia.

“Our goal is to see a social enterprise, like Beacon Laundry, in every community across Australia. So that every individual can access a workplace that prioritises people over making a profit.” said Mr Terry.

“Jobs-focused social enterprises are essentially businesses for good,” said Mr Terry.

“The operate like regular businesses, they sell products or services however they primarily exist to create jobs for communities who face barriers to work. These include people living with disability, First Nations people, former refugees and those experiencing homelessness and mental health challenges.” said Mr Terry.

It has taken Mr Terry and the White Box Enterprises team close to two years to raise $12 million to get the laundry operational – a significant amount for a social enterprise start-up.

Richard Uechtritz, former CEO of JB Hifi, was a driving force behind this new social enterprise, cold-calling Mr Terry to float the idea of building the social enterprise in the region.

A $1.6M contribution from the Richard and Lorena Uechtritz Foundation, and a federal government grant of $750,000 – an election commitment from local member Assistant Minister for Social Services, Justine Elliot – kick-started the capital raise.

“As the local MP, I’m very proud to be delivering on my election commitment, providing $750,000 from the Albanese Labor Government towards building the Beacon social enterprise laundry in Bangalow.” said Ms Elliot.

“It’s incredibly exciting that this important project is now operating, providing vital job opportunities for disadvantaged locals in a fully supported environment,” said Ms Elliot. “This social enterprise commercial laundry will also be of huge benefit for our local tourism industry as we currently don’t have a large-scale commercial laundry on the North Coast.”

Beyond impact investors, White Box has also received philanthropic funding from corporate and family foundations including the Bryan Family Foundation.

“Despite the incredible social and economic returns social enterprises deliver, they still don’t receive direct, outcomes-based funding from government for the job outcomes they create. This is something we’re working hard to change” said Mr Terry.  

Social enterprise continues to get more visibility in Australia. In the Federal Government’s Employment White Paper released in November 2023, social enterprise was named in the 10-point plan.

Today there are over 12,000 social enterprises in Australia, that contribute $21.3 billion to the economy each year, and account for 1% of GDP.[2]

Visit beaconlaundry.com.au to find out more.

[1] Dept of Regional NSW. Northern Rivers Regional Economic Development Strategy –2023 Update

[2] Business For Good: The size and contribution of social enterprise to Australia