After losing everything in a natural disaster, John is among dozens getting a fresh start


At a new commercial laundry on the NSW north coast, the machines are in full spin. Around 30 tons of dirty laundry roll through each week, providing constant work for its 70 staff.
“On a typical day I fold pillowcases, towels and napkins at the back of an ironing machine, and I then stack them on the shelf ready to go out,” says John Hardisty.

It’s hot work, especially in summer months. But Hardisty is proud of his new role at Beacon Laundry, and vividly remembers the day he was hired.

A man in a black t-shirt leans over a counter in a commercial laundry warehouse.

John Hardisty at work in the commercial laundry. Source: SBS / Kingsley Haxton

“I was actually very emotional, because I couldn’t believe I had finally found someone that would take me on,” he says.

“I started crying on that phone call because I knew [this job] would change my life and it has and I am so grateful for that.”

Hardisty works at Beacon Laundry in the bucolic NSW town of Bangalow, near Byron Bay. The $12 million not-for-profit social enterprise opened recently after securing contracts with dozens of local hotels and businesses.

White washing including sheets and towels piled in a commercial laundry.

Beacon Laundry provides services to local businesses. Source: SBS / Kingsley Haxton

“It is designed to create work for people facing barriers to employment in a high-quality commercial laundry that services customers in that region,” says founder and White Box Enterprises CEO Luke Terry.

“We worked with 20 community partners to identify the need and very quickly had a waiting list of 70 people like John [Hardisty] who really wanted a job. And now we have a waiting list of another 100 people that really want to work here.”

It’s Terry’s second social enterprise laundry. He set up Vanguard Laundry in Toowoomba, Queensland in 2016.

Two men in black t-shirts leaning into a trolley filled with white washing.

Workers at Beacon Laundry in Bangalow. Source: SBS / Kingsley Haxton

Many Beacon Laundry workers have experienced homelessness and long-term unemployment in recent years.

“There is a gap in the local market for a jobs-focused social enterprise. And not many organisations focus on giving people who have been overlooked an opportunity, which is where Beacon Laundry stands apart,” says co-ordinator Harriet Vasey Pederson.

“In the Northern Rivers after the drought, the floods and the pandemic, we also have a higher number of people who have experienced losing their jobs and their homes.

A woman in a black t-shirt stands in a commercial laundry.

Harriet Vasey Pederson at Beacon Laundry. Source: SBS / Kingsley Haxton

“So, Beacon offers a safe place for those who are ready to get back into the workforce and build their capacity to then transition out into the wider workforce.”

For John Hardisty, this job ends a long phase of unemployment following an earlier back injury.
“I struggled for five years to find work due to my physical limitations,” he says.

“I have some blown discs and it can run the gamut from having a bit of a sore back one day to being in excruciating agony and having to take pretty heavy medication to get through that pain.

A man in a black t-shirt standing in a commercial laundry warehouse.

John Hardisty at the commercial laundry. Source: SBS / Kingsley Haxton

“So, I struggled to find an employer that was flexible enough to understand that I still had some value.

“After years of looking for work and not finding any I was pretty low.
“When I heard about Beacon Laundry I thought I would give it a go and now having a job has done wonders for my mental health.”
The Wiradjuri man says his challenges began growing up in Sydney’s west during the 1980’s.
“There was a lot of racism and a lot of bullying and vilification that went on back in those days,” he says.

As an adult, he went on to work for 25 years as a residential youth worker in community housing. During that time, he married and after a long wait, finally became a father. However, just eight years later his wife died of renal failure.

A man in a black t-shirt stands at an ironing machine folding linen.

John Hardisty at work in the laundry. Source: SBS / Kingsley Haxton

“When my wife passed, I wanted to run away and hide from the world. But I needed somewhere safe to raise my son and I took on a farm near Mullumbimby,” he says.

The self-sufficient farm lifestyle lasted a decade, until the landowner decided to sell. Hardisty bought a van and moved to a camping ground nearby.
In 2022, he lost all his possessions when record flooding swept through.
“The memories still are very vivid,” he says. “I jumped out of the van two o’clock in the morning with a dog under each arm and straight into chest high water. I could not stand up and then I was hit in the back by a floating picnic table.

“We were trapped for 11 days until we could get out, and during that time I slept on a table in the laundry.”

Houses are seen surrounded by floodwater in an aerial photo.

Lismore houses surrounded by floodwater in late March Source: Getty / Dan Peled

Like many flood survivors in the Lismore area, Hardisty has since suffered poor mental health.

“It devastated my life. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and medicated for that, and it was difficult to see a way forward in life.
“It had taken everything I had and I didn’t know how to start from scratch. I spent 18 months feeling fairly lost.”

That’s where not-for-profit social enterprise Beacon Laundry has stepped in for Hardisty, and others like him.

A group of men in t-shirts stand around a trolley filled with white linen.

Workers at Beacon Laundry in Bangalow. Source: SBS / Kingsley Haxton

The laundry adapts roles to suit the workers. In Hardisty’s case, changes enable him better cope with ongoing backpain.

“We’ve got rubber matting on the concrete floor and we’ve played around with work hours to allow more breaks. And since then, I’ve been able to fill my hours with little pain,” he says.
Its fund raising kicked off with a $750,000 federal government grant and other funds were secured from philanthropists and investors.
The federal government’s May budget also allocated $22 million as an employment initiative for social enterprises working directly with people facing complex barriers.

That’s good news for Terry who is already planning his third project.

“We believe in a world where everyone that wants a job should have access to a job and that social enterprises or businesses that want to be there for the whole community should be the way of the future,” he says.

“And we want to work with more corporate partners so that we can do this in every community across Australia.”


For many laundry workers like Hardisty, a job is about more than just regular income.

A man in a black t-shirt standing inside a warehouse.

John Hardisty at Beacon Laundry in Bangalow. Source: SBS / Kingsley Haxton

“I have a lot of goals now but before, I had no goals because they were so unattainable and did more harm than good,” he says.

“Now I feel safe and secure here, I can look to future. I would like to travel and one day get into a home of my own.”


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