Kitty’s Launderette: reinventing the local laundry as a social and community arts space

Liverpool Community Launderette, known as Kitty’s Launderette, was originally conceived by local artist Grace Harrison, supported by members of her network and the wider community in North Liverpool. It both serves and is staffed by local people.

The business is set up as a not-for-profit cooperative and a Company Limited by Guarantee. Worker and service user members of the co-op collectively own Kitty’s Launderette and control it through a board which they elect.

Trading surpluses can be reinvested to improve and expand Kitty’s Launderette services, develop the skills and capacity of the staff and volunteer team, or support community events and projects – according to policies agreed by the members.

As well as delivering an essential and affordable service, Kitty’s Launderette is evolving into a unique social space, creating focus and inspiration for other community enterprise projects in North Liverpool and further afield.

See Kitty’s Launderette's website

Liverpool Community Launderette’s Bright Ideas adviser, Siôn Whellens, says “Kitty’s Launderette is succeeding brilliantly in bringing together the fulfilment of an acute need for a high quality, community-owned and run laundry facility, with the members’ vision of a warm, socially inclusive activity and arts space.”

The commitment to growing the meaningful involvement of local people, partners and the council while developing the organisation’s vision, finding a building, getting planning consent, then fitting out and launching the laundry, felt like a long – at times even frustrating – series of stop-starts, with no ultimate guarantee of success.

The Bright Ideas grant, combined with one-to-one advice and mentoring, helped to maintain the group’s confidence and energy over the first, crucial, ‘pre-start’ year. It supported the team to develop relevant skills and knowledge, while helping to build popular support for Kitty’s Launderette mission, and crowdsource extra resources.

How did they do it?

A key element in Kitty’s Launderette success was the group’s vision, commitment and ability to create a compelling story that linked Kitty’s Launderette to the memory and legacy of Liverpool’s working-class wash houses as an important resource and centre of social life.

Getting publicity through creative communications and social media helped win support, then keep momentum during the months before renovations could take place. It also helped unlock informal advice and support from local business people and professional advisers.

Finding premises and getting planning permission for a building was a milestone, involving borrowing money from family and friends.

All of this depended on fundraising, grants and a lot of ‘sweat equity’. In 2018 Kitty’s Launderette matched its Bright Ideas grant with a successful crowdfunder. Later, it was successful in applying for a grant from Power to Change to buy equipment and cover first-year operational costs.

Making a difference to real people

Kitty’s Launderette means people have somewhere great to go for their laundry and dry cleaning, and an alternative to buying washing machines on expensive hire purchase – plus decent jobs with opportunities for training and collective self-management, and a truly community-owned space.

Fantastic place! Really lovely surroundings, friendly staff, Miele machines, excellent prices, no scrabbling around for coins (you pay card or cash at the till), free wi-fi, free cuppa, toilet, seating outside, fully accessible for wheelchair users. Such a pleasurable experience that I totally forgive Hotpoint for messing up my washing machine repair!

Community Control

Kitty’s Launderette is a worker-led community cooperative, with its workforce also drawn from the local community. This means it has two different groups of members: employees and service users, who may also be volunteers. The members own the enterprise ‘in common’, and no one can profit privately from the launderette’s operations. Startup capital was raised entirely from gifts and grants, and there are no shares, so in future, it will be financed through operating income and project work.

On the formal level, members come together at General Meetings at least four times a year, and they elect a balanced board drawn from among themselves. Practical day-to-day governance and management are evolving using modern democratic techniques such as devolved decision-making between interlinked workgroups, and discussion in ‘circles’. In fact, events in and around Kitty’s Launderette will provide many opportunities for feedback, and for Kitty’s Launderette to stay close and true to its community. On this, its continued success will lie.

Find out if the Bright Ideas Fund could help your community business idea