Back to Blog

INSPIRED Blog Series: Kitty’s Launderette, a community launderette and social space

Posted on 12 May 2021

Written by:

Elly Mead

Occupying an old builder’s yard in the area between Anfield and Everton in Liverpool, Kitty’s Launderette sits inconspicuously among the residential properties surrounding it. The brainchild of a group of local residents, the launderette has become a hub in the area since it first opened its doors in 2019. Employing community members, the launderette sits in the niche between social enterprise, public health amenities and a center for the local community.

Kitty’s Launderette full of local patrons. Image Credit: Kitty’s launderette

A social business rooted in its community, Kitty’s Launderette reimagines the idea of a humble washhouse as an enriching community asset. Their offerings not only include ecological and affordable washing services, from self-service laundry machines to commercial laundry services, but also a small bar and space for locals to work, socialise and gather in. Kitty’s Laundrette also regularly hosts film nights, coffee mornings, language clubs and kid story time, inviting people to occupy the comfy benches and tables within their space. By recognising the interplay between public and social spaces, the launderette provides a space for culture and communities, with arts and social activities being a key part of their agenda. During the multiple lockdowns over the last year due to the outbreak of COVID-19 nationwide, Kitty’s Launderette have adapted their service to offer collection and drop off services in collaboration with Agile Bikes Liverpool, another local social initiative, for local elderly and vulnerable people who weren’t able to visit the launderette in person, as well as free laundry services for those most impacted by the pandemic.

The cargo bikes from Agile Liverpool, loaded up ready to deliver clean laundry back to elderly and vulnerable community members. Image Credit: Kitty’s Launderette

Kitty’s Legacy

Catherine Wilkinson, commonly known as Kitty, is the launderette’s namesake and an Irish immigrant who came to Liverpool in the late 1700’s as a child. Her incredible work, empathy and community spirit have seen her honoured in a stained glass window memorial in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral and as the only female statue at St George’s Hall.

Kitty Wilkinson’s stained glass window in the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool. Image Credit: Liverpool Cathedral

During an outbreak of Cholera, an infectious disease which spreads through contaminated water and food, in her neighbourhood in 1832, Kitty opened her doors to allow neighbours access to her boiler, the only one in the street, to wash their contaminated clothes in exchange for just a penny a week. Through her actions, Kitty saved countless lives and established the first public washhouse in Liverpool. Empowered by the importance of access to public health amenities, Kitty spent the next ten years campaigning for more public washhouses. She is credited in Liverpool with the opening of the first combined public washhouse and baths in the UK in 1842, and was presented to Queen Victoria in recognition of her work during the Queen’s visit to the city in 1846. After her death in 1860, Kitty was buried in St James’ Cemetery alongside the Anglican Cathedral.

A photograph of the first public washhouse in Liverpool, located on Upper Frederick Street. Image Credit: Liverpool Records Office

Washhouses became a social staple of domestic life in Liverpool, and across the UK, for the next 100 years, providing not only washers and dryers to keep the linens of Liverpudlians sanitary, but also safe and social spaces for women to come together, as well as jobs in locations which offered serviced laundry. Kitty’s Launderette builds upon this rich history and brings Kitty’s story into the 21st century through their inspired approach to placemaking, shining light on the often unsung working-class women who helped make Liverpool the city it is today, as well as to the valuable contributions to our communities made by immigrants. Recognising the instinct social value and opportunity within the traditionally domestic space of a launderette has allowed the initiative to support community growth, learning and collaboration.

Kitty’s Launderette stands as a modern reminder of the incredible story of Kitty Wilkinson, and of the importance of creating space for our communities to thrive, communicate, grow and learn within. This inspired approach to placemaking has resulted in the creation of so more than just a launderette.

You can read more about the amazing work of Kitty’s Launderette, keep up to date with their latest projects and developments or organise to have your laundry done through their website here, or follow them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook

To explore more of our INSPIRED series click here, we are always on the lookout for inspiring stories and would love for you to contribute! Find out more here.