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Leila McAlister, who runs a neighbourhood greengrocer directly opposite the Boundary Estate Laundrette, is campaigning to re-open the community hub. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga
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Residents launch petition to save the Boundary Estate Community Launderette 

Residents of the Boundary Estate have launched a petition to re-open their community launderette after Tower Hamlets Council changed its locks.

East Londoners have been left ‘absolutely devastated’ after they discovered the local council shut down their community launderette and have launched a campaign to save it from permanently closing.

Boundary Estate Community Launderette in Shoreditch has been described as a ‘lifeline’ for residents and serves as an extraordinary social hub that has helped combat loneliness in the elderly and brings people of all backgrounds together.

Last month workers had turned up to start their shifts only to find the locks had been changed by Tower Hamlets Council.

A council spokesperson said the launderette had been informed in July 2023 about renewing its lease, but did not hear back.

The council said it’s willing to grant a new lease, subject to new terms being agreed.

Jonathan Moberly, vice-chair of Boundary Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) said: ‘One of the workers turned up and the locks had been changed. 

‘We had to act quite quickly, so we put a sign on the shutters as there was just a notice from the bailiffs with no explanation whatsoever.’

In the days that followed, an emergency meeting was set up to save the launderette, which has been serving the community from 28 Calvert Avenue since 1992.

Jean Locker, who helped set up the launderette over 30 years ago, says the council wants to increase the annual rent from £2,000 to a staggering £12,000.

Speaking from outside the launderette, Ms Locker said: ‘…it’s just not feasible, we think [the council] just want it to close, it’s the only conclusion so we’re trying to rally public support to reopen it.

‘The launderette has been able to run itself because it’s on such a low rent, if it had a market rent, we wouldn’t be here now.’

She added: ‘This was one of the first shops on this street that actually gave it footfall, because when this launderette opened there was really nothing here.

‘When it closed three weeks ago, it was a devastating blow. We are struggling now and don’t know what people are going to do.’

The launderette’s location is significant because the Boundary Estate is arguably the world’s first and oldest surviving council estate that replaced a prolific slum known as the Old Nichol in the 1890s.

In a time when council estates like the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth are being knocked down to the ground and redeveloped and huge, glossy skyscrapers are dominating the London skyline, the Boundary Estate has managed to resist such change.

But residents fear what’s happened to the launderette could be a sign of things to come.

Leila McAlister has run a neighbourhood greengrocers directly opposite the launderette for over 20 years, and has been left worried by the sudden closure of the launderette and the future of the area.

She said: ‘It’s absolutely devastating and very worrying for the rest of us.

‘If that’s a sign of things to come, when they get these higher rents you tend to see a high turnovers of tenancies.’

Ms McAlister added: ‘We can’t actually believe it, we’re so shocked, the launderette was one of the solutions and it’s been such a focal point.

‘The people working in the launderette have always watched out for everyone in the community, it’s more than just a vital service where people go to wash their clothes.’

The launderette was set up mostly by mums with kids who had heaps of laundry to do but nowhere to wash or dry it as washing machines weren’t as common back then and flats were prone to damp and mould.

The launderette has played a pivotal role in reducing damp and mould issues in people’s homes, which is something many residents battle with on a regular basis.

Harriet, who did not want to give her surname, said: ‘We had a real problem with damp last year and discovered there was damp all behind our bed.

‘My partner has asthma and that was really making her asthma quite bad so that was a real issue.’

She added: ‘Not having a launderette is really impacting us, it makes the whole place so much damper and we just about managed to keep it under control last year but I really worry about what it’s going to be like if we don’t have this space to dry clothes.’

Mr Moberly argues it will cost the council will be at a cash-loss if the launderette closes for good because it will have to tackle a surge in damp and mould issues in people’s homes.

He said: ‘The idea of shutting the launderette down because you want to get a market rent just doesn’t make economic sense.

‘The council is talking about a gain of £10,000 but the material loss and the structure of the fabric of the estate is many, many times more than that.’

He said: ‘The homes are not designed to be used [for laundry] and a lot of them suffer from terrible mould and damp issues; there are no balconies and ventilation can be a problem.

‘A lot of residents depend on the launderette to get that moisture out of their homes especially when it comes to drying it.’

Jaime Rory Lucy, another local resident agrees: ‘I know the council is keen to invest and develop community spaces but this one already exists.

‘To re-create something like this which has been set up by volunteers from scratch would cost tens of thousands of pounds if not more.’

The community has now launched a petition called ‘Save Our Community Launderette’ in a bid to stop it from closing down for good.

The petition demands the launderette reopen on a temporary tenancy while a new lease is considered and has asked that it be eligible for discounted rent.

The group needs 2,000 signatures so the petition can be presented to full council.

A spokesperson for the council said: ‘We contacted the tenants of the launderette back in July 2023 to formally start the lease renewal process and asked them to begin negotiations with us.

‘This process is set out in law and as part of that we have to include proposed new lease terms, which include a rental rate as a basis for discussion.’

They added: ‘As with all our lease renewals, we are seeking to balance our obligation to get the best value for Tower Hamlets’ residents with a desire to make rents sustainable for businesses.

‘All the rental proposals are based on market evidence, generally from the immediate vicinity. We have not had any contact from the tenants since issuing the notice and strongly encourage them to contact us so we can begin a discussion.’

Jean Locker helped established Boundary Estate Community Laundrette in 1992. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga
Jean Locker helped established Boundary Estate Community Laundrette in 1992. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga
A poster asking residents to help the campaign to save the Boundary Estate Community Launderette
The laundrette was shut down by the council last month. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga
A campaign has been launched to save the Boundary Estate laundrette from closing for good in Shoreditch. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga
A campaign has been launched to save the Boundary Estate laundrette from closing for good in Shoreditch. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga

For more local news, read Tower Hamlets Council meeting disrupted following public gallery heckling

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