As a new photo project shows, these places aren’t just bright and slightly battered spots to clean clothes—they’re community hubs where people linger and make connections.

Two customers chat at a laundry in Cricklewood, Northwest London. Joshua Blackburn/coinop_london

Sometimes in a city, it’s the things you pay least notice to that turn out to have the most character. Take, for example, London’s launderettes (known as laundromats in the U.S.).

Present on the main streets of most of the city’s low and middle income neighborhoods, these workaday establishments are the sort of place you might walk past daily without really looking at. Give them a second look, however, and you’ll often see something fascinating: not just a bright and slightly battered late 20th century appearance, but also places that are community hubs where people linger and make connections.

Going, going, gone: “To Let” sign on the former Tumbles launderette, Brixton. (Joshua Blackburn/coinop_london)

It’s a desire to record and celebrate these unsung but distinctive places that led photographer Joshua Blackburn to start a plan to photograph every launderette in London. While still in its infancy, Blackburn’s Instagram account (coinop_london) should eventually visit each of the more than 3,000 do-you-own-laundry facilities in the city. It’s a timely cataloguing of businesses who, due to social change and rising rents, are increasingly on the way out.

Launderettes are part of the long list of businesses catering to lower income Londoners being squeezed out in favor of places that turn a bigger profit—such as estate agents and cafes in wealthier areas; bookies and payday loan shops in poorer ones.

Succulents in a launderette in Herne Hill, South London. Joshua Blackburn/coinop_london

So what is the appeal of these slowly disappearing places for Blackburn? Part of it, he says, is simply aesthetic. “Launderettes are full of bright colors, geometric shapes and strong designs that I can't take my eye off. There’s also this really distinctive typography, and the fact that the places are humanized and given a distinct personality by their owners and customers.”

More importantly, launderettes are notably different from other main street business in Britain. Unlike shops, they are places for people to linger, where time must be filled and a rest taken as your laundry is washed.

Beejay’s of Brixton, South London. Joshua Blackburn/coinop_london

“Of course, you can do a service wash [where you hand over your laundry to someone else to take care of]” says Blackburn “but there are plenty of people who will just sit there, with a book, with their phone, with a friend or a fellow customer. There is a connection there that is happening, that's interesting, warm and affirming. I took a photo above of two guys who were just running through life issues—marriage and stuff. They saw each other once a week and had the place as their chat spot, and I think that’s unique and cool.”

Looking at Blackburn’s cheerful images of places imbued with some human warmth, it’s instinctive to hope that some of these useful community hubs endure a little longer.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Passengers line up for a bullet train at a platform in Tokyo Station.
    Transportation

    The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

    The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks.

  2. An illustration shows two alleys in Detroit.
    Design

    Finding the Untapped Potential of Alleys

    “We’re starting to realize they’re just as powerful as a park or plaza.”

  3. A view of Washington Square Park in New York with tall buildings beyond
    Environment

    Why New York City Is Reporting Its Sustainability Progress to the UN

    So far, it’s the only city in the world to publish a review of its progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  4. Design

    The Sensory City Philosopher

    Architect, engineer, and inventor Carlo Ratti envisions a future for urban design that's interactive.

  5. A man bikes down a busy London street with a food-delivery box on the back of his bike.
    Equity

    The Rise of ‘Urban Tech’

    From food-delivery startups to mapping and co-living companies, technology focused on urban systems is drawing billions of dollars in venture capital.