Our laundry turns one

Break out the balloons because our Remote Laundries project is celebrating its first birthday. 

Feb 28 marks the first year of the Remote Laundries pilot in Barunga.  An ambitious project idea that was born at a Bagala Aboriginal Corporation board meeting back in 2018 and aims to improve health and provide jobs in community through washing.

Simple in design, robust and easy to operate, the laundry sits proudly adjacent to the Bagala Community Store in the community Barunga, about 80km southeast of Katherine, and for the last 12 months has been washing and drying the clothes of anyone who turns up. Set inside a sea container, the laundry has four industrial sized washers and dryers and a huge hydraulic arm that opens and closes the laundry.

Is the laundry achieving its goals?

Social change is a slow-moving beast, but gains made in the last 12 months offer us real hope of meeting our goals of improved employment and health through washing. If welfare dependency is the scourge of people living in Aboriginal communities, then we believe creating jobs must be a priority (one can’t work if there are no jobs, right?). Our Remote Laundries project employs five locals part time, and for some of the team, this is their first wages paying job (as opposed to working for the dole). This project has injected $50,000 in wages into the community of Barunga in the last 12 months.

It’s been harder to measure the impact of the laundry on health, specifically nasty diseases like rheumatic heart disease, trachoma and skin sores. A place to wash and dry clothes, sheets and towels is an important part of the solution, but not a silver bullet on its own. We have a very clear goal of creating a positive impact on the health of the Barunga community, but realistically its early days. Gains in building relationships and community trust in the laundry have been huge for such a short period of time and something to be proud of. We have teamed up with the health clinic, the school, aged care and Northern Territory PHN and our laundry is involved in being part of the solution.

Lessons learned

Money and access, or lack thereof, are two things that will grind any well-meaning project to a halt, and it was no different for us. Six months into the project, the usage was so low that something had to give. It was decided in September 2019 that all washing and drying would be free (it was $4 per cycle before that). It was also decided around that time, that on Wednesdays a bus would ferry washers around Barunga and neighbouring community Beswick. These two approaches combined have improved usage of the laundry by 337%, and we are just shy of 2000 cycles. So, when assessing the impact of barriers to behaviour change, this project has reinforced how important access and affordability are.

Teaching the community about how the laundry works and building trust and understanding has been an important lesson learned, and the Barunga School has been a very important player in that. Twice there have been washing sessions where the kids went on excursion to the laundry and learned about how to wash and dry their own clothes. The program has been so successful there is now a high school student who runs the laundry every Saturday as her job. If she doesn’t come to school during the week, there is no job on the weekend. Admittedly she’s more interested in working and earning than the power of clean clothes, but no one could blame her for that!

Where to from here?

This is a pilot project, but we hope for not for much longer. The idea back at the start was to work with seven Top End communities to set up a laundry in their community, and we are keen to get cracking on that promise. This is a project run through a charity and relies heavily on corporate sponsorship and individual donations to continue. The next step is to ramp this up and give people the opportunity to come on board and be a part of creating jobs and improving health in communities through their donations. For interested corporates, check out our Corporate Sponsor Prospectus.  

And for the individuals, we have clever little donation tap points throughout the NT. In Darwin Sweetbrew & Co, Groove Café and Ray’s Café and Patisserie and in Katherine at the Ibis Hotel and Wicked Kneads in Alice Springs. Each tap point is set up to give $2 per tap to the Remote Laundries project. So if you come across one, and you’re feeling generous, we will love your for it! 

For more information visit the website www.remotelaundries.org.au