Albert Road’s beautiful launderette...

CLEANING UP Manager Kerry Gennoe loads a machine. Picture: Paul Jacobs  (131242-2)

CLEANING UP Manager Kerry Gennoe loads a machine. Picture: Paul Jacobs (131242-2)

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WHEN Peter Andre is in town and needs his smalls cleaned – it’s Laundryland they get sent to.

And when overloaded mums feel like tearing their hair out when the washing machine packs up, they nip down to the Albert Road launderette that’s become an institution – cleaning the clothes of the great and the good and the everyday man on the street.

For almost 20 years it has been a staple in the lives of students, single people, people on low incomes, and those who can afford to dry-clean their suits – the smell of soap powder filling the air.

And time-poor workers drop off their clothes and pick them up beautifully washed and pressed hours later.

Then there are people, like rock stars and actors, who are just passing through.

Margaret Lewis, 63, set up the business with her husband Robert because they wanted an enterprise where they could work together once he left the navy.

Ahead of their time, they installed Sky television, gaming machines, comfy sofas and a pool table to lure in customers. The business thrived and became so successful the television and games consoles had to go to make way for more washing machines.

Margaret said: ‘We’d never done anything like this before but because my husband was a machine engineer he would be an on-site technician.

It was hard work then and it’s still hard work. But what makes it is the customers.

‘And the staff are excellent. If you’ve got those two the day flies by.’

Strategically placed close to The Wedgewood Rooms, The Kings Theatre and The Guildhall, it is one of the first stops the stars – or their assistants – make when they arrive in the city.

‘We’ve washed Peter Andre’s clothes, Michael Ball’s, and panto stars. Musicians performing at the Wedgewood Rooms have often been on tour for a while so they head here. We’ve cleaned for The Darkness and Kate Nash.

‘In fact there are too many people to remember over the years.’

But it’s the everyday folk that really makes Margaret and manager Kerry Gennoe’s jobs worthwhile.

And there’s even been a Levi’s jeans commercial moment...

‘We’ve seen some things over the years and met some real characters’ says Kerry.

‘Some workmen who had been digging the roads up outside all day in the pouring rain came in.

‘They were absolutely drenched and covered in mud.

‘We gave them blankets and they stripped off and drank hot coffee while we washed and dried their clothes.

‘That was a sight.

‘Another time we had dozens of dancers who were in a competition pour in and take up the whole place with their costumes.

‘They wore very little while they waited for everything to dry.

‘We’ve seen it all here.’

Early on Saturday mornings it’s always busy at Laundryland with people dropping off their washing before heading out to the shops.

As well as self-service washing and drying, there’s dry cleaning and always duvets hanging up to dry behind banks of washing machines.

It’s certainly more welcoming than Dot Cotton’s launderette in Albert Square.

Anthony Boothroyd, 30, from Cumberland Street, Portsea, is a regular customer.

He takes his washing to Laundryland every weekend, even though there are launderettes closer to home.

While he waits for his washing he likes to wander along Albert Road where he looks hopefully in shop windows.

He said: ‘I’ve been unemployed for a while now, it’s so hard to find work. That’s why I like to look through the job pages of the paper and around the shops while I’m waiting.

‘My perfect job would a film critic. While I’m waiting for my washing to finish I decide what film I’m going to watch when I get home. It’s either Die Hard or Lord of the Rings this week.

‘This place is a bit of a way from home but there’s a nice atmosphere and the staff are really friendly.’

For a short time Margaret’s son took over the business but it wasn’t for him. She and her husband are coming up to retirement age and, with an 8am to 8pm job, there are days when she would like to put her feet up.

‘Sometimes you do think, “let me get out of here!” but actually I love it,’ she said.

MERVYN JONES

MERVYN Jones undertakes a round trip of more than 20 miles each Saturday – just to clean his clothes.

The 66-year-old travels from his home in Mengham, Hayling Island, to Laundryland, in Albert Road, even though he has a washing machine – just because he likes the atmosphere.

He said: ‘I’ve been coming here since they opened, when I lived in Southsea.

‘But I still come even now I’m further away because it’s a nice place to be and the staff aren’t bad! We have a good laugh together.

‘I’ve known the owners since I lived round the corner so I didn’t want to go anywhere else.

‘I’ve lived in Hayling for eight years.

‘Coming here gets me out and about. I have a cup of coffee and read the papers.

‘Then I do the crossword and have a chat with the girls.

‘You see the same old faces and it’s a good atmosphere.

‘There’s is a real mix of people. That’s why I like it.

‘In a sense this place is like a little community.

‘There’s such a cross section of people.

‘I just put one load on to wash and then dry. I suppose it is a long way to come but I enjoy it.’

RYAN MILSOM AND BRENDA HAYWOOD

LOVE birds Brenda Haywood and Ryan Milsom recently set up home together after a meeting at a wedding and embarking on a whirlwind romance.

Brenda, a 45-year-old receptionist from St Ronan’s Road, Southsea, said: ‘I have to admit that I’ve never been in a launderette before so it’s a totally new experience for me.

‘We’ve just moved into a new flat and our washing machine was on its last legs.

‘We tried to keep it as long as we could but it’s completely broken now.

‘I remembered I’d seen this place and said to Ryan it would be nice to pop in and have a game of pool while we did the washing.

‘It’s quite unusual but good fun.’

Brenda moved from her home in Devon to be with 30-year-old IT worker Ryan after six months of dating.

‘It’s going really well. I was travelling backwards and forwards every weekend until I was able to get move up here full time. It’s very exciting.

‘We hit it off straight away and we get on well.

‘The only problem we’ve had so far is the washing machine breaking down.

‘But coming here and playing pool has been a good experience.’

MATTHEW STEDMAN

FATHER of two Matthew Stedman admits he spends a ‘small fortune’ on dry cleaning.

But as the deputy headteacher of one of the city’s biggest schools he has to look smart all the time.

He has been dropping off suits to Margaret and the girls for almost as long as the launderette has been open, since the days he was a new teacher at Mayfield School, in North End.

The 44-year-old, from Southsea, said: ‘I’m usually really busy taking the children places at the weekend so I just drop my stuff off here and it’s clean and pressed ready to wear again.

‘I dread to think how much I’ve spent on dry cleaning over the years – a small fortune no doubt.

‘This place is an institution in Southsea.

‘They are all really friendly and they know your name when you come in.

‘There are certainly plenty of characters in here.’

Dry cleaning is a large part of the business.

And it’s men who make the most of the service.

They pop in to have their ‘going out’ trousers ready and smart for a weekend on the tiles.

However, Matthew says his outfits are for the classroom.

ADAM GILLEN

THE first launderette opened in Queensway, London, in 1949 but the number of launderettes has been in decline for many years.

There are currently around 3,000 in the UK.

Around 96 per cent of households have access to a washing machine but they can be expensive to run.

Meanwhile the costs of setting up a launderette – anything up to £100,000 – puts off prospective new businesses people.

But for Adam Gillen launderettes are a lifeline.

Once a week the 22-year-old cycles to his brother Alex’s house to collect a bag of washing and takes it to Laundryland with his own.

The trainee apprentice, from Orchard Road, Southsea, said: ‘My brother is in a wheelchair so I do his load for him.

‘I usually come in the evenings and listen to music on my phone.

‘It’s quieter then.

‘The women who work here are all really nice and it’s convenient.

‘It would probably be much cheaper in the long run to buy a washing machine but it’s just easier doing it here.

‘Once it’s clean and dry I put it in my rucksack, strap it on my back and take it back to my brother.’

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