Old Abbotsford Laundries Become Community Spaces

Ageing commercial laundry buildings at the Abbotsford Convent are closer to becoming community and arts spaces, thanks to heritage funding from the Andrews Labor Government.

From the late 1800s, the convent’s income was generated by a large commercial laundry, staffed by the women who had been put in the Magdalen Asylum.

There were eight of these convent-operated laundries in Australia, which hark back to the Irish Catholic convents where 30,000 women worked, now regarded as being brutal places for the woman forced to live there.

Few Melbournians would know that part of the city’s history, let alone that the laundries are still part of the convent site.

The Abbotsford Convent, which now hosts arts and educational groups, exhibitions, cafes, markets and community organisations, is fundraising so the laundry spaces can be used rather than sit empty.

The Labor Government will contribute $2.7 million to help transform the laundry buildings, granted from the $30 million Living Heritage fund, which is the biggest-ever budget boost for Victorian heritage assets.

The convent site was set for a major residential redevelopment until 2004 when the Bracks Labor Government, with Mr Wynne as local member, intervened and gifted the site to the Abbotsford Convent Foundation for community use.

The $2.7 million in funding was announced at the farewell for the convent Chief Executive, Maggie Maguire, who Mr Wynne thanked for her tireless work over the past 11 years.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Planning Richard Wynne

“The laundries accommodated a darker part of Melbourne’s past, their historic importance means we cannot allow them to crumble – this way we’re maintaining the buildings while supporting community groups.”

Heritage sites drew more than 1.9 million visitors across the state last year. The Abbotsford Convent is a big heritage drawcard, as well as a community asset, and we’re making sure its success continues to grow.”

“The convent has thrived with Maggie Maguire at the helm and I am pleased to announce this money has been granted after the work she and her team has done to resurrect these buildings.”