Servicing Utopia – Toilet Toolkit Launch

SerTT logovicing Utopia is a digital Toilet Toolkit designed to support planners, architects and designers to critically and creatively rethink notions of access in relation to the toilet design process.

The digital toolkit has been developed in response to the stories of people involved in the Around the Toilet project for whom accessing a safe and comfortable toilet space is a continual challenge.

For many people everyday journeys are often planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet. People speak of not leaving the house, not drinking and losing jobs due to a lack of toilet access for a number of distinct reasons. There is, in its most literal sense, ‘no place’ for them to go (and hence, sometimes, they go ‘nowhere’). For many, ‘a good place’ to use the toilet does not yet exist, or at least not in sufficient numbers.

Since MarchScreen Shot 2016-07-15 at 09.30.06 2015 we have run workshops with architects to engage with their responses to these stories and explore the opportunities and challenges related to the design of safe and accessible toilet spaces for many people. Their insights have supported us in developing a digital toolkit that is intended to be both useful and applicable to practice. In the final stages of producing the toolkit we also consulted with Sheffield City Council’s Access Liaison Group who gave us invaluable feedback.

The toolkit aims to communicate design possibilities in relation to the issues faced by different toilet users. It is hoped that the toolkit will allow planners, architects and designers to creatively respond to the desigScreen Shot 2016-07-15 at 09.30.34n challenges raised by the stories and experiences of those involved in the Around the Toilet project.

The toolkit was developed in conjunction with Live Works, The University of Sheffield School of Architecture’s ‘Urban Room’ in Sheffield city centre, and Content On Demand, a boutique content marketing agency based in Sheffield and London.

Access the toolkit at: toilettoolkit.co.uk. Take a look!

Wandering Around the Toilet, 15th September, Manchester

To celebrate 10 years of playing out, The Loiterers Resistance Movement are holding Loitering With Intent: The Art and Politics of Walking, a special exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. The exhibition will be open July 23rd – October 14th, hosting a number of fascinating events, including one from us, details below:

Wandering Around The Toilet
Wednesday 15th September (walk 2-4pm, installation all day).

This tour will explore the history of spending a penny and how a lack of public loos impacts on who can use the city. There will be tales of public health, gender inequality, the blurring of public and private space and the fight for fair access to the toilet. All day in the gallery you can meet members of the Around The Toilet Team, and see an installation designed by Architecture students at the University of Sheffield. The construction is based on the materials and design of public toilets to challenge assumptions and provoke a rethinking of issues of gender, ‘ability’, access, surveillance and the meanings of ‘public’ itself. Drop into the People’s History Museum gallery all day and book free tickets for the walk here: http://toiletwalk.eventbrite.co.uk


Loitering With Intent: The Art and Politics of Walking
July 23rd – October 14th, People’s History Museum, Manchester

The Community Gallery will be full of art by LRM members and friends from Manchester and beyond who are inspired by creative walking. There will also be archive material, short films, music and a programme of talks, walks, games and tools to take away to start your own explorations. From cake maps to CCTV bingo and DIY maps, from strolls across oceans to travels around toilets and the fight for the right to roam we demonstrate how the pedestrian becomes an artistic and political act. Join us for a very special exhibition that shows our pavements are full of stories,  adventures and new connections just waiting to be discovered. Please come and walk, play, wander and wonder with.  A full line-up of participating artists to be revealed soon. An introduction can be found here, and the events programme here.

The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement) is a Manchester based collective interested in psychogeography, public space and uncovering the secret stories of the city.  Since 2006 they have been organising public walks, dérives (drifts), games and spectacles offering new ways to explore the streets.  To celebrate 10 years of loitering, please come and play.

does that include us? / yn cynnwys ni?

We’re looking forward to participating in the opening weekend of ‘yn cynnwys ni?‘ (‘does that include us?’) at the g39 gallery in Cardiff on Friday 22nd July. If you’re nearby, please come along. Full details below:

does that include us? / yn cynnwys ni?
22 July – 24 September
launch weekend: 22/23 July
g39, Cardiff

Does That Include Us? is a multi-artform programme of events presented by artists, facilitators and activists, some who identify as disabled and some who don’t.

For the first part of the season, 22 July – 25 August, you are invited to participate in social gatherings, performances, practical activities, conversations and debates. Through these activities we will find innovative and experimental ways to promote discussion around the subjects of access, inclusion, empathy and diversity within the arts and the wider community.  All workshops, gatherings and events are free to attend, and you can find more information on individual events throughout the season on the website; updates and amendments to the timetable, will be published here throughout the programme, as well as a weekly calendar at the beginning of each week.

Around the Toilet
Fri 22 July 4—7pm

The research for yn cynnwys ni? at g39 begun in early 2015, and started by looking at one of the most fundamental manifestations of the need for debate around inclusion and institutional good practice – the toilet. Although the warehouse currently occupied by g39 is fitted with several toilets, none of them were accessible in a wheelchair or met the current regulations in terms of planning. Eighteen months later, we are very pleased to be able to invite you to the grand opening of our brand new toilet space, built by artists, and fully compliant,  the new toilet will be opened by  Around the Toilet, a team of academics, artists, activists and students who use arts practice based methods to explore notions of belonging and what makes a safe and accessible toilet space. Following the grand opening, there will be a workshop between 5-6pm based around the idea of the Utopian toilet, run by artist Nicky Rose from The Bower Wirks and inspired by her ‘toilet challenges’.

Between 6-7pm, hear from some of the Around the Toilet team, Dr Jenny Slater, Dr Emily Cuming, Dahlia Tayel-Brown, Mikhail Tayel-Brown and Gillian Kemp about their latest project, Travelling Toilet Tales, an animation documenting journeys taken or not taken due to in/accessible toilets. People of all ages and abilities welcome.

For more on the project on Twitter : @cctoilettalk or visit their blog aroundthetoilet.wordpress.com.

Travelling Toilet Tales Film Release

Imagine a world without toilets: How would you go to school, college or university; take a trip to the park; wander around a shopping centre; go to work; or get on a long-distance train? Using the stories of people whose access to toilets is compromised in some way, this film explores how our ability to get out and about is transformed by the availability of toilets: featuring parents of disabled children who require full-length changing benches, non-binary people who are subject to abuse in gendered toilets, people with irritable bowel syndrome who might need to use a toilet with urgency, and women truck-drivers who work for long stretches without a toilet in sight, amongst others.

In our research for the Around the Toilet project, trans, queer and disabled participants shared with us their difficulties in finding toilets that were functional, easily locatable and safe. One trans woman described how her ability to socialise and go to work was limited by her access to toilets; she explained that when she felt unsafe to use public toilets, she was unable to leave the security of her house. The toilet ‘extends to everywhere’, she said, and accessible and comfortable toilets allowed her to take necessary, everyday journeys away from home. We wanted to think more about these journeys, and the importance of toilets in the seemingly mundane routines of some people’s lives.

Over the last five months, we met with a range of toilet-users and asked them to share their stories with us. Some recorded themselves from home, others recorded their stories when they were out for the day or chatted to one of our team about their experiences. This film is an edited collection of these stories, in which key moments have been highlighted in a ‘soundscape’ by Gemma Nash and animated by Sarah Smizz. The individual stories are also available to listen to and read in full here.

Around the Toilet at the Utopia Fair

The three-day Utopia Fair event at Somerset House began on 24th June – the morning Britain found itself plunged into Brexit, an irony in photo 3terms of timing which was lost on no one. The Fair was part of the UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility activities, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s radical imagining of a better world. The grand, cloistered courtyard of Somerset House was to provide a pop-up version of More’s imagining of a ‘no place’ that is also a ‘good place’ – at once located centrally just off London’s West End, and yet strangely set apart from the rest of the city. The carnivalesque juxtaposition of worlds was a theme that continued throughout the event – from Brexit to utopia, academics mingling with tourists, to the country fair style of the stalls set within the walls of a Tudor palace, this was to be a weekend of playful and stimulating contrasts.

The Fair presented a number of different stalls presenting outputs from various Connected Communities projects, all engaging with the creative and political possibilities of utopian imaginings. The event proposed future-oriented thinking as a gesture of hope and political agency. As one person noted at a speaker event on Utopian Housing which took place in one of the wings at Somerset House, communities are often asked to reflect on the ‘history’ of a place, group or institution. But often, when the conversation turns to plans for the ‘future’, then experts – architects, designers, councillors – will step in to declare what is possible or permissible (or affordable). In other words, there is often an unspoken privilege – or symbolic capital – in speaking about and for the future which is not always afforded to community groups. The Fair’s celebration of utopia seemed to suggest that everyone should have the opportunity to radically reimagine, shape or design the way the future. Utopian thought, in this way, has the potential to be a levelling act – one that is creative, ambitious and a powerful statement of a shared, collective will.

Travelling Toilet Tales and Servicing Utopia both had connected stalls at the fair in which we provided ‘hands-on’ activities for members of the public as well as exhibits fr20160624_202145om our past activities. The public received the first viewing on iPads of our animated Toilet Tales film, an exploration into the ways in which everyday journeys are planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet and featuring stories from a range of toilet users, including truckers, disabled parents, and non-binary people. Visitors also got the chance to listen to the individual toilet stories in full, browse our postcards designed by artist Smizz, and talk to the special guests who were helping on the stall. At various points over the weekend, we were lucky enough to be joined by members of Accessible Derbyshire, Changing Places, Action for Trans Health, Truckers’ Toilets UK, and the Loiterers Resistance Movement, as well as the storytellers and artists behind the films for both projects and the digital Toilet Toolkit.

Toilet fair 2

We were also delighted to have with us Nicky Rose, an artist in mixed and recycled media, and Tom Gayler, a designer at the Royal College of Art, who led i20160625_174406nteractive sessions which invited visitors to create utopian toilet models from cardboard, wooden blocks, pipe cleaners and other bits and pieces. The intermittent sunshine over the weekend allowed us to stretch our craft materials out onto the floor for visitors of all ages to get involved and get messy. Once built, utopian toilets were added one-by-one to a utopian model town, assembled by Leap of Faith: Anarchy and Play on the stall next-door. If only all towns had so many (sparkly) public toilets…

Toilet models

This weekend also presented the first opportunity for the public to use the interactive digital Toilet Toolkit and view the short animated film produced by the Servicing Utopia team. The toolkit is aimed at architects and other design professionals to promote the accessible design of toilet spaces, and allows users to virtually ‘walk around’ toilet spaces and interact with the items and facilities. This will be available to view on our blog very shortly (watch this space).

20160624_202115Our interactive toilet installation, designed and built by MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield, was constructed for visitors to view, prompting conversation and graffiti contributions. Written comments from our visitors ranged from a poll about toilet roll use, toilet confessions and jokes, to reflections on personal habits. People wrote on the back of artist Smizz’s postcards to include their own toilet tales, sharing stories that were informative, funny and sometimes disturbing: a dad being told off for changing a baby in a women’s toilet; one person’s account of the inadequacy and fallacy of ‘Community Toilets’ (businesses allowing the general public to use facilities); cleaners rebelling against unacceptable toilet mess; recollections of an instance of violent bullying in school toilets; library toilets providing ‘safe spaces’ for users to have private conversations; one person having to resort to using the ‘please wash your hands’ sign as emergency toilet paper; stories of global lavatory etiquette from the Gambia to the Himalayas to Tokyo; and important notification of a new venue in Liverpool that has a toilet DJ. All of these contributions turned into conversations over the course of the weekend as new visitors responded to the comments left by other people attending the Fair.

Team

As toilet specialists, we were curious to see what kind of facilities would be provided in the historic grounds of Somerset House. There were plenty of options available, including gender neutral toilets near the main reception area which were the source of much discussion (and not just on our particular stall). These were impressive ‘state-of-the-art’ toilets that had given some consideration to providing gender neutral options for everyone, with gleaming surfaces, modern fittings and private washing facilities in each stall. But what was striking was how far the disabled toilets fell short in comparison. Dated, not quite as clean and certainly not intended to be any utopian ‘showcase’ for twenty-first century toilets, the small-ish cubicle also functioned as a boiler room and the only space for baby-changing. Like many accessible toilets, it could have been more accommodating and indulgent…and accessible.

The Utopia Fair also gave us the opportunity to meet with other researchers working on Connected Communities projects and to reflect on the potential for new links and poi20160626_150547nts of connection. The Stories of Change project, which explores energy and community, transported their mobile photobooth across to our stall and asked us to contribute a vision of energy-efficient toilets.  Ours included a wind-powered flush and use of recycled/‘dirty’ water. The open and informal setting meant that there were fluid interactions between the various stalls, and the opportunity to share experiences, tips and stories about our diverse projects. What was particularly effective about the Somerset House Fair was the combination of abstract thinking and imagining on the one hand, alongside a more tactile sense of getting stuck into hands-on activities, talking, designing and listening – from building utopian playgrounds, to model-making, to finding yourself immersed in a live puppetry performance. It was also wonderful to reunite various members of our Toilets team – and for us to also think creatively and ambitiously ahead to our own future projects.

IMG_7485

Utopia Fair – Join us this weekend (24 – 26 June)!

Our newest research projects, Travelling Toilet Tales and Servicing Utopia, will both appear at the Utopia Fair in Somerset House in London this weekend (24th-26th June).

The Utopia Fair will be hosting 35 representatives from contemporary utopian movements from all over the UK on stalls in the Somerset House courtyard. The Travelling Toilet Tales stall will offer the public an exciting first glimpse of a draft of our animated Toilet Tales film. Featuring stories from a range of toilet users, including truckers, disabled parents, and non-binary people, the film is an exploration into the ways in which everyday journeys are planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet. Visitors will also get the chance to listen to the individual toilet stories in full, browse our postcards and artwork, and talk to the special guests joining us on the stall.

Next door, the Servicing Utopia project will be joined by artists who will invite visitors to create utopian toilet models. This weekend will also present the first opportunity to view the interactive digital Toilet Toolkit and short animated film produced by the Servicing Utopia team. The toolkit is aimed at architects and other design professionals to promote the accessible design of toilet spaces and will allow users to virtually ‘walk around’ toilet spaces and interact with items within the space.

This is an addition to our interactive toilet installation, designed and built by MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield, which will be constructed for visitors to view, and a cinema room which will be screening a premiere of the projects’ films in full.

If you’re nearby come by for a chat with one of the toilet researchers, or with our special guests who will be joining us at various points over the weekend, including members of Accessible Derbyshire, Changing Places, Action for Trans Health, Truckers’ Toilets UK, Public Toilets UK, and the Loiterers Resistance Movement, as well as the storytellers and artists behind the films for both projects and the digital Toilet Toolkit. See you there!

The Utopia Fair is held at Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA. The fair opening hours are Friday (24): 17.00-22.00; Saturday (25): 10:00-18.00; Sunday (26): 10.00-17.00. It is free to attend. For more details, click here.

Servicing Utopia’s first architect workshop: reflections, questions & ways forward

The team delivered its first workshop aimed at architects in professional practices, visiting Bond Bryan at their Church Studio offices in Sheffield. The workshop title was Toilets: Rethinking Accessible Architecture and was open to architects as part of their CPD (Continual Professional Development) training. We had four architects on the day: two architectural technicians, a Part One student at the firm, and a Part Two architectural assistant. All four were involved in some way in the design of educational buildings (from secondary schools to university buildings), housing and retail. One of our attendees admitted to a slight trepidation at going to anything with ‘toilets’ in the title, although this person cheerfully added that CPDs were usually about ‘boring wall partitions’ and at least this one sounded more ‘interesting’.

Lisa began by giving a brief overview of the ‘Servicing Utopia’ project, and its central aim of rethinking accessible toilet architecture as part of a broadening of ideas around access. What happens, she asked, if you put people’s experience before design standards? Lisa then outlined the ongoing development of the digital ‘toilet toolkit’ and invited the architects to help in the design by responding to the question: ‘What are some of the obstacles facing you in the design process when it comes to issues of accessibility?’

workshop3We then divided into two smaller groups, led by Jessica from Sheffield’s Live Project, and MA Architecture student Niki, both of whom are in the process of designing the toolkit. Each group looked at two of the project launch ‘scenario’ cards, which raise questions of access in relation to issues of disability, gender and caring, and were asked to sketch a design response to these ‘case-studies’. Many of them sketched floor plans, for the most part taking a pragmatic approach to issues of safety and security.

An animated and wide-ranging discussion followed which highlighted the possibilities and constraints of architectural design as seen from the perspective of those who plan the built environment. What follows are some bullet-points or key insights from the lively discussion.

** Please note: the following bullet points are comments or questions raised by participant architects at the meeting and do not necessarily reflect the views of the project team and its participants. **

  • Disabled toilets are generally taken into account as being more broadly accessible spaces by architects, even if they are just labelled ‘disabled’. As one participant put it: ‘There’s a misconception that disabled toilets are just for disabled people. But “Disabled” caters for everyone’. Another person added that they viewed it as being a little bit like Priority Seating on a bus: disabled toilets cater for everyone, but there should be priority access for those who need it most.

  • A recurring feature of the conversation was a distinct pragmatism about space and money. ‘We get space allocation for things and then it has to be done that way’, was a typical response. The financial implications of designing for ‘utopia’ was another common theme. One response to an innovative design proposal was: ‘That’s great in an ideal world. But we are never afforded the luxury of enough space.’ In relation to the matter of school toilets, another participant commented: ‘Toilets [in school settings] are usually made to the absolute minimum and you do it to the lowest cost’.

  • School toilets were something of a recurring theme across the course of the hour. And it seemed that this was not just because of the architects’ experiences designing for these settings, but because – as so often is the case – school toilets emerged as a charged environment where many of the anxieties, dangers and problems regarding toilet provision are seen to intersect. One architect had designed a unisex toilet for a school, but this had to be retrofitted – that is altered, or parts added – following parental complaints.  The participant added, however, that there were other, relevant issues perceived to be relevant to this decision, including so-called ‘antisocial behaviour’ within the school. We learned that architects have to plan around ‘dark zones’ (places which can’t be surveilled, and are therefore areas in which bullying can take place) and a new-ish and very twenty-first century problem: camera phones. The latter was said to be the biggest single issue facing architects in school toilet design where, as one of them put it, the absolute priority ‘would always be safeguarding the children’. Hence the increasing popularity of full-height cubicle partitions with reduced gaps at the bottom to prevent phones from being slipped under or over the partitions. The overall impression was that designing for school toilets involves an intrepid negotiation between providing open spaces and visibility – to prevent bullying – as well ensuring means of invisibility and privacy. Small wonder that the school toilet continues to provide a memorable setting for teen angst in film, from Carrie, to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, to last year’s The Falling… One participant summed it up by saying: ‘School toilets – they’re a minefield!’

  • A distinct pragmatism underscored the discussions. From this hour-long session, we learned that architects are inspired by innovation and willing to adapt designs as long as these provisions are communicated to them early on in the design process. But the general advice was that they follow British Standard guidelines on building regulations and signage: ‘These are the people you need to be talking to if you want to see any form of change’. If briefs don’t conform to building regs, they told us, architects won’t do it.

  • Another recurring theme was the idea that, ‘You can’t cater for everyone…you just can’t.’ Participants were particularly vocal about this in relation to questions of cultural difference (including faith and religion), and also perceived ‘anti-social’ uses of toilets. In relation to a scenario card concerning a homeless person’s use of public toilets, the response was that these things ‘can’t be dealt with through toilet design’ – they are about wider issues of welfare, housing and public health. The implication was that the public toilet – that touchstone of cultural concerns and anxieties since Victorian times – might well flag up key social problems, but these can’t be effectively remedied through architectural design. Which brings us back to a wider research question: does the built environment reflect or produce social tensions?

In all, it was a lively, interesting discussion, proving yet again how what Barbara Penner terms ‘humble things’ and places can provoke musings on emotions, bullyworkshop5ing, parenting, economics, childhoods, social justice. I wonder how many CPDs manage that in an hour? The written feedback we received suggests that the architects found the workshop enlightening and useful, particularly in highlighting the range of questions involved and the importance of thinking more about the ‘flexibility of the toilet to cater for a wide range of needs’.  One participant wrote: ‘It’s opened my mind to the fact that toilets should have just as much thoughtful design as the other spaces in a building.’

For our part, we continue to explore and interrogate the role of creativity, utopia and design in a world of regulations, briefs, deadlines and existing protocols. How to make these co-exist in meaningful and accessible ways continues to drive the project forwards…

Guest post: The Mobile Sector – Delivering dignity

This is a guest article from Gillian Kemp, Truckers’ Toilets UK. If you would like to write a guest post for our blog, please get in touch with Charlotte Jones, our Research Associate.

Groceries arriving at our door or an eagerly awaited purchase from Ebay are fast becoming parts of our everyday life.  At some point in time, some of us may also call upon the help of the emergency services – fire brigade, ambulance personnel, police officers or breakdown engineers.  Older relatives may be reliant on the support of visGK TTUK Flyeriting carers, whilst others of us find buses, trains and taxis a real benefit to getting about.

But how many of us actually think about what the conditions are like for these mobile workers, who play such a vital role in our life?  I certainly didn’t until I overheard two women drivers discussing how difficult it was to find a toilet when they were out and about.  Hearing about their problems encouraged me to investigate further and so I founded Truckers’ Toilets UK on Facebook to seek out views.  It was a revelation!

I have IBS and any activity that takes me away from the comfort of my own loo is fraught with anxiety.  Toilet location planning is essential.  How much more difficult must it be for mobile workers – with or without IBS – who have very limited access to toilets every working day.  Lorry drivers are a case in point. Nearly everything we buy has travelled by lorry at some point; we are reliant on their efforts and yet most of us remain unaware how they have to manage their toilet breaks during their working day.

By law, lorry drivers have to take rest breaks after a certain number of driving hours which means they need to find somewhere to park that can accommodate the size and weight of their vehicle. Not all delivery routes are via motorways and available facilities on any road routes are few and far between.  Laybys are a popular choice by default for rest breaks on non-motorway routes, but how many laybys have toilets?  Virtually none.  Which leaves drivers with a dilemma: should they use the layby as a loo or ‘hold on’?  There isn’t really a choice, is there?

So yes, many do use laybys as a loo although some resort to the ‘bucket and chuck it’ method. But how ever discreet they are, drivers run the risk of being fined if they are caught in the act.  Awful, isn’t it?  Certain councils actually punish drivers for using the roadside as a loo even though the council has not provided any facilities. Is this a sign of a caring council which so many claim to be?  Presumably by instigating fines they hope to encourage drivers to move elsewhere to avoid the costs of cleaning up; never mind the effect on the drivers’ health.  Nimbyism at its best.

But why don’t drivers use the loos at the companies they visit?  Apart from the long distances between ‘pick ups and drops’ it would seem an obvious solution.  However, in spite of the guidance from the Health and Safety Executive which clearly states that drivers should be provided with toilet access, some companies REFUSE drivers the use of their loos.  The main reason given is misuse of the facilities.  Having your toilets wrecked must be awful and incredibly frustrating if the actions are consistently repeated, but it’s only a minority of drivers who stoop so low, yet it results in the majority, who do know how to use a toilet properly, being penalised.  Is this right?

GK A Company Toilets 290315 Aled

Company toilets for drivers

So how does the lack of toilets affect the drivers?  It’s not surprising to learn that the absence of facilities is contributing to a UK driver shortage.  Would you work for a company where you can’t guarantee access to a toilet during your working day?  What if you’re a woman in the early stages of pregnancy or have your period?  How do you cope?  Some drivers have to contend with ‘hidden’ disabilities such as IBS and suddenly find themselves in need of a loo.  What then?

The scarcity of toilet facilities puts the health of all of our mobile workers at risk.  ‘Holding on’ can damage the bladder and bowel and encourage urinary tract infections, kidney problems and other unpleasant conditions.  Trying to find a toilet whilst driving affects concentration, a highly dangerous situation not only to the person in need but to other unsuspecting road users.

Even if a toilet is available there may not be suitable parking alongside it.  Drivers of HGV vehicles require space, surfaces that can withstand the lorry’s weight and vehicle security.

Bus drivers and train drivers can’t just stop and dive into a loo either – assuming they can find one!  A UK bus driver was sacked when he stopped his bus to use a toilet, and last year the lack of toilet facilities in Wandsworth led to protests by bus drivers. Taxi drivers may have to queue for a customer for long periods of time and drive for considerable distances without having access to a loo.

To add to the difficulties of mobile workers, toilets in our towns and cities are closing at a rapid rate as there is no legal obligation on councils to provide them.  This is what the two women drivers I mentioned earlier had discovered. Where toilets are still available, drivers find there is a lack of parking spaces, a preponderance of double yellow lines and few facilities open at night.

If we want our goods delivered and services provided then we need to look after the drivers.  The government has said it will cut the business rates on public toilet buildings, but at the time of writing nothing has happened.  Requests to ministers to take action on the lack of toilet facilities fall on deaf ears and no one is willing to take responsibility. Even the unions and driver organisations seem reticent. Truckers’ Toilets UK – and Public Toilets UK – are working hard to redress the inequality of provision between office-based workers and the mobile sector and we are determined to win.  Drivers are delivering our goods; shouldn’t dignity and respect be delivered to them in return?

May 2016

GillGillAuthorApril 07 smallian Kemp [gillian.kemp@ntlworld.com] is the founder of Truckers’ Toilets UK, a pressure group working to improve toilet provision for lorry drivers in the UK.  She has given evidence on the effects of public toilet closures to the Health & Social Care Committee at the Welsh Assembly and has chaired a joint venture with Hertfordshire Constabulary to revise a booklet on reducing vandalism in public toilets on behalf of the British Toilet Association.  Gillian has a background in education, law and media and has worked with a number of charities.  She is a Founder Director of an international medical equipment manufacturing company.

Guest Post: The Future I’m Trying To Change

This is a guest article from Laura Moore. If you would like to write a guest post for our blog, please get in touch with Charlotte Jones, our Research Associate.

Picture this, you’re out with your beautiful kids enjoying your weekend, maybe visiting a café or having lunch in a restaurant, watching a movie at the local Imax, maybe doing some shopping, you get the idea. You’re tired, they’re whining, and at some point during the day you and they are probably going to need to visit the toilet – we all need to pee!  So you take your kids and pile into the nearest restroom. Next to you in the queue is another Mum, this Mum is also tired and fed up, she’s also had a hard day and next to her is her equally beautiful kid, but her kid is in a wheelchair.  You feel a bit sorry for her and try not to make eye contact in case she tries to talk to you. You take your kids into the cubicle, help them use the toilet, pull their pants up, make them wash their hands and then you leave.

The other Mum is still there, she’s struggling, she’s heartbroken because her son, who is the same age as yours, can’t stand up, he can’t even sit up. She needs to help him go to the toilet so she pushes his bulky wheelchair into the tiny disabled toilet you just walked past.

She shuts the door behind her and squeezes in next to it. And then, as she does every time her son needs the toilet, she tries to wrack her brains for an ingenious way to make this easier but right here in this toilet, there isn’t one.

So she braces herself to have her heart broken just a little bit more. She takes a mat out of her bag and puts it on the floor before she struggles to lift her son from his wheelchair and lower him onto the mat.

The mat that is on the toilet floor.

The toilet floor that scientists say has 77,000 germs and viruses.

The toilet floor that she can see is dirty, has pee splashed on it as well as muddy footprints and some soggy toilet roll.

The toilet floor that she wouldn’t lie on and wishes more than anything that her son didn’t have to lie on either.

But she has no choice, her son can’t stand up, he can’t even sit up. He can only lie down.  He’s 7, he doesn’t fit on a baby changing table – he’s too tall and too heavy.

So he has to lie on that toilet floor so she can remove his nappy and lift him onto the toilet. She has to kneel on that floor in her only comfy jeans, the ones she has to wash every time she takes her son out because the knees are covered in thousands of germs.

He has to lie on that floor with all those germs and viruses despite his low immune system, something that is part of his disability. The immune system the doctors are very careful with, and that has led to numerous chest infections and hospitalisations throughout his life already.

She finishes dressing him, lifts him back into his wheelchair. Her back is aching from lifting 3 ½ stone of dead weight but she’s used to it.  She knows one day she won’t be able to lift him anymore and then he won’t have the luxury of being able to use a toilet, he will have no choice but to sit in his own mess the whole time they’re out.

Not like your kids who can use any public toilet they need.

She folds the mat and puts it back in her bag, along with numerous germs and viruses that are now going to come home with her.

You’ve probably forgotten about your visit to the toilets already, it’s an irrelevant part of your day. But for that other Mum it’s been the most stressful part of their outing so far, and one she knows she will have to repeat in a few hours unless she cuts their day short and goes home.  Or decides to use the back of their van in the carpark instead, with the door open and her precious son in full view of everyone.  It’s a traumatic part of every outing which is only going to get worse as her son gets older, bigger, and heavier.

That other Mum is me.Toilet blog - Laura and William

My son is William.

He is 7, he has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is one of the happiest and funniest boys you’ll ever meet.

He wishes he didn’t have to lie on that dirty mat on that dirty floor with soggy toilet paper at his eye level.

He’s my baby, my precious little boy who makes me smile every day and who right now I am hoping doesn’t get covered in sewage if, God forbid, the toilet started to over flow now that I’ve flushed it.

Before William was born it never occurred to me that this was an issue; that over ½ million people have this struggle every time they need the toilet. Why would it? It didn’t affect me, or anyone I loved.

Now it does.

Now I know the importance of Changing Places & Space to Change toilets and that’s why I want the law to change to provide them everywhere.

I want my son and thousands of other people to have the luxury of using a toilet wherever they are visiting, just like yours do, without having to lie on a toilet floor.

Imagine your son or daughter, they’re a teenager visiting the cinema or a pub with their friends, they need the toilet and have to lie on a toilet floor, in the clothes they picked out especially for their evening out – they’d be heartbroken and you would too.

Please sign the petition, share this information, tell people about our struggles and help us change this for all of us. We are all only one accident away from having to lie on a toilet floor ourselves.

Read and sign the petition here.
Toilet blog - William
[This article was also published on the Selfish Mother site here]

Wanted: Guest blog posts

We’re looking for people who have something to say about toilets and want a platform to be heard:

  • Are you frustrated by public toilet access?
  • Do you find toilets uncomfortable or awkward?
  • Or are toilets an essential part or getting some ‘alone time’, recuperation and privacy?
  • Do you need facilities that aren’t usually provided?
  • Do the way toilets are labeled get you down?
  • Have you spotted a particular toilet that you find especially amazing or particularly awful?
  • Is there a toilet news story you’d like to respond to, critique, or celebrate?
  • Do you have ideas about how toilets could be better, fairer, cleaner, or just different in some other way?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

We are especially interested in blog posts which focus on issues of access, disability, transphobia, sex work, mental health and religion/faith, but all ideas are welcome.

If you’d like to write a guest post for our Around the Toilet blog, please get in touch with Charlotte Jones, our Research Associate, to discuss your ideas. All welcome!