Around the Toilet at the Utopia Fair

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[Image: ‘Utopia Fair’ sign on a block of wooden crates with Somerset House in the background, people to one side and a cloudy sky above.]

The three-day Utopia Fair event at Somerset House began on 24th June – the morning Britain found itself plunged into Brexit, an irony in terms 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.

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[Image: Around the Toilet stall decorated with drawings, signs, and other materials. Two people sit behind the table.]

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 from 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

[Image: L-R: The Toilet installation posed in front of Somerset House; two people looking at an ipad, one sitting down with headphones and the other leaning over behind; a close-up of the stall – hanging luggage tags for feedback, a tote bag saying ‘smash the cistern’ and decorated toilet roll.]


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[Image: The utopian model town – a cardboard landscape with colourful handmade buildings and scenery.]

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 interactive 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

[Image: Nine photos of handmade toilets or various shapes and sizes created by people attending our stall. One says ‘rotating loo’, another says ‘don’t put me in a box’ and another says ‘compost loo’.

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).

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[Image: A close-up of the toilet graffiti people wrote on the acrylic boards of the toilet installation. The installation asks ‘Can we improve toilet design?’ and ‘Why are toilets funny?’]

Our 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.

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[Image: Some of the toilet team. Six people stand in a row, smiling at the camera. The person in the centre holds a ‘Changing Places’ leaflet.]

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.

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[Image: Cobbled flour in front of our stall. A range of craft materials in the foreground. Children and adults sitting to the right.]

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 points 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.

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[Image: Somerset House lit up in pink at dusk. A dark, cloudy sky above, with tented stalls and people standing and chatting in the foreground.]

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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.

[Image: Flyer for the Utopia Fair: blue, purple and yellow shapes frame the banner advert for the weekend.]

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?’

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[Image: A large table covered with sheets of paper, toilet drawings, magazines, drinks. People sitting at the table fit into the edges of the image.]

We 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, bully

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[Image: Five people sitting at a table and one person standing near a door. Some people are using pens to draw on paper, others look thoughtful.]

ing, 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 visiting carers, whilst others of us find buses, trains and taxis a real benefit to getting about.

GK TTUK Flyer

[Image: A poster on a door which reads: ‘Lorry drivers need toilets too!’ in bold white letters. Beneath is text about the Truckers’ Toilets campaign and an image of a motorway.]

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

[Image: Company toilets for drivers. L-R: a toilet cubicle with the lid open and lots of dirt around the rim, dirt on the floor and in the sink; a small cubicle which is all in white, toilet lid up, sink, handwipes, looks clean.]

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

Gill

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Gillian 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.

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.

[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!

Guest Post: Changing Places change lives

This is a guest article from Gillian Scotford and Jane Carver, Accessible Derbyshire. If you would like to write a guest post for our blog, please get in touch with Charlotte Jones, our Research Associate.

‘Champagne’, ‘caviar’ and ‘chocolate’…… there are some words in the English language that evoke images of glamour, pleasure and indulgence – and some that don’t, like ‘ironing’, ‘parking-ticket’ and ‘piles’ (but that’s enough about our weekend….) Another of these is the phrase ‘public toilet’. I mean who wants to think about some grubby, cold, echoing, ceramic cave with mucky soap, no bog roll, smelling of stale urine and adorned with muddy footprints? (Sorry local councils – I know they’re not all like that but you see our point)

Yet these ordinary, mundane, sometimes unpleasant experiences are a more common part of most of our lives than the sophisticated treats we like to think about. And for some people, having the right public toilet provision is the difference between enjoying all that Derbyshire and the Peak District has to offer and not going out at all.

Okay: toilets are boring, toilets aren’t fun and you have better things to do with your time than read about them: like unblocking the sink – but bear with us.

For some people a standard toilet, even a disabled toilet, doesn’t meet their needs. People who are unable to weight-bear, people with a learning disability or those with continence problems need something more. We speak from experience, both having a child who needs additional provision. ‘Baby changing’ facilities and the back seats of cars are soon out-grown and, as we discovered, the only alternatives are to stay at home or to change those we care for on a public toilet floor: something which is unpleasant, unhygienic, undignified and surely unacceptable in the 21st century?

But there is a solution: a Changing Places toilet is a large, hygienic space with a height-adjustable changing bench, a hoist, a loo and a sink. Thanks to local campaigning there are now a number of these toilets across Derbyshire plus a mobile Changing Place unit available to hire from Derbyshire County Council. There are also over 600 Changing Places nationwide.

Changing Places are not just toilets: they are the key to a world of opportunity for some of the most vulnerable and deserving people in our community. What matters now is that more people are made aware of the need for them, that more are provided and that the people who do need them have the knowledge and confidence to get out there and use them.

So now you’ve read this article, tell everyone! If you are a decision-maker or planner for one of our councils make Changing Places happen! If you are a local business go the extra mile and provide one of these special facilities in addition to a standard accessible toilet: don’t just settle for ‘bog standard’ and if you are the parent or carer of someone who needs to be changed when they are out then Changing Places are for YOU and the person you care for so USE THEM.

Changing Places change lives!

Okay, now you can unblock the sink………

(To find out more about Changing Places visit www.accesiblederbyshire.org, www.derbyshire.gov.uk/changingplaces  or www.changing-places.org )

Gillian Scotford and Jane Carver
Founders
Accessible Derbyshire

Accessible Derbyshire
One life: live it!
www.accessiblederbyshire.org
Twitter: @AccessibleDS
Charities no.1155675

Servicing Utopia: An event summary

How might prioritizing people’s experiences present new ways of thinking about the design process of toilets? With this question as our starting point, on Monday 18th April we hosted a launch event for one of our new toilet projects, Servicing Utopia. The project is a continuation of previous research undertaken by the Around the Toilet team, which focused on the safety, comfort and accessibility of toilet spaces for queer, trans and disabled people. Servicing Utopia collaborates with planners, architects and designers to critically interrogate the toilet design process. These critical discussions will inform the design of a digital Toilet Toolkit to be used by architects and designers and a short film to promote the accessible design of toilet spaces.

At our launch event at The Art House in Sheffield, researchers from Servicing Utopia were joined by interested parties from a diverse range of backgrounds, including design, animation, social enterprise, research, architecture and toilet product manufacture. Following a buffet lunch on arrival, the event hosted a series of short presentations about issues of toilet access and a creative workshop led by Tom Gayler, a designer at the Royal College of Art. Dr Lisa Procter, lead researcher on Servicing Utopia, and Dr Jenny Slater, a co-researcher on the project, opened the event with a short talk about the background, aims and outputs of the project. Procter reminded us that toilets are complex and important spaces that require consideration and innovation beyond standard design templates.

Activist and artist, Gemma Nash, joined us next to discuss her experiences as a disabled parent. She spoke of the very public and visible feel of some baby-changing facilities, and how this has contributed to her anxieties around feeling judged and in need of proving herself. Nash also noted the lack of baby (and adult) changing facilities in many accessible toilets. She emphasised the importance of being able to locate accessible, private toilets with full changing facilities to allow disabled parents, who may be with personal assistants, to relax and take care of their children without judgment. Following Nash, we watched a short film of performer and writer, Ivan Coyote, giving a talk entitled ‘We all need a safe place to pee’ about their experiences of using toilets as someone who is non-binary. Coyote argued that they shouldn’t be asked to use the men’s toilet when they are not a man; using a toilet which matches your gender is not only important for safety issues, but also for users’ identity, comfort and personal wellbeing. Coyote noted, however, that it would not only be non-binary people who would benefit from gender neutral single-stall toilets, there are many others who also need the privacy, safety and accessibility of private and inclusive designs.

 

Later on, insights from these presentations informed a workshop led by Tom Gayler. Gayler provided six ‘toilet access’ scenarios for us to consider in small groups. The fictional scenarios were written based on the stories and experiences shared with Around the Toilet researchers in our workshops with queer, trans and disabled participants last year. They included a diverse range of issues related to inadequate toilet facilities, such as baby changing, gender policing, homelessness, locked accessible toilets, noisy hand-dryers, and the unavailability of hoists. We used these scenarios to develop a ‘user experience’ approach to toilet access, and consider the kinds of social and physical obstacles preventing different people from accessing the toilet spaces they need. We drew timelines for each toilet scenario and, using coloured string, we ‘mapped’ out how much influence various aspects of the toilet journey (e.g. signage, space, facilities and culture) has at each point of the experience. The visual mapping of the toilet scenarios led to some really useful, critical debates and analysis about access and exclusion.

 

  Servicing Utopia 0    Servicing Utopia 5    Servicing Utopia 1 [Image: Photos of long white pieces of paper with annotations and coloured ribbons stuck down in lines.]

Reflecting on these scenarios, Gayler asked us to reimagine Part M of the building regulations and think of two practical ideas to be implemented in the design of toilets, as well as one general point. Our groups came up with a lot of suggestions:

  • Private, gender neutral and accessible facilities need to be provided in all spaces

  • It should be assumed that everyone, regardless of gender and dis/ability, needs access to all facilities (e.g. urinals, sanitary bins, changing facilities)

  • We should maximise the use of toilet spaces. If one exists, don’t leave it locked (unless for a good reason)

  • Worthy design impacts on upkeep – innovative/interesting/safe spaces may be less likely to be treated badly

  • Incorporate the experiences of children in the design process

  • Re-think spatial hierarchies (i.e. sometimes more/better toilets should be prioritised over other options)

  • Consider other people’s positions and experiences in the design process, and do whatever you can do understand/learn about others

  • Question and challenge the idea of a ‘standard’ toilet user

  • Re-think narrow notions of what a toilet ‘should’ be

  • We can’t design away socio-cultural values – we need change beyond the built environment

  • Advertise accessible toilets accurately (e.g. if it’s permanently locked and unavailable to disabled people or used as storage then it’s not accessible)

  • Build private options for all facilities (washing included)

  • Toilet signs should be descriptive (telling you what is in there) rather than prescriptive (telling you who can go in there)

The useful and insightful discussions that have come from this event will contribute to the design of our Toilet Toolkit, which is due to be available from July 2016. Throughout May, we will also be joining architectural practices for further discussions around the experiences of toilet users in order to encourage a more critical understanding of issues of design and accessing toilet spaces. We would like to thank Gemma Nash and Tom Gayler for their excellent contributions to this event, and The Art House for their brilliant hospitality. More from Servicing Utopia coming soon!

Around the Toilet on the radio!

This morning, toilet researchers Jen Slater and Lisa Procter spoke about Around the Toilet, and one of our new projects – Servicing Utopia – on the Sheffield Live! radio station. Richard Motley, host of the My Kinda Place show, asked Jen and Lisa about the importance of toilets, the availability of public loos, issues of accessibility, and how we hope our research will contribute to improving the current toilet situation for queer, trans and disabled people in the UK.

The show is now available as a podcast here. The interview with Jen and Lisa starts from 37 minutes into the programme. Have a listen!

Servicing Utopia: CPD opportunity on inclusive design

CPD opportunity for architectural assistants and/or architects!

We are currently offering two free CPD opportunities to architectural practices on the topic of accessible toilet design – the first is a project launch event for ‘Servicing Utopia’ on Monday 18th April, 12-4pm, and the second is a 1.5 hour lunchtime seminar for Part 1 students.

We see the toilet as a design challenge, which can be responded to creatively and innovatively and this vision frames the CPD opportunities.

These opportunities draw on insights gained from a research project (led by Sheffield Hallam, University of Sheffield and University of Leeds), namely Around the Toilet, which worked with trans, queer and disabled people to explore the complex question of what it means to have access to safe and comfortable toilet spaces. Around the Toilet revealed that a lack of adequate toilet facilities has profound implications for many people in terms of their ability to access events and activities, engage with work, travel within towns and cities, and integrate within communities.

Architects and architectural assistants will engage with the experiences of diverse toilet users regarding issues of accessing toilet spaces within buildings and cities. They will understand more about the kinds of design considerations that these different toilet users consider to be important.

The discussions that come out of the event and lunchtime seminar will inform the design of a Toilet Toolkit for architects and designers. Through the toolkit we aim to engage more architects with the issues of access that have come out of our research. All architecture practices involved in the project will have access to the toilet toolkit which is due to available from July 2016.

Project Launch Event – 18th April 12pm until 4pm at the Art House, 8 Backfields, Sheffield, S1 4HJ

The afternoon event brings together community partners from the research project with planners, architects and designers to critically interrogate the toilet design process. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. The event will include a series of short presentations about issues of access to safe and comfortable toilet spaces. Insights from these presentations will inform a workshop, led by Tom Gayler an information experience designer from the Royal College of Art, to reimagine Part M of the building regulations. Further details can be found on our eventbrite page here.

Lunchtime seminar

The seminars will take place within local architecture practices in May and are aimed at Part 1 students. They will draw on the insights gained from the launch event to enable architectural assistants to think critically and creatively about toilet design and issues of access more broadly.

For more information, please contact Lisa Procter.