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.

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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

[Image: A cut-out of graph paper with a hand-drawn red border and a number on each axis. In the centre it says ‘You’ in bold, hand-drawn font.]

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.

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.

Team

[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.]

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?’

workshop3

[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

workshop5

[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…

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!

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.

Storying School Toilets Workshop Summary from the Sheffield Hallam University Primary and Early Years Conference

On the 12th January 2016, Lisa Procter (University of Sheffield) and I (Jenny Slater, Sheffield Hallam University) ran a workshop as part of the Storying School Toilets project, at the Sheffield Hallam University Primary and Early Years Conference. The workshop was based upon work we had done for the ESRC Festival of Social Science late last year; working with Primary aged children and artist Nicky Ward from The Bower Wirks to create comics of children’s toilet stories. You can view all the comics here (get in touch with j.slater@shu.ac.uk if you want any physical copies sending your way!).

The first thing we noticed prior to the workshop was that only two participants had signed up (whereas other workshops had 40+ people in attendance). This sent a message to us about the perceived importance of the toilet space in a school or early years setting. However, over lunch somebody informed us that toilets had in fact been brought up as something that children were worried about in the transition from primary to secondary school – the scare stories of having heads and bags flushed down the loo prominent in children’s minds. Toilets are clearly a space that pupils think about – something which only became clearer as our workshop went on!

Indeed, when it came to the workshop there were only two participants. Both Amy Ambler and Jane Loader were from Rainbow Forge Primary – Amy a TA in the Early Years setting, and Jane the head teacher. Rather than detrimental, the small group led to really interesting and productive conversations. We have themed these below, and shared them with Jane and Amy’s permission.

Working in early years

We discussed how the toilet is often the first thing that children want to see when they visit a new school or home. Amy pointed out that when working with nursery age children, toilets are such a big part of the day. The importance of talking about toilets in relation to early years settings and schools  was then clear from the outset.

Toilet Training

We talked about the very strong social and cultural ideals that  inform perceptions of at what age children should be able to use the toilet independently, and result in toilet training being an  emotive subjects for staff and parents. Both Amy and Jane pointed out how they are often talking to parents who are very anxious if their child isn’t viewed as using the toilet ‘properly’. Assumptions around what it means to use the toilet ‘properly’ seemed to be defined around being clean at a certain age. It can be really difficult for parents whose children don’t meet this expectation and not all school staff can be very empathetic.

There was a conversation about the perception that some parents take less responsibility in their children’s toilet training, so it becomes the job of the teacher/TA to toilet train. This can be difficult for early years staff as it can be the case that the lessons taught at school are unlearnt at home in evenings, weekends and holidays. Yet, as we’d discussed, these perceptions aren’t always fair on the parents either.

We also talked about disability and toilet training – how not ‘getting’ using the toilet related to certain impairment labels. This led to reflections about how although there is an expectation for us to all use the toilet in the same way, some of us don’t and can’t!

We were left with a number of questions: Do we all use the toilet in different ways anyway? Are we all taught how to use the toilet differently? [Do you flush before you pull up your pants, or the other way around?] Should school and early years staff talk to parents so that the messages delivered to children about how to use the toilet are consistent? Or should we be discussing the fact that we may all use the toilet differently  more openly? What do we teach about hygiene and the toilet seat? Hovering? Putting toilet paper on the seat in a public loo?

Toilets as a gendered social space

It was noted that small children do a lot of ‘hanging out’ in the toilets – yet this is more usually thought of (as a problem) in relation to pupils in secondary schools. At Rainbow Forge this happened especially after the toilets had been refurbished as they were a nicer space to both go to the toilet, but also be sociable!

Amy and Jane noted that although the staff see the toilets as separate to the classroom, the children don’t see it that way. When children are asked why they are in the toilet (if not going themselves), they say that they have to be there because they’re playing with somebody that is going to the toilet. We discussed a preferred classroom layout where the toilets would be in the classroom (but this would be expensive).

When children are young there isn’t much gender divide around who uses the toilets as a social space, but this changes as children get older (boys stop using them socially – something we discussed more widely with adults in Around the Toilet).

At Rainbow Forge, the toilets are not gendered for the younger children, but become gendered as the children get older. The toilet cubicles are coloured very traditionally – bright pink for the girls and a bluey grey for the boys (chosen by the children when they were re done!)

There was conversation around whether disabled children have the same opportunities to be social in using the toilets – at Rainbow Forge the disabled loo is in with the other toilets for young children, but is separate for the older children.

Hygiene

Lisa and I talked about how handwashing kept coming up in previous toilet workshops with children – but that it felt quite ‘adult’ imposed. We all agreed that we might have had different stories told in our workshops in schools if staff weren’t present (so children didn’t feel that they had to say the ‘right’ thing). Interestingly, when we ran the same workshop in a coffee shop with children, hand washing wasn’t a part of any of the stories told!

There was a conversation about whether children learn that hands should be washed as a social etiquette thing (e.g. in public toilets and in schools), and that children might not bother at home.

We discussed the ways that children are taught about hygiene. Amy mentioned a nursery rhyme/video that showed different types of germs as different colours. If a child hadn’t washed their hands the TAs would say to them, ‘I can still see the red germs’ and they go and wash them off with soap.

Jane and Amy told us about scuba diver toys in a splash play area. If they got dirty children didn’t just rinse them in the water in the play area (which has bubbles and glitter in it), but take them to the toilet to wash properly in the toilet sink with soap, which they felt was reflective of the importance children attach to these toys.

Privacy/Visibility

There was an idea that the toilets may become gendered as the children get older because of fear of sexualisation/toilets can be perceived as a sexual space.

The toilet cubicles for small children are often low in order to allow adult surveillance, but there were issues of privacy here, especially for the girls (and particularly privacy from adults).

Discussion that as adults we also want privacy when using the toilet – but that this is about cultural/social norms/what you are used to and see as ‘normal’.

We talked about the idea of poo and wee being visible – young children want to show adults when they’re had a wee or poo in the potty, but we learn to become ashamed of it later in life.

There was a discussion of whether the pupils ever kiss in the toilets as they are private spaces.

Roles of teacher/TA/cleaners

Whose role is it to clean up the toilets was a big issue in the early years classroom.

Cleaners didn’t want to clean up poo on the wall of the toilet, and there were question marks over whose job this should be. Rainbow House has developed a practice where there are ‘kits’ to allow TAs to clean it up straight away. However, there were also some issues over whether the job of cleaning toilets, and helping children to go to the toilet should always be the job of the TA. Amy said that if you work with 5 year olds, and it was only you helping the children use the toilet, you’d be doing that all day! The consensus was that it should be split between TAs and teachers, but the teachers don’t always like that.

We left with the thought that if we don’t like toilet related jobs, should the person doing them be paid the most money?

The final comment of the day was that Amy, Jane and the others at Rainbow Forge didn’t get enough time to talk about toilets. We very much hope that we’ll be doing more work with them in the future!

Re-Imagining Toilets: An event summary

At the closing event for the Around the Toilet project, we celebrated the provocative, visual and artistic creations produced in our research workshops over the last seven months. The exhibition space provided by Z-arts in Manchester gave us plenty of room to display the ‘Toilet Stories’ comics created by children at a local Primary School, toilet drawings and postcards by Smizz, the alternative toilet symbols created by members of Venture Arts, and the incredible installation game designed and built by MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield as part of the Live Projects programme. In a separate workshop area, creativity continued to flow on the day thanks to resident artists who helped us to stencil political toilet slogans and designs onto t-shirts and tote bags. A cinema room also offered people attending the event the opportunity to watch a range of activist, artistic and Hollywood depictions of toilets.

Final event pic 2

[Three images: L-R: T-shirts printed with toilet slogans; Venture Arts alternative toilet signs; the toilet installation game. Photos courtesy Eleanor Lisney, Jana Kennedy and Niki Sole.

Activists, campaigners, academics, architects, and others with an interest in toilets, space and access, assembled at our ‘Re-Imagining Toilets’ event on 27th November to continue the conversations that the Around the Toilet project – and many campaigners and academics before us – have been having around the safety and accessibility of public toilets. In particular, but not exclusively, the event considered provisions for queer, trans and disabled people. Dr Jenny Slater, Principal Investigator on the project, introduced the day by reflecting on the social perceptions of toilets, toilet research and campaigns around access. Slater notes that despite toilets playing a fundamental role in all of our lives, the Yorkshire Post recently dropped an article they had invited Around the Toilet researchers to write to mark World Toilet Day. The article was unsuitable, the Yorkshire Post claimed, because it was believed to focus too much on ‘minority issues’. Slater argued that not only were the Yorkshire Post wrong to think that toilet issues were applicable to an insignificant number of us (in fact, we all use toilets), but also that ‘minority issues’ shouldn’t be addressed in their paper.

The speakers joining Slater on the panel had also played key roles on the project. Like Slater, they reflected on how toilets are crucial yet mundane parts of our everyday lives. Dr Emily Cuming, Co-Investigator on the project, considered how toilets are both materially and socially forged, ‘hooked up’ through plumbing and mechanics, but also understood and used as part of a wider public, cultural space. There is nothing natural or given about the categorisations our bodies acquire through toilets, adds Cuming; toilet designs, location and labels are always ideologically loaded. Disability equality trainer, Gemma Nash, spoke about disabled parents’ use of toilets, noting the stigma and moral judgements which place them under greater scrutiny regarding their ability to care for their children. Nash argues that this can unfortunately lead to disabled parents doubting themselves. Communal baby changing spaces may work well for some, Nash adds, but due to the judgement many disabled parents face, shared spaces may feel intimidating or uncomfortable for others.

Final event pic 4

[Three images: L-R: The ‘Toilet stories’ comics; ‘The only good tory is a lavatory’ t-shirt; Smizz’s drawings of the event. Photos courtesy of Action for Trans Health, Jenny Slater and Eleanor Lisney.]

Morag Rose, co-founder of the Loiterers Resistance Movement, discussed how the power structures of our built environment need to be incorporated into our consideration of toilets. She pointed to the rich social history of public toilets, reflecting on whose bodies and identities have been considered in their planning, and the often unexplored boundaries of public/private space. Jess Bradley, Action for Trans* Health Trustee, was the final speaker in the first session. She argued that that by labelling toilets as ‘male’ and ‘female’, we assume that these two categories are the only ones available. Toilets do not only reflect how society understands gender, Bradley comments, toilets produce our ideas about gender. However, things are changing. Bradley notes that gender neutral toilets are becoming increasingly commonplace, and are very often incorporated into building designs without controversy. We do, after all, use a gender neutral toilet every day in our own homes.

Following a refreshment break, the next panel addressed the importance of architects’ perspectives on toilets. Dr Lisa Procter, Co-Investigator on the Around the Toilet project, illustrated how the historical model of the ‘ideal’ (hu)man had been used to design toilet facilities and that these measurements were taken to be a universal standard. Whilst approaches to design have changed, toilets still fail to adequately reflect the diversity of their users. Procter provided many visual examples of the aesthetic potential of toilets. In some cases, toilets are not simply hidden away, but incorporated into the design of the city as their own feature; toilets as public art. Following Procter, Niki Sole and Suki Sehmbi, MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield, talked about their roles on the Live Projects toilet team. A group of eleven students spent six weeks designing various tools for disseminating and exhibiting our research findings. One of the key outputs from the Live Projects group was the installation game on display in our gallery on the day. Sehmbi and Sole discussed the design process behind the installation, reflecting on some of the challenges of their brief – especially the size limitations, given that the disassembled installation needed to fit inside the boot of Slater’s car. Both Sole and Sehmbi emphasised how participating in the project had transformed their understanding of toilets and the design and planning processes involved in accommodating access requirements.

Final event pic 3

[Three images: Photos of some of the outputs produced by the MA Artichecture students. L-R: Toilet roll with Smizz cartoon drawings; Installation game; Toilet twitter handbook. Photos courtesy of Y Mu.]

Our final panel of the day brought together members of the Loiterers Resistance Movement, Action for Trans* Health, Queer of the Unknown, Truckers’ Toilets UK, the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, Changing Places, Accessible Derbyshire, and the MA Architecture Live Projects programme. It was inspiring to hear so many voices dedicated to putting toilets on the political agenda. We discussed the ways forward for toilet activism, practice and research; covering a wide range of topics including: the closure of public toilets, the re-labelling of toilets to include a gender neutral option, the use of direct action in response to accessible toilets used as storage cupboards, the lack of consideration given to Changing Places toilets when training architects, on-street urinals and gender socialisation, school toilets, menstruation and learning disabilities, and the radical potential of toilet protests. Many of these discussions were framed within a broader context of austerity and welfare cuts. Morag Rose argued that if the city is presenting itself as open 24 hours then its toilets, too, need to be available at all times. Similarly, Jess Bradley reminded us that toilets need to be included in anti-austerity campaigning, just as a critical perspective on cuts and privatisation needs to be incorporated into our discussion of toilets.

After a delicious vegetarian buffet, a performance from Queer of the Unknown brought the event to a close. Jess Bradley and Loz Webb staged their piece within the toilet installation, using the copper pipe arches to create the public cubicle stalls in which their performance was set. The piece drew on a range of performance practices, including dance, poetry, movement, and even some (well-received!) audience participation. They encouraged us to think about many of the themes of the day; access, safety, transgression, policing and solidarity. Scene-by-scene, Queer of the Unknown negotiated an artful balance between funny, political and poignant; proving all three are possible at once.

Final event pic

[Image: Queer of the Unknown performing. Two people: one sitting within the toilet installation and one standing, reading form a piece of paper. Blue lights overhead and the audience sitting at the front. Photo courtesy of Steve Graby.]

Thank you to everyone who attended Re-Imagining Toilets, or has contributed to the project over the last few months. Hopefully this won’t be the last you hear from us…

(A storify of the event is also available to view here).