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?

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[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