The Importance of Public Toilets in the Face of Continued Closures

“Desperate for the loo? They’re closed now but they’ll be open for the summer season.”

“You need the loo? Sorry, mate! They’ve been closed down – vandalism and all that. The council says they’re too costly to keep open.”

“How dare you use the bushes as a toilet! Yes, I know he’s only a child but it’s not right!”

“Making deliveries? ‘Fraid you’re breaking the law by using the verges – you’ll have to pay a fine! It’s not my fault there aren’t any toilets around.”

These are just a few examples of how our lives are affected by the lack of public toilets. Even though everyone needs the toilet several times a day, stringent cuts to council budgets are resulting in a great number of public toilet closures even in tourist hotspots. As yet there is not enough cohesive action to force Government to make the provision of toilets a statutory requirement.

As is so often the case, it is those with the greatest need who suffer the most including many of us with bladder & bowel conditions. If no toilets are available, dare we go out? Or must we stay in? The reliance on the presence of a toilet constantly governs our activities. The toilet is a powerful commodity.

So what can we do? Should we continue the battle to make public toilet provision law or is it time for a change? Should local groups take over the running of public toilets in their area or should society consider moving away from the purpose built toilet block altogether? Or should we encourage more community toilet schemes where businesses offer use of their toilets? As with many innovative schemes, there are pros and cons.

With toilets continuing to close with no alternatives on offer, what can those of us with medical conditions do in the meantime?

Enter the ‘Just Can’t Wait’ card.

When we’re in desperate need we often don’t make ourselves clear that we need the loo NOW! The ‘Just Can’t Wait’ card available from the Bladder & Bowel Community has recognisable toilet symbols and explains that the user has a medical condition. It is credit card sized ‘reassurance’ and when shown most people will try to help.

Just Can't Wait Toilet Card

The Just Can’t Wait card can also be found in the Apple app store, which means you can have a version on your phone, plus a map which shows you the nearest accessible toilets.

However, we have to be realistic. If the facilities are not generally available for public use they may not be easily accessible and we may need to be accompanied by a member of staff because of the location.

So, what can we conclude from the current toilet situation?

The hardest aspect to accept – and to overcome – is that there is no obligation for councils to provide toilets. Community Toilet Schemes, where they exist, rely on goodwill and good signage. ‘Just Can’t Wait’ cards provide support for those us of us who might need a toilet urgently – but we’re also reliant on goodwill. We know that toilets help us keep healthy and we also know that the lack of toilets can make life very restrictive.

The toilet is a powerful piece of porcelain! It controls the way we live our life – how we travel; how we shop; how we enjoy our leisure; how we cope at work; how we cope at school. Society should wish to make everyone feel included but the lack of toilet facilities highlights for many the fact that we are, in actual fact, excluded if toilets are not available – and even punished if we are found using an undesignated space!

Those of us with medical conditions devise our own coping mechanisms and make use of the ‘Just Can’t Wait’ card or app, but what kind of society is it that allows ‘loo power’ to dictate our status in Society or forces us to put our health at risk? Is now the time to rethink the toilet and pass its power back into the community?

Gill Kemp is the founder of Public Toilets UK, a campaign which, with the support of the Bladder & Bowel Community and other organisations and charities, is working to improve toilet access for EVERYONE from early years onwards so we can all participate fully in whatever we choose to do.