London Borough supports Community Toilet Scheme

Originally published on: March 24th, 2023. Last modified on March 28th, 2023

Last year, the Bladder and Bowel Community launched their own toilet scheme where high street businesses can display a sticker in their window letting customers know that they support the ‘Just Can’t Wait’ card. We are still working hard behind the scenes to implement these stickers into local and national retailers and businesses. 

In order to find out whether there were other similar schemes that could benefit our members, we did a Q&A with Tower Hamlets Council in London, which includes parts of Shoreditch such as Brick Lane, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf and Bethnal Green about their own local toilet scheme.

We’d like to thank to Kirsty Valentine from Tower Hamlets Council for speaking to us.

What is a community toilet scheme?

“A Community Toilet Scheme (CTS) enables local businesses and venues to make more clean, safe, and accessible toilets available to the public. These toilets will be available to use free of charge and without any expectation to make a purchase.”

What are the benefits of a community toilet scheme and does one exist in the Borough?

Tower Hamlets Community Toilet Scheme
Tower Hamlets Council Community Toilet Scheme Sticker

“We are currently planning the launch of this scheme in Tower Hamlets. This will see more toilet availability within the borough which will contribute to the health and social inclusion of residents and visitors alike.

In addition to this, local businesses that join the scheme could benefit economically by creating an area that is accessible to all, where visitors can stay for longer lengths of time and increase footfall into the area and their own premises. 

In Tower Hamlets we will be working closely with local businesses to develop the scheme.”

How would members of the public find out about this type of scheme?

“There are several ways members of the Bladder and Bowel Community can find out about which establishments are a part of our scheme. For example, each venue will be on The Great British Toilet Map website so that members of the public can easily find their nearest toilet or pre-plan their outing in advance. The site will show details about the service including access times.

Once the scheme has launched, we will have a dedicated webpage on the council website which will have information on the number of toilets in the scheme, the logos to look out for, contact details for feedback, and more.

As mentioned in the above, we will have a Tower Hamlets CTS logo and branded stickers which will display what type of facilities each establishment has. Businesses will be provided with these window stickers, and this should make it easy to identify an accessible toilet, especially when on the move. 

As part of the scheme, we will be actively looking for feedback from members of the public, and groups such as the Bladder and Bowel Community, to help us develop and improve the scheme.” 

56% of the UK public restricts their fluid intake to avoid the inconvenience of searching for a toilet

Royal Society for Public Health

Why is toilet accessibility important for an area? What are the consequences to an area when there are none or few accessible toilets?

“Access to toilets is a major concern for the elderly, people with disabilities or ill health, women, families, outdoor workers and the homeless. A lack of facilities also poses serious threats to hygiene and cleanliness, which has been heightened due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to research conducted by The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), 56% of the UK public restricts their fluid intake to avoid the inconvenience of searching for a toilet. In fact, the RSPB found that this lack of facilities deters one in five people from leaving their homes and 43% of people with medical conditions do not go out at all.

Raymond Martin, Managing Director of the British Toilet Association, said providing toilets is a public health issue but it is also an equality and social inclusion issue. Consequently, our local businesses are impacted by the reduced footfall on our high streets and town centres, which is crucial to their covid-recovery.”

Do you run other initiatives for engaging with local businesses, and how are these going?

“There are other Council-led toilet initiatives across the borough including a toilet at Columbia Road Flower Market available on Sundays, weekend night-time urinals and the ‘Go Before You Go’ campaign in Spitalfields and Brick Lane area, which encourages customers to use facilities before they leave a premises.”

What feedback have you had on the proposal of a Community Toilet Scheme so far?

“We hosted a survey through our Let’s Talk platform to better understand the barriers and experiences of residents, visitors and workers. The survey was launched in October and will close on the 31st March 2023. Early results show that nearly nine in ten respondents think that there are not enough toilets for public use in Tower Hamlets. Also, over two thirds said that the lack of a toilet has, or has sometimes, stopped them from shopping or visiting an area in the borough.

These early results, along with the anecdotal feedback we have gained from our stakeholder engagement, has reinforced the need for a community toilet scheme in the borough.”

In the past 10 years it is estimated 15+% public toilets in the UK have closed

Tower Hamlets Borough Council

What’s the biggest change in your area in the last 10 years regarding toilet access?

“The most significant change to toilet access in the last ten years has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Followed swiftly by the closure of public toilet buildings. In the past 10 years it is estimated 15+% public toilets in the UK have closed. During the height of the pandemic many public toilet facilities across London were closed and this led to a substantial and clearly noticeable increase in anti-social behaviour and a wider public conversation about the lack of toilet provision.

The British Toilet Association has been lobbying for changes in legislation and government funding to address the lack of provision and unacceptable levels of cleanliness and hygiene of existing facilities. The not-for-profit organisation emphasised the worsened situation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social exclusion for people who suffer accessibility issues and their carers because of absent or poor facilities.”   

How could we support people living in your area?

“Having the support of the Bladder and Bowel Community, and other engaged groups, could have a huge impact on the success of the CTS in Tower Hamlets.

Spreading awareness of the CTS through speaking to friends and family is a great way of ensuring that we avoid the ‘loo-leash’ and empower residents and visitors with the knowledge that there are accessible toilets in the borough.

The survey we mentioned previously is open until the 31st May 2023, it would be greatly appreciated if you could complete the survey and have your say on how the scheme should be set up. This will help us in our next stage of developing the toilet scheme and if you would like to respond you can find the survey here: Community Toilet Scheme | Let’s Talk Tower Hamlets

Take Part in the Tower Hamlets Survey

Closes 31st May 2023

Further Information

Community Toilet Schemes are becoming ever more important now with the reduction of public toilets across the UK, which is why as well as supporting local schemes such as this one, the Bladder and Bowel Community have their own nationwide toilet scheme in conjunction with their Just Can’t Wait card.

If you are a high street retailer or business then you can request a free welcome pack, which includes information about the Bladder and Bowel Community and a sticker to display in your window. You can find out more information about our toilet scheme here.