A toilet on every high street

The economic value of public toilet facilities is often overlooked. We all have to go sometime and some of us sooner and more quickly than others. The availability of clean public toilets can make or break a shopping trip or social outing. People with bladder problems will restrict their movements to where they know the toilets are.

The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design had a good look at this issue. Their report outlines how they went about finding an alternative model for high street toilets. The project was titled, Engaged: a toilet on every high street.

This design research project was about a simple concept of reusing vacant high street units as toilets (plus commercial or community space). It explored the idea before thinking about how to implement it.

A drawing showing a row of toilets in an outdoor setting with a cafe.

The research explored how this idea would fit into current systems and infrastructure. People within retail, community safety, government and urban design were consulted. Then they spoke with council officers to see how they could make it happen.

Pub staff responsible for toilets talked about the problems with toilets. Public toilet provision is complex. A lot can go wrong. The aim therefore was to understand what the public want, what councils can achieve and where the pitfalls are.

The key areas or outcomes for Engaged were the issues of:

  • Closed and Temporary Toilets
  • Future Inclusive Toilets
  • Lootopia and the High Street
  • Toilets in the 24-hour City
  • Talk Toilets
Standard toilet block in a rural area signed as Ladies and Gents.

The report explains these dot points in greater detail using case studies, and accessible toilets are included in the discussions as well as criminal behaviour.

Everyone needs a toilet

Everyone needs to use the toilet, and people shouldn’t be ‘designed out’. People who spend all day outside, such as rough-sleepers, rely more on public toilets than most. Yet privately-owned, publicly-accessible toilets may not be accessible to them, either from exclusion or from feeling that they would be permitted. Other groups who may feel excluded include teenagers and people of colour. Discrimination that associates groups with anti-social or criminal behaviour reduces the number of toilets that people can access.

The researchers found their findings match similar surveys by the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, and AgeUK London. ‘High streets’ was the main location where respondents thought public toilets were not good enough (70%), ahead of parks (47%). This data is useful for showing the value that public toilets bring to the high street. If people leave early due to a lack of toilets, that will hurt businesses and the wider community, as well as limiting people’s participation and quality of life.

The title of the report is, Engaged: a toilet on every high street. The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design did the research published by the Royal College of Art. It is a good example of talking to stakeholders before even thinking about solutions.

Everybody poops

A Canadian briefing paper, Everybody Poops: Public toilets are a community issue, covers similar ground. Although these facilities are an important part of the community, local authorities are not keen to provide them. Solutions are around advocacy and partnerships. The paper has a link to The Safer Bathroom Toolkit, which has a focus on people who use substances.

Accessibility Toolbar