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When nature calls

The lifting of lockdown restrictions, across the majority of England from 4 July, means life is starting to show some hints of normality. However, those heading out shopping, to pubs and restaurants, or their local tourist hot spot, may find themselves hitting toilet troubles when nature calls.

Kevin Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) explains, “A lack of public toilets has been a long-term issue, which has been heightened by the current coronavirus pandemic. With a large number of public toilets currently closed, the scarcity of accessible, clean and hygienic lavatories has come to the fore. Disturbingly, there has already been many reports of people urinating and defecating in public due to a lack of loos.” 

With frequent hand washing and safe sanitation vital to stopping the spread of coronavirus, poor access to toilets poses a growing public health issue. Responsible people heading out as lockdown eases may have to limit their time away from home if facilities are not available. This will have a knock on effect on a fragile economy, as people are forced into reducing their time on the high street.

A lack of public lavatories follows decades of underinvestment. According to the British Toilet Association, pre-lockdown councils in England had on average 15 operational public toilets per 12,500 people. The BBC also found that at least 673 public toilets across the UK have ceased to be maintained by major councils since 2010. 

Worryingly, some high street and tourist destinations now have no operational public toilets at all. In these instances, good-natured local businesses have traditionally been relied upon to open their toilets to the public. However, with coronavirus restrictions in place, companies are far less likely to admit non-customers as they face their own management of social distancing regulations.

A lack of toilet and hand washing facilities is bad for everyone, but more likely to affect women, the elderly, the disabled, those with medical conditions and those with babies and young children. Easy access to well-maintained, clean and hygienic public lavatories will make a very real difference to the health and wealth of the nation both during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting caught short is no laughing matter. Kevin continued, “Councils currently have no legal requirement to provide public toilets, and so when budgets need to be cut, lavatories are often top of the list. The current health crisis has shown that toilets and hand washing facilities are not a luxury, but a necessity, providing dignity, independence and safety for all. Now more than ever, public toilets offer a lifeline to many in our communities. In this new world, where it is vital we regularly wash our hands, access to adequate facilities should be a mandatory requirement for all councils.”

And Kevin isn’t alone. After years of under investment, there are many who argue that the money ‘saved’ closing public toilets has been a false economy. Vital to local economies and the wellbeing of residents, public toilets allow people to access high streets as well as local outdoor amenities such as parks, where people can exercise and meet those from other households more safely. For many, access to clean and well-maintained public lavatories makes the difference between being isolated indoors, to being able to leave the house to complete basic everyday tasks. 

To find a public toilet in your area visit www.lockdownloo.com

To find out more about the CIPHE’s Love Your Local Lav campaign visit https://www.ciphe.org.uk/loveyourlav