On Friday 5th December 2014 the Loo of the Year Awards were presented. That evening I happened to pick up the Evening Standard and found an article about a post man who had apparently relieved himself against the wall of a house. Of particular interest to me was the comment made by a local delivery driver that said “driving around all day and being so busy sometimes there is not a lot you can do when you need to go”. Several local residents made suggestions to the effect that the postman should knock on doors or try using the toilets at a local station, but not one mentioned the idea of a public convenience.
This got me thinking isn’t it interesting how we owe so much of our infrastructure to the Victorian era, the underground, the railways, sewers, public baths and of course public conveniences were all part of the vast infrastructure that was bequeathed to this country by the Victorians. Much of this infrastructure is no longer in the public ownership of course, having been sold off and privatised in the last 30 years or so as a short-term solution to government deficits.
This raises the rather interesting question, what will we do to pay our debts when there is simply nothing left to privatise? Public conveniences and these other social necessities are not just desirable but are in fact essential, cleanliness and social hygiene are better understood now than they were during the Victorian era. However, the public infrastructure, which once supported social hygiene has been allowed to deteriorate dramatically in recent years. Take for example the Essex market town where I myself worked for seven years. When I worked there they had three public conveniences, however as of 2012 there is now only one that is not even in the town centre.
We expect that shopping centres will have public conveniences and many of them do, in fact one near me even has a sharps disposal point in each of the toilet stalls. However the location of such conveniences in shopping centres is of little use to the postman, street cleansers and of course other public servants. The majority of them are still employed by state run institutions, however they can now easily find themselves caught short when they need to answer nature’s calls in the course of their duties. The public convenience was originally conceived as a social necessity and is now seen as an expensive addition to the public purse. Predominantly if the town has a market it will have public toilets in the vicinity for market traders.
The British Toilet Association is the champion for accessibility to public toilets for all – www.britloos.co.uk.
What was seen as an essential public requirement by our forefathers is regarded now as a social nicety. If like me you are often forced to buy a cup of coffee to use the facilities you know these have varying degrees of cleanliness.
I would give a penny for your thoughts?