(This weeks Comment from the Closet is from Rannoch Station – one of Scotland’s remotest Public Loos -or is it?)
Every day I get an email which sends me links to any news story that involves toilets, sad I know but I am a toilet expert and I am genuinely interested in keeping up with toilet trends and any toilet associated stories in the news. However a week does not go by now without there being a story on a local council closing or at least having ‘consultation period’ regarding their current toilet provision. Just yesterday it was reported that a public toilet in Somerset was sold for £44,000, more than twice the estimate, ‘for development’. In this example, like many, the onus is being left on community or shopping centers to provide facilities or councils creating charitable trusts to run ‘parks and recreation’ facilities and passing the responsibility to these new charitable trusts.
I am glad to say that occasionally local businesses take up the gauntlet and should you be in Stonehaven buying Fish and Chips at ‘The Bay’ then you will see a great example of a former council toilet now being managed by the local businesses to maintain a facility that ensures young and old will not be put off by a lack of facilities.
I have long been of the opinion that toilets are critical to any community and that with some careful management can be cost effective – this has been proven across Europe with the so called ‘commercial toilet concept’ where private operators are establishing and running profitable commercial toilets. ‘2 the Loo’ being one such operator that last year opened a commercial toilet operation in Covent Garden but expect many more to spring up. I am not against commercialising public conveniences, people want clean, hygienic toilet facilities and will pay a reasonable price to use them. I do object to local authorities that would rather see them disappear than a commercial option be at least attempted.
So for all those councillors and ‘ne’er do wells’, here is my free guide to local authorities to help them make their toilets at least cost neutral and in some cases revenue generating.
- Location – historically local authorities would want to place toilets in low cost locations. To be a commercial success you have to be where the action is so a location on a High Street or at least main thoroughfare is essential. This not only increases footfall and awareness but an added benefit is a high profile location decreases the risk of vandalism.
- Keep them Clean – Toilets need to be clean and have basics such as soap, toilet paper, warm water, etc. The better the finish the better the perceived value from the paying public. Local authorities may be loath to ‘spend a penny’ on facilities but the public will and even something as simple as a donation box will generate revenue towards the upkeep.
- Ensure access for all – Within the public demographic those that need to go to the toilet in an emergency are at the extremes of the population. Babies need changing, Toddlers and young children can’t always ‘hold it in’ and at the other end of the scale the elderly who may have confidence or bladder issues. It should be made law that every town center has a Changing Places compliant public toilet. (www.changing-places.org)
- Make them fun – create toilets that Children will want to go to. Install a disco ball and a ‘Puff the Magic Dryer’ to make it an experience that demands a family visit when in town.
- Involve local businesses – Local businesses want footfall into their stores by getting businesses to refund the toilet cost in exchange for goods you drive custom into their store. With increased footfall you can explore the marketing opportunities within the washroom area.
- Finally – Remember it’s a toilet not a new school or a hospital, but any changes to public facilities locally cause a massive hue and cry (usually stirred up by the press). Keep all the stakeholders involved, reinforce the benefits to the community, remind everyone better to pay a little than lose the lot.
So there are my thought. I am not expecting local authorities to come charging down my door, but it is being done in Europe successfully and there is no reason why we cannot stem the decline of public loos with a little vision, a little investment and a lot of support from the public.