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The UK Is Getting Rid of Its Public Toilets

"Public toilets are a type of first aid, in a way."

by Amelia Dimoldenburg
Jun 1 2016, 2:05pm

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

In the city of Manchester, England, there is now only one city-run public toilet. And I don't want to alarm anyone, but in Newcastle, there are none at all. Local budget cuts throughout the country have meant public toilets are being turned into bars, nightclubs, takeout restaurants, and even dog-grooming services. But sadly most have just been boarded up, never again to drink the piss of a relieved member of the public.

According to Freedom of Information data released this week, at least 1,782 facilities have closed across the UK in the last decade. Councils see the closures as an easy budget cut, but for others, especially older people, a public toilet is a necessity. Is the public losing their patience, awkwardly hopping from one foot to the other? Or are they letting it all wash over them? We hassled some strangers outside a boarded-up public convenience to see what they made of the situation.

Felix 21, Tom 22, students

VICE: Do you ever use public toilets?
Tom: I would if there were more.

What have been your previous experiences of using them?
Felix: They are all quite nasty, but I don't have a problem going in there or feel uncomfortable.
Tom: As long as I have a cubicle, I'm fine.

Do you prefer asking a pub or restaurant to use the toilet?
Tom: I once used the toilet at a pub, and the man who worked there tried to throw me out while I was still using it. I told him there was no way I could leave at that moment.
Felix: Restaurant toilets are generally a lot nicer, but then you feel the obligation to buy something, which is going to be a lot more expensive than paying for a public toilet. But then the other day I went into a restaurant—marched in and marched out, and I felt terrible.
Tom: It should be a human right to have access to a toilet whenever you need to.

Roz, 45, deputy head teacher

Public toilets are being closed down—how worried are you?
Roz: Not at all. If I need to use the toilet, I'll just go into a shop.

Have you ever used a public toilet before?
Never. I don't know anyone who has ever used one—they are places people avoid.

So you think the closure of public toilets is a justifiable budget cut?
Yes, they are not very nice places—I would never let my children go anywhere near them.

Kaylee, 28, fundraising officer

Do you ever use public toilets?
Kaylee: Very rarely. Usually I'll go to McDonald's.

Why is that?
Because public toilets don't seem clean and are unsafe.

You have a better opinion of McDonald's toilets than I do. Have you ever been refused entry into a business to use their toilet?
Yes, a lot of times, but I know there are schemes being put in place to make sure more restaurants and cafes allow the public to use their bathroom—which is a good thing.

How fearful are you of the potential closure of public toilets?
I'm more fearful for my mom. She's in her old age now, and she struggles to get to a loo quickly when she's out.

Tejas, 22, med student

Are you a frequent user of public toilets?
Tejas: No, not really, the timing never works out that I'm near one when I need to go.

Have you had pleasant experiences in the past?
The last time I needed to use one was about a month ago. I was in Hyde Park and was really hungover.

How worried are you about the imminent closure of the UK's public toilets?
Well, it depends on how well they are used—if they are not being used that much and there is a greater need for that money to go somewhere else, then fair enough.

Do you think public toilets are necessary?
Yes, because a lot of people don't feel comfortable asking in businesses. But really it depends if you're doing a number one or number two, because as a guy I don't really need a public bathroom to do a number one.

Yulia, 60, accountant

Do you ever use public toilets?
Yulia: Yes, in the past, but not recently because they don't have easy access, there are always long queues, and they have become very expensive. It's 60 pence [85 cents] or £1 [$1.50] in some areas!

I guess the increasing cost is so the facilities can be kept to a certain standard.
Yes, but public toilets are a type of first aid, in a way; they are there to help those who are really in need. They should really be a "public" toilet for everyone to access.

Simon, 54, company director

When was the last time you used a public toilet?
Oh, a while ago. I normally go into a cafe or a pub.

Why is that?
Because I can't find the public toilets! If there were more located across the city, I would use them.

Are you worried that toilets are being shut?
I think it's a shame they are disappearing. The streets would be a lot cleaner if there were more—especially late at night, when pubs are shut. Just the other day, I saw a man urinating on a bin over there, which really isn't a pleasant sight.

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