31 Jan 2020
The team behind London Loo Codes writes for us about their inspiration, and how they’d like the Mayor of London to help make London’s loos more accessible.
Finding a public toilet in London can be a daunting and sometimes despairing process, especially if you’re looking for a toilet that is accessible, gender neutral and not far to walk.
Across London, alongside the decline of public toilets, we’ve seen an increase in businesses - mainly, but not exclusively, large chains - putting keypads on the doors of their toilet, into which one must punch a code in order to gain access. And of course, you only receive the code once you’ve bought something.
For people with chronic illness, disabilities, older people, homeless people, pregnant people, people with children (the list goes on!), increasingly restricted access to toilet facilities across the capital presents a significant challenge.
Throughout 2019, we (Soph and Merl of @ldnloocodes) had the luxury of studying at various cafes around London. We are two people pretty consistently in need of the toilet so, rather than ask for the loo code each time, we started keeping track of the codes for our regular haunts in our notebooks and would from time-to-time mention that this would be a useful resource for other people too.
In January 2020, we took to Twitter to start sending these codes out to other people who might find them helpful when navigating London. We also asked people to send us codes they received while out and about, along with information on whether the toilets are wheelchair accessible and gender neutral. As we receive them, we add them to an online document that anyone can view (one of our followers even made this information into a map!), and we’re investigating ways to distribute this information to people for whom smartphone access isn’t available.
The lack of loos means that 56% of the public restrict fluid intake before going out; a practice which, alongside ‘holding it in’, can exacerbate underlying conditions.
In January 2020, TFL announced some laudable efforts to improve high streets in some boroughs across the city, including local branding, pavements cleared of clutter, the planting of new trees and the installation of water fountains. While these all have the potential to be fantastic improvements in local communities, without including a commitment to accessible toilets, they fall short of their aim to “make areas more welcoming and attractive for everyone… helping to improve people's lives across the city.” In one of the boroughs, TFL is working with Wandsworth, where there are no public toilets at all.
The Royal Society for Public Health reports that a lack of facilities can act as a ‘loo leash’, stopping people who need toilet access from venturing too far from home for fear they won’t be able to find facilities. The report also points out that the lack of loos means that 56% of the public restrict fluid intake before going out; a practice which, alongside ‘holding it in’, can exacerbate underlying conditions.
We set up @ldnloocodes in response to these problems, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. However, early signs indicate that rather than embracing the unique position they’re in to create positive change, many of these chains are simply changing their codes more often.
We had hoped this wouldn’t be the response and are calling on these businesses to give some serious consideration to the role they play in the communities they’re working in.
Of course, the solution to this shouldn’t lie exclusively in the hands of businesses, and we’d love to see the Mayor of London commit to creating more free, accessible public toilets across the city. In 2016 the BBC reported that, due to budget cuts, more than 1,780 toilets had been closed down across the UK in the preceding decade, and this trend appears set to continue into the future unless action is taken.
With the London Mayoral Election coming up in May 2020, this is the perfect time to push for meaningful improvements that will help open London up to more people, and we hope our campaign will be a part of that.