The lengths this architect will go to

Dear Architects of the UK (and the rest of the world),

I want to talk to you about toilets.

I know the loos are not the most glamorous aspect of building design, but they are kind of fundamental aren’t they?

Would you ever dream of designing a publicly accessible building or place of work without one?

And of course any new building or refurb would have accessible toilets wherever there are toilets too?

But did you know that regular ‘wheelchair accessible toilets’ (doc M style toilets) are NOT accessible to all wheelchair users or even all mobile disabled people?

Photo of Vaila on the loo, with text: I'm getting my pants down 4 equality, Looathon, 11 May, Bathstore, Bathstore, Baker St London

My daughter is one of those wheelchair users, which means our whole family’s movements are dictated by access to the most elusive type of toilet in the country.

In my home city of Cambridge (a vibrant, tourist destination) there is only one, registered changing places toilet in the city centre. Yes, just one toilet in the whole of Cambridge that my daughter can use, other than the toilets at her school and a toilet at the hospital on the edge of town.

Playmobil family, to represent our family, on a woodland pathIn London you can count on one hand the number of changing places toilets in the West End.

Therefore my family cannot visit the West End together.

We CAN visit the 2014 Stirling Prize winning Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, but we CAN’T visit the most recent Stirling Prize winning buildings (judged to be the best buildings of those years!?), or at least our visit would be hugely compromised, compared to other visitors, as we would need to leave as soon as it was time to use the toilet.

I carried out a survey monkey last year aimed at architects and building designers.  Unfortunately (despite many regional RIBA chapters sharing it for me in their newsletters) I didn’t get a huge take up, perhaps because it’s not a very attention grabbing topic.

However, I think the results I did get gave some insight into why we still only have just over 1000 changing places in the whole UK.

Extract from survey showing bar chart of responses illustrating 54% of architects said no the question about having installed a changing places toilet

Of the…


…and those that had were mostly in community, care or educational settings (which are obviously very necessary), but very few in commercial installations at all, places where families like mine would like to be able to ‘go’ like other families (museums, cinemas, bowling alleys, theatres, department stores etc).

Personally I would love to see better guidance and I think there is mileage in there being more flexibility in the design of toilet standards in general, and that seemed to be echoed in many of the comments I received in my survey.

(I want to see some formal research on this topic, so if anyone can help in that department do get in touch!)

Following on from the success of her fantastic #LooAdvent campaign at christmas, amazing changing places champion, Sarah Brisdion, has organised a #Looathon with the great people of Bathstore in Baker Street on 11th May!

I deliberated about joining in, I am not an exhibitionist!  However my first blog post on this topic was over 2 years ago, I’ve spoken to anyone who will listen! Yet still we have only one toilet in my home city and a handful in central London. And so, I have decided to join Sarah and a whole host of other amazing accessibility champions, volunteering to put ourselves in an undignified position because our built environment robs our friends and relatives of their dignity daily…


I would like to extend an invitation to any architects, the RIBA, the building design media & building professional bodies to come along and meet us to get a first hand view of why we need this change in attitude to toilet design!  Also there will be a mobile changing places toilet at the event, a Mobiloo, so you will be able to see what is possible, even in the back of a van!


Letters to my Daughter

5 Replies to “The lengths this architect will go to”

  1. It’s a damn shame that you have to go to these lengths. Good on you for championing this dire need. Power to the people and #morechangingplaces !

  2. We are 2.5 years into designing our disabled conversion because if we had the choice, we wouldn’t start in a 230 year old 4 storey terraced house that’s 4.8m wall to wall.
    But after looking at this project from all angles and with sine ingenious design we are almost at the tender stage.
    The heart of the design is Thomas’s hygiene suite, he’s getting too big to manhandle now he’s nearly 6 but potty training is still embryonic and he definitely cannot use an adult toilet.
    We also needed to built the home around Thomas, we have 4 kids and we didn’t want to him shuttered away in the disabled annexe.
    If we can accommodate a changing place with our footprint restrictions, shops and large restaurants have no excuses.

  3. Hoping to get along to support you. In my view, wherever there are public toilets, there should also be a changing places toilet :/

  4. What a great cause! It amazes me that this is even an issue, well done for raising awareness!

    And congratulations because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the #BlogCrush linky! Feel free to collect your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂

Comments are closed.