“If there's one thing you've got to do in life, it's go to the loo, right?”
Nowhere to Go is a collaborative project between researchers from the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University and Carers Northumberland.
We are examining the difficulties people with disabilities and their carers experience accessing appropriate accessible toilets while in public space. Drawing on the expertise of people with disabilities, their carers’ and organisations that support them, our focus has been to identify practical areas where improvements can be made.
How the Project Evolved
The work began as a student research project as part of a Politics Degree community module with Carers Northumberland in 2015. One of the key findings from a series of focus groups conducted with informal carers, was that a lack of appropriate accessible toilets in Northumberland limited the places they visited and their participation in social activities. Since that initial work, we have developed deeper knowledge about the issues lack of access to appropriate toilet facilities across the region create and possible ways to change the isolation and exclusion that has been experienced by people. Our work is supported through a range of sources including the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account Co-Production fund and the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology.
Who have we worked with?
We have worked with a wide range of individuals and organisations in Northumberland to explore these issues. Via interviews, focus groups and workshops we have engaged with:
Disability Organisations - including Adapt (Tynedale), Blind Ambition (Newcastle), Central User Forum (Blyth), BID Services (Morpeth), Berwick Ostomy Group, Age UK (Ashington), Alzheimer’s Society (Ashington)
Carers Organisations - including Carers Northumberland, Carers Trust and In It Together
People with varied disabilities and carers
Town and parish councillors and other stakeholders.
We are also working closely with Northumberland County Council, sharing our findings with them and informing their evolving strategies to respond to the needs of the region.
More recently we have expanded the work to look at the wider North east and have been linking with Newcastle Council as well as with colleagues nationally. It is very clear that the issues we have found and some of the solutions in Northumberland are also very relevant across the UK. Working in partnership with others to improve the availability and quality of accessible toilets across the UK is something we are committed to and will be continuing to work on for the foreseeable future.
Why is Access Important?
The UN asserts that access to clean, usable, appropriate and safe toilet facilities is an important human right. Being able to use good quality, clean, accessible toilets when and where we need them, not only improves local facilities but maintains people’s health and well-being. Some people, particularly those who are older or who have certain illnesses or impairments, can suffer discomfort and distress if they struggle to find suitable toilets – and this can stop them from going out. Enjoying everyday activities like shopping or eating out helps to keep us connected to our local communities, and prevents loneliness and isolation. Many disabilities are ‘hidden’. Raising awareness of the different needs people might have can help improve planning and design of public spaces including toilet provision.
Across the UK we have also seen a significant reduction in the availability of publicly funded toilets as local authorities face reductions in funding. There is currently no requirement on local authorities to provide public toilets. This means that increasingly access to toilets in public spaces is through locations such as shopping centres, cultural venues and leisure spaces.
Not Every Disability Is Visible
Almost 14 million people in the UK have some form of disability. Only approximately 1.2 million of those are wheelchair users, yet when we think of accessibility, we often think about the needs of wheelchair users – after all, the wheelchair is used as the symbol of accessible provision. There are many other disabilities, including “hidden disabilities”, which can make access to toilet facilities more difficult or more urgent. These include living with Dementia, Autism, Visual Impairment, Stoma and Incontinence.
Our How To Improve The Accessibility Of Public And Customer Toilets Guide provides more information on some of the varied hidden disabilities that people can have and what issues they generate around toilet needs.