We have spent rather a lot of time in the last two years thinking about toilets. A surprising amount perhaps, but we have learnt how vital they are to providing an inclusive welcome.
Visitors can choose whichever toilet they feel comfortable in. The new cubicles are all completely enclosed and are for all genders. Some have a sink, some are ambulant (a bit more spacious with supports such as grab rails) and there is also a large family room (that will be open soon). Next door we have a new accessible toilet (which means we now have two) and just through the Café & Bar we still have separate male and female toilets.
With very few public toilets open in the city centre we think it's an important part of our public service to make our toilets available to everyone whether they are a customer or not.
And as period poverty is increasing in the UK - anyone can access free period products in all of our toilets.
Over the years we have had a fair amount of feedback on the shabby state of our loos. Originally conceived as part of a larger capital project (to include a fourth cinema), the impact of Covid meant that we had to split the project into phases for affordability. A wrench but nevertheless a small miracle that we could proceed at all.
I have written elsewhere about some of the backlash we received in pursuit of inclusive toilets - I don't intend to go back over it - our hope is that we can all move on. In general, the love and gratitude we have received has always outweighed the concern.
From the cubicles to the signage (the final signage is yet to be installed), the design has been carefully considered - we reviewed our plans for gender inclusion with experts from Around the Toilet, and used our strategic partnership with WECIL to consult on signage, colour schemes, physical access, light and noise at the beginning and end of the process. WECIL have helped us put hand dryers at wheelchair user height, advised that symbols AND words on the doors are more accessible for visually impaired people, and to use raised words rather than braille. This sort of detail is easy to miss if you aren't someone with lived experience of disability, which makes consultations with groups like WECIL essential before making changes to a building and we are grateful for their support and help.
For a talk on public conveniences recently, Helen Jaffa shared some of the ways that Watershed's toilets are used on a weekly basis including changing period products, crying, resting, having a panic attack, doing drugs, keeping warm, sleeping, washing, getting changed and getting ready to go out. Some of these are illegal, so we ask people to stop and support them to leave, but most are just very human functions and demonstrate why accessible and inclusive toilet spaces are essential.
Watershed's new toilets also now serve excellent Insta - the light is lovely and the mirrors in there are fab. It was in the comments of a toilet selfie that Sandy Mahal and I came up with the idea of a celebration of the public toilet and its many uses. This brief was more than smashed by Jo Kimber and Alec Stevens, who have collected your toilet stories into a most brilliant zine.
Inconvenience is launched today - online (and soon to be available in print) - to mark the official opening of Watershed's new toilets. Grab a (toilet) seat, get comfy and have a read of this moving, charming love letter to the many functions of a public loo.
Finally, thank you to the many people who have supported us to make the toilets a reality - Foyle Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Backstage Trust , Arnold Clark Community Fund and the many audience members and friends who have chosen to donate.'
Due to the rise in prices of construction materials during the build, the toilets cost more than we originally planned. If you believe, like we do, that Watershed is for everyone - and would like to support the contribution that our new toilets make, then we would be hugely grateful for your financial support.
Now to start thinking about that fourth cinema...