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Posted by:

Clare Reddington CEO

on Tue 5 May 2020

Our toilets are for everyone – so what is the problem?

Posted on Fri 29 April

Our CEO Clare Reddington updates on our toilet refurbishment plans and some of the feedback we have received

Content warning: This article refers to criticism of Watershed’s toilets from gender critical campaigners.

"I was in Watershed yesterday and was reminded of how much I love it. The toilets one of many reasons"

Toilets in public buildings – a place to poo, get ready to go out, hide, take a breath, check your phone, wash your hands, change your tampon. Providing clean, pleasant toilets for all is part of Watershed’s public service -  you can pick up menstruation products for free and you don’t have to be a customer to use them – they are public toilets open to everyone (an increasing city-centre rarity).

Over the years we have had a fair amount of feedback on the shabby state of our current provision, so during lockdown we decided to forge ahead with our plans for refurbishment – which you can read about here.  Our new toilets meet the needs of loads of our users – including those wanting a speedier wee, parents, carers and people with disabilities.  Our toilet strategy is to provide a range of options that suit everyone and we are excited to get moving – we are currently in the process of choosing colours, and the contractor who will deliver them.

Our current toilet provision AND our planned future toilet provision feature the following options in separate locations:

  • gender neutral toilets with fully enclosed cubicles and sinks
  • toilets for men
  • toilets for women
  • single unit fully enclosed toilets
  • accessible toilets. 

We have had lots of warm, genuine love for what we are planning:

"Watershed's toilet plans are fabulous!"

However, we did not anticipate the backlash we would also face by starting a public fundraising campaign in the name of toilets. Or the time it would take to manage the correspondence.

Firstly, don’t get me wrong – we love feedback. Dropping us a line with a question or a concern is really welcome – we will do our best to reply fully and we hope you will take the time to read the answer. Feedback helps us learn, improve and do better.

However a lot of the feedback on our toilets – in forums, emails, letters and on twitter – is based on inaccurate information about both our current provision and our plans for upgrade. Some of it is organised gender critical campaigning, and some of it is our own community.

The complaints started with people concerned that we had abolished single sex toilets – which we have not.

They now include whether we will police who can go into the womens’ toilets – which we will not.   

Some ask reasonable questions from a place of love, some from a place of fear. Lots are nasty – they hope we end up on the sex offenders register or ‘get sued to oblivion’. The backlash is not as awful as others have faced, but it takes its toll at a time when working in the culture sector is pretty tough. We answer everyone at least once and move on if it is clear we can’t agree.

In a way toilet-gate has been quite useful in signalling the importance of toilets in our commitment to an inclusive welcome. It is also a lesson - as we seek to embody our values and be more open about the issues we believe in, we might not take all of our customers and audiences with us.

If you believe, like we do, that Watershed is for everyone – then we would be hugely grateful for financial and moral support. You can read about our plans and donate here https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/watershed-toilets, or share our social media campaign to help us raise its profile.

If you want to hear more about our toilet plans, have concerns about the facilities we are planning, or have anything else that you would like to talk through, we are holding a drop in session in Watershed from 5 – 6pm on Wed 18 May.

"I welcome your inclusivity - as I’m sure do your many valued customers"

I would be happy to talk toilets with you IRL. 

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