Name a lavatory Emerald Isle and you might expect to be derided. Public conveniences rarely invite allusions to precious stones or sun-kissed atolls. Those on Notting Hill’s Westbourne Grove are an exception. Housed alongside a florist in a building designed with the sleek lines of a Victorian steam yacht, they are some of the more inviting loos in London.
Walk inside and the cubicles and urinals are nothing out of the ordinary. But clean and fully functioning public lavatories are becoming rare in our towns and cities. This week’s news that Manchester is to slash its number of conveniences from 17 to just one came as the British Toilet Association predicted that up to 1,000 are likely to close across the country this year.
While some conveniences have recently been celebrating wins in the association’s Loo of the Year Awards, its director, Richard Chisnell, predicts the decline will continue. “The floodgates are now open,” he said. “We have lost 30 to 40 per cent of our public toilets in the past 10 years and we estimate there are only 4,000 left. There are more sexy things in life than a public toilet but we all need to go for a pee.”
The Emerald Isle provides a model that could keep the nation’s loos flushing. Under an arrangement devised by local residents, the flower kiosk was included in the design to channel rent towards the upkeep of the lavatories, and the employment of a full-time attendant.
The building’s architect, Piers Gough, said: “Public loos are a necessary part of a civilised world. They should be something that gives civic pride, as well as something that provides some income and other things such as benches and rest spaces.”
Mr Gough said the florist had made the toilet a memorable landmark credited with helping to revitalise the area. The full-time attendant, who works six days a week and starts at 5am on Saturday mornings, works hard to ensure that they are kept clean – and her efforts are certainly popular with cab drivers.
One said “I’ve not found many elsewhere,” he said. “What do you do? You either destroy your kidneys or end up peeing in the street.”