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Case Study: Clerkenwell


Theme – the absence of ‘public’ toilets in the 24 hour city.


Most of Clerkenwell's Victorian subterranean provision has been closed. Clerkenwell Green Toilets. (Bichard 2003) VivaCity 2020

In 2004, a report by the London Assembly’s Green Party identified the London Borough of Islington as having one of the ‘worst’ provisions for public toilets in London. After two decades of toilet closures in this area of London, current provision was estimated to be 1 facility per 58,600 people.


Clerkenwell is an area located in the south of the borough. It is centrally located, well served by public transport and is home to numerous museums, galleries, specialist libraries and historic walks. In addition, it hosts a literary festival and the London Architectural Biennale. Consequently, the area attracts a large number of visitors both as tourists and for work, as well as having a large residential population.


In 1981 Clerkenwell had two underground public toilet facilities for men and women. These were supplemented by one toilet facility that was for men only, and one urinal. None of these public conveniences included accessible provision. By 1991, all the public conveniences in the Clerkenwell area had closed. This has resulted in the onus of toilet provision falling to the businesses that operate in this area. Due to the lack of ‘public facilities’, many businesses in the area display signs informing members of the public that toilets are ‘for customers only’.


Clerkenwell is also home to Smithfield’s meat market, and has a long association with early morning activity. Public convenience provision once reflected the work hours of the area, with some facilities available throughout the 24 hour period. The area has retained its reputation for late night and early morning activity as it is now home to many fashionable nightclubs and popular drinking and eating establishments. However, its lack of toilet facilities can be felt (and smelt) when these businesses close, as doorways to shops and residences become saturated by the residue of street fouling.


Street surveys conducted by the research with members of the public revealed that 74% felt there was inadequate provision of toilet facilities in the evening, and 78% acknowledged that the area had a problem with street urination. 84% of respondents said there should be more public toilets, although only 50% of those questioned would be willing to use an automatic public convenience (APC).


As an area that offers a number of visitor attractions as well as places of employment, ideally the provision of accessible toilets for people with disabilities should match that of standard provision. In the summer 2005, the research visited 86 premises within the Clerkenwell area all of which provided ‘standard’ toilet facilities. However, only 34 premises offered accessible toilets as well. When audits were carried out on half of the accessible premises using the purpose-designed audit tool, we found that 30% of the accessible toilets could not be accessed as they were being used for storage. Less than 20% of the toilets on which we collected data were of both the recommended minimum depth and width, and 35% of facilities were neither the recommended minimum depth nor width and so could be considered too small to admit a wheelchair user or someone needing a caregiver to assist them. None of the accessible toilets had all the recommended grab rails at the recommended heights and only 18% had WC pans at the recommended height of 480mm. Yet, on speaking with providers we found that most were proud of their accessible toilets, many of which had been recently installed as a result of the recent introduction of part III of the Disability Discrimination Act. There appeared to be a lack of understanding amongst providers concerning how people with disabilities actually use an accessible toilet.

 Sign on pub door, Clerkenwell. The sign reads "Toilets for customers use only refusal often offends‟. (Bichard 2005) VivaCity 2020

Many accessible toilets within businesses in the Clerkenwell area, whilst complying with the spirit of DDA legislation, fail to follow recognised standards that meet disabled people’s needs and so they are failing to meet either the aspirations of service providers or the requirements of disabled people.

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