for the first time. These toilets – both gents’ and ladies’ – helped to transform shopping into an enjoyable activity that allowed people to browse at their leisure, safe in the knowledge that they could use the lavatory when they needed to.

The tradition of providing away-from-home facilities had by now become firmly established and during the rest of the 20th century, washrooms began to be routinely provided in commercial establishments such as hotels, restaurants, bars, offices and shopping centres.

However, in recent times we have seen a change in public washroom provision. Those Victorian underground washrooms began to fall prey to vandalism and misuse, while their steep access made them unsuitable for the less abled. Some closed down while others were bought by private companies and turned into bars and cafes such as The Attendant in Fitzrovia, the WC in Clapham and Ladies & Gentlemen in Kentish Town.

More accessible toilet blocks began appearing in town centres, but council funding cuts led to some of these becoming neglected and poorly maintained. And many actually closed down. According to the British Toilet Association, public toilet provision has been declining for a number of years with an estimated 40% of public washrooms having disappeared in the past decade alone.

Between 2010 and 2018, UK councils ceased to maintain around 13% of all public toilets and there are now believed

to be 37 areas across the UK where there are no council-run washroom facilities whatsoever.

So, does this mean we have stepped back 150 years, and are once again having to plan our trips out to take into account a potential lack of public washrooms?

Luckily, modern breakthroughs have been helping to compensate for the shortage of monitored public washrooms. Some municipalities have reacted by installing futuristic pop-up urinals or automatic self-cleaning toilets in their towns and cities since these types of facilities help to keep maintenance to a minimum.

And in today’s away-from-home washroom we no longer have to rely on attendants selling entry tickets or handing out towels to visitors. Instead we have automatic turnstiles and highly functional dispensing systems that deliver our soap, toilet tissue and hand towels.

These are becoming smarter all the time. For example, Tork washroom dispensers are designed to give out measured amounts of toilet tissue, soap and hand towel which helps to control consumption and prevent the products running out too quickly. Innovative systems such as Tork PeakServe have revolutionised the high-traffic washroom since this uses continuous roll technology to cater for over 1,000 washroom visitors between refills – 600 more than most other dispensers.

Meanwhile, automatic dispensers that sense the presence of our hands are becoming commonplace, and sensors are smartening up the washroom in other ways as well. For instance, data-driven software Tork EasyCube is helping to make washrooms in large, sprawling sites easier to maintain since this allows cleaners to remotely monitor cleaning needs and dispenser refill levels.

In today’s society with its increasingly ageing population, it should be taken as read that there will always be a washroom on hand when we need one. Otherwise our worlds will become as small as they were in the Victorian age.

Today’s smart systems and technologies have helped to compensate for the loss of many of our public toilets. And there are signs that washroom provision might soon be turning a corner.

In October’s budget, it was announced that the UK’s washroom facilities – both publicly and privately-owned – will no longer be liable for business rates. This will hopefully be a shot in the arm for councils and ensure an ongoing provision of our much-needed public washrooms for future generations.

As technology evolves and automated systems become more widespread, it may well become the norm for public washrooms to be equipped with automatic systems, remotely monitored via sensors and cleaned by robots. This progress will be very welcome, provided the basics remain in place and that clean, hygienic washrooms remain available to all. WASHROOM HYGIENE | 59

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