Visitors to Brighton need decent public toilets

Posted On 04 Oct 2022 at 12:11 am

The humiliations of childhood remain vivid in the memory.

I remember with great clarity being five years old at a family party at my grandparents’ house. I was waiting outside the only lavatory. My mother was busy, my father was the culprit behind the locked door and I didn’t know what to do.

In the end, I hid behind a door in the entrance hall and watched the growing pool spread across the polished wooden floor, creeping towards the thick patterned carpet. Hoping no one would notice my sodden dress, I moved away, glad I wouldn’t be there when grown-ups found the telltale puddle. I was utterly humiliated.

Two years later, I watched fascinated as a little boy in the front row of our school classroom, produced a seeping tide of liquid underneath his desk. He ducked his head, ashamed and wretched. We stared, relieved it wasn’t us.

Spacewords Brighton

The agony of children gives way to the embarrassment of young girls suddenly “coming on” and bleeding on to uniforms, skirts and seats, leaking pregnant women and mortified new mothers with lacerated muscles, desperate for the loo and unable to find one – and panic-stricken parents stuck in a shop with no facilities, unable to change a baby’s smelly nappy.

Then there’s the frustration of disabled people unable to find an accessible toilet. And the agony of being old and frail, no longer able to travel for fear of an “accident”, unable to move fast when needed, enduring an ever-present dread that clothing may smell.

I remember in the late 1990s, trying to find a lavatory for my Dad in a pub off Castle Square. There was no public toilet and so my modest father, by then afflicted with prostrate problems and dementia, had to be manoeuvred past young drinkers before his clothing was soaked. My mother was near tears. I don’t think we came to town again.

Human beings need decent clean lavatories. It is surely one of the most basic things that any decent council should provide. And yet here in Brighton and Hove, over the past three decades, public toilets have been closed. The ones we have left are in an appalling state. We complain and nothing is done. We take this for granted.

Our city, which loudly claims to be “inclusive”, by its actions shows itself indifferent to the needs of residents and visitors who have the misfortune to be very young, sick or incontinent, disabled, female, pregnant, frail or elderly. Which, of course, is most of us.

The toilets which seem best to symbolise the city’s indifference, are those in the Pavilion Gardens, which have for years been in a disgraceful state. This is extraordinary because the Royal Pavilion, with the Dome and its estate, are together the jewels in Brighton’s crown. Since the destruction of the West Pier, they have no rival.

Each year, tens of thousands of tourists and residents come to these iconic buildings to visit the gardens, listen to buskers, picnic on the grass and visit David Sewell’s iconic Pavilion Gardens Café. David’s rock cakes are as famous as the Pavilion Gardens loos are notorious.

Over the years, I have regularly visited there, finding appalled tourists and ashen-faced students new to the city, as well as cursing residents, ducking in and out of the cubicles vainly trying to find one with loo paper or a working lock on at least one door. I’ve seen elderly women and young girls turn away rather than wade through urine and stunned tourists appalled by the lack of soap and sometimes even water.

Just recently I found the women’s toilet packed with small school-children, obviously on a school visit. I looked on appalled, as their harassed teachers negotiated obscene graffiti, lack of door locks, wet seats and the usual absence of paper and soap. I’d have used the women’s disabled loo, but it had been out of order for several weeks.

I’ve visited twice since then. The first time there was no change. On the second occasion, the situation was worse. The people supervising the toilet had forgotten to lock it for three nights. Bedding was piled by the closed disabled toilet with plastic bags and dirt. I took a photograph. As I left I saw a rat chase a squirrel into the undergrowth by the café.

Rats close in the Pavilion Gardens

There is no elegant way to finish this piece. We who use the toilets simply don’t care who was, or is, legally responsible for the security of the gardens or the supervision and cleanliness of the toilets.

We just want those who manage our iconic historic buildings, parks and gardens, who promote the city’s tourism and who are charged with protecting our health and safety, to stop buck-passing, put their heads together and sort this out.

Jean Calder is a campaigner and journalist. For more of her work, click here.

  1. M J Whitney Reply

    I cannot agree more, we are encouraging greater use of our parks. Children, dog walkers and all users of our recreation ground have no toilets. The bushes are used as an outside toilet. There is no alternative for the children. I no longer take visitors for a walk along the seafront due to the lack of well maintained facilities.

  2. Technique Reply

    We have got a council who are ‘out to lunch’ who are asleep at the wheel, and who are still busy ‘working from home’ when everyone else is back in the office.

    A Green council who couldn’t care less about this so-called city, or its residents. Only interested in bike lanes and vanity projects, to massage their own egos, and so-called ‘green agenda’ which amounts to going to a pointless conference and emitting a load of hot air about nothing.

    They can’t even empty the bins or pull up a few weeds, so what chance is there for well-maintained public toilets. None.

    Brighton and Hove is an absolute tip.

    I really hope that Labour and the Greens get their just desserts at the elections next year. I have voted Labour in the past, but never, ever again.

  3. Patrick Smash Reply

    When I was a very young pork, I once had to use the public toilets in pavilion gardens after school. Needless to say, I witnessed some ‘behaviour’ that has haunted me for the last 40 years. I was only a little lad.

    Let us have nice, clean and fully-staffed public toilets, so that no ‘unpleasantness’ needs to be witnessed by little lads, whose only reason to be in the toilets is to relieve themselves

  4. Jason Reply

    I agree with Technique 4’s comment.

    The council rakes in unimaginable amounts of Ratepayers’ money, and does NOTHING useful with it.

    There won’t be many using their cycle lanes in winter.

    How much does it cost to create a cycle lane anyway? As much as weeding pavements, filling potholes, employing a few toilet attendants and emptying the bins? No? I thought not, so where DOES all that money go?

    I’d better not say where I think it goes.

  5. Bear Road resident Reply

    The greens apparently despise the elderly and the infirm as they have no part in their pie-in-the-sky cycling utopian dream and have not much more regard for the ordinary citizens of Brighton.
    I also notice that at the recent conference Adrian Ramsay, the Green Party co-leader, said he would back Brighton and Hove’s Green administration if it held a referendum to raise council tax by more than 3%. No doubt if the greens get their way this will be a Russian style referendum in which non-council taxpaying students will be allowed to take part rather than actual tax payers skewing the result to reate funding for more pointless vanity projects.

  6. Technique Reply

    Yes there will be a webpage hidden in the back of beyond of B&H council’s dreadful website, saying something like “we are going to raise council tax by 10% every 6 months’ if you object, click here”
    They will then claim to have majority support, as only seven people (and a dog) objected.

    That will then give then carte-blanche to pour all of the extra money into more pointless vanity projects that no-one wants, and approve more student-housing for the party-faithful.

    Meanwhile, B&H will have become a toilet-less, weed-infested craphole….

    Oh, actually, it already is!!

  7. Mark Reply

    This is a flash in the pan from Jean Calder

  8. Nige Reply

    Walked from Hove Lagoon to the West Pier and back on Sunday.

    There were plenty of people around enjoying the Autumn sun.

    Every public toilet was closed.

  9. Suzi Vokins Reply

    Saltdean seafront toilet block is closed for imminent refurbishment by BHCC after residents clubbed together to decorate the outside. The toilet block in Saltdean park has also received the Councillor Bridget Fishleigh treatment and is magnificent.

  10. Car Delenda Est Reply

    Pavilion Gardens toilets were closed in the afternoon last Saturday, of course no business nearby would let you use theirs either.

    And then people wonder why the high streets are dying..

  11. Jason Reply

    Not dying, Car Delenda Est (6 October 2022 at 9.09am). High Streets, like the NHS and just about everything else nowadays, are being deliberately killed.

    Welcome to communist Britain.

  12. sd Reply

    We all need toilets in the city centre.

    The ones near the Pavillion need to be knocked down and new ones built. There’s no polishing those…

  13. vintagefan Reply

    The council has a basic duty of care to run fit for purpose public toilets in the city, which it most pitifully fails to do. The Pavilion Gardens toilets are particularly vile (when they are actually open!).

  14. sd Reply

    And…The Level toilets were out of order, due to vandalism, for the last couple of weeks.

    They need to be fixed more quickly. Directing people to Sainsbury’s is not acceptable. the Open Market Toilets should be open to all – and especially when The Level toilets are broken.

  15. Rostrum Reply

    Maybe we should make individual councillors responsible for a specific public toilet.
    Post their name, business address and email outside… Be interesting to see the result..

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