Opinion with Christine Tongue: Mentioning the unmentionables

Space for a scooter in the Bandstand loos

Look away now if you feel squeamish about talk of lavs, pants and pads and toilet issues in general.

My friend Mandy who has an undiagnosed neurological problem,  said to me “I sometimes can’t do two things at the same time. Standing up from the loo and pulling up my pants was just too much today. I fell flat on my face — hence the new bruises!”

My friend Sue, wheelchair user, has to use incontinence pads at night when getting to the loo involves hoists and transfers to a special bathroom wheel chair. But the pads she could get free from NHS supplies are not comfortable or adequate. She has to buy her own. A large weekly expense.

Some disabled people have catheters into their bladder —you pee into a bag beside your bed. It’s convenient but leaves you prone to infection.

I’m not at that stage yet, but with my failing legs and painful back, going to the loo is now a much more difficult process. Social services have provided metal surrounds and raised toilet seats for my home. But going outside your house is a minefield.

I’ve just had to get my long suffering partner to carry one of my toilet frames to a friends house. Last time I used his loo I nearly fell over trying to hold onto his bath and a door handle —the door opened, I lurched into the cupboard etc etc. You get the picture….

Why aren’t all houses designed with potential disability in mind. Whose mad idea was it to put in low toilets in modern bathrooms with no grab rails around them? Most people are taller than me so have a long way to haul themselves up from a low seat.

But public loos are not ideal. They may have wheelchair on the door but it doesn’t mean all disabled people can use the space.

The disabled loo in Broadstairs harbour needs a “radar” key to get in —just in case you able hooligans go in and use it for antisocial behaviour I guess. It’s a kind of master key for most disabled public loos. Nothing electronic about it and anyone can buy one. But for me, even though I now have a radar key I bought on the internet, I would have to stand outside, reach for my key, put my sticks in one hand, or prop them up on the wall in order to use the key. Mandy might have fallen over by now.

You get inside and need to lock the door. Another balancing act. But oh joy, two bars on each side of the loo to grab and lift yourself up with. I wonder how others get on with washing their hands. For me it’s another balance problem with no stick to lean on and sometimes a distance to the hand dryer.

The other disabled loo at Broadstairs bandstand doesn’t need a key and is easy to get into on my scooter — which gives you a safe stable object to hang onto. Which you need because there’s a lack of grab rails and the hand dryer is the other side of the room from the sink. Take a clean hanky and give it a miss is my advice.

People using the dryer will inevitably  drop water on the floor. A wet floor and sticks is not good! Which is why I like to take the scooter in with me. I can’t risk slipping. My bones are rebellious enough without shaking them up sliding on a wet floor.

What I’m talking about is often down to basic design. You won’t fall over if you have a grab rail in the right place. If you need pads and special pants let’s make sure the people who need them get the best available. As for public lavs, let’s make them accessible, clean, safe. Not locked! Why not?


  1. I’m able bodied – apart from needing a loo a bit more than others. Being male, I can generally find somewhere discreet when doing winter coastal walks, but it must be very difficult for women when public loos in places like Joss Bay, Botany Bay and West Bay are closed 7 months a year.

  2. It’s shameful that, during the winter months, there aren’t any public toilets open along the coast from Broadstairs Harbour to Margate Seafront.

    We try and sell Thanet as an all year tourist destination with lovely coastal walks but you would think TDC could at least keep one or two open during the winter.

    But I guess the “Senior Management Backstabbing Fund” isn’t going to fund itself and takes priority over anything the residents want.

    • It’s all down to cost.
      To keep toilets open all year round costs more than closing some in winter.
      If you want to have 24×365 access to toilets, will you pay for them?

      • Well Phyllis, you’re against “wasting” money on lifts because relatively few people would use them… surely ALL of us need to use loos, even you? I don’t believe that closing unattended loos even saves TDC much money.

        • I’m against wasting money on the Ramsgate lift because it’s not needed. There are alternative ways for less able people to get to the sea front from the top of Madeira Walk, should they unaccountedly find themselves there.
          As for saving money – in the current climate, every penny saved means more money that can be spent on housing the homeless, feeding the hungry and so on.
          I’m sure I’m flattered that you pay such close attention to my arguments.

      • The point is that local taxpayers are already paying more and more each year for key services. TDC have decided to spend the best part of £1m sorting out the backstabbing and fighting between senior managers because they can’t work together like grown ups.

        That money alone could have kept the coastal toilets open during the winter for many years.

        The debate isn’t about what they can afford. The debate should be about the money they are constantly wasting which has the knock on effect of reducing services even further.

        • Peter: Argument as in “a reason or set of reasons given in support of an idea, action or theory”
          rather than “an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one”.

      • We visit regularly , the sea front gardens are lovely , and the loos are plenty and open and we like the spoons “saxon Shore”.
        also the kings hall gets some really well known classic artists from our era!

  3. My main gripe is the radar key. it is huge and weighs a ton so I have stopped lugging it around with me. Also after all the effort of getting in to the cubicle who checks whether these toilets are actually accessible or clean or have any toilet paper. I tried to use one in a station in East Kent recently but the keyhole had become dislodged so I gave up. If all else fails we may have to resort to carrying a small bucket around with us and then using the mediaeval custom of shouting Gardez Loo out the window!

    • Laura Probert, you can get a key with a smaller head on it, like an ‘ordinary’ key, look on the net, or you can even get it re-cut as a normal size key.

      The other problem with many public toilets that use the radar key, is that the locks on the inside rarely work.

  4. Hello Christine, it sounds like the specification for the construction of disabled toilets has not been part of the design process. Imagine asking the user what is needed? That is not part of TDC’s plan. Why not ask your local Councilor if they could put you in touch with the person responsible for the design of these toilets and sit down with them and put forward ‘best practice suggestions’?

  5. On the Continent, many of the loos are ‘manned’ and kept clean. You pay around 50p to use one. That seems to be a better way of providing a necessary resource and providing employment too. Loos should be open all year round depending on the demand in that area which can easily be monitored by measured footfall. None of us have any facts about the costs of running public loos and TDC is not interested in improving Thanet, just in wasting money on executive handouts and the dreadful losses at poorly managed Ramsgate Port.

    • “depending on the demand” is a chicken and an egg situation. Surely more people would visit if there were working lifts and unlocked toilets all year round?

      I personally wouldn’t stay in a place twice if I saw these things closed/locked/decaying. There are plenty of other UK seaside towns where everything is in full working order.

      As for the “50p” idea, this is used for the spotlessly clean toilets as nearby as Sandwich Quay.

      • I am not sure what your point is here. You are actually living in Thanet presumably, and not leaving because the toilets are closed? I am saying that the toilets should be opened based on a measured demand and that they should be chargeable but kept in good condition by being ‘manned’. Nothing to argue about really, but perhaps add something to the debate positively?

        • I live in Thanet and I’m staying. What I mean is, if I was from another area and stayed in a hotel in (say) Broadstairs and saw so much locked/closed/crumbling, then I wouldn’t return for a 2nd holiday: unlike some other places where I DO return (Rye and Tenterden being just two examples).

          Toilets should be opened for free (see Christine’s example below).

    • Imagine a family all needing the loo at least twice on a trip to the seaside. Costly! Or everyone goes behind the beach huts as they did in the first lockdown. It’s a basic public health issue. Even places that used to charge like St Pancras Station have given up – and they’re staffed and clean

  6. Having recently moved to the area and suffering from 3 different types of digestive orders, I quite often need to use the bathroom on an urgent basis. I obviously carry around an emergency bag of toiletry items and a radar key, all of which is totally useless if there are no available toilets nearby.
    I enjoy shopping and want to meet friends and family and enjoy a normal social life but this is not always possible.
    Having walked around WWX and all the nearby retail estates I have not seen any signs for public toilets. Are there any? Apart from getting in the car and driving to Tesco?
    As for walking on the beach! That’s not possible for me unless I have a cafe destination available.
    When councils design new shopping areas and want people to enjoy their beaches, a set of public toilets should be a compulsory part of the design process or people like me stay at home housebound rather than socialising, shopping and feeling ‘normal’.

    • Ruth J, disabled toilets sometimes available near the Subway store, but they are upstairs, so there is a lift, which sometimes works, then when you reach the toilet, you will find the lock doesn’t work, it has been broken for over a year. Obviously disabled people are not important enough to have privacy with a locking door.

    • I know exactly how you feel Ruth I’ve stopped going out if there is no toilets there. I have a double hernia and when I need to go it is urgent. TDC have sold off most of the toilets now to save money so they say. It must cost them more to clean up after people going in the bushes and everywhere. I would rather be able to use a toilet at a cost of 50p than have to keep staying in.

  7. Thank you Phil and MaryJane in letting me know about the toilets above Subway. I will search them out next time I visit WWX, although I will ensure I don’t actually require them, just a visit to see if they are secure. I’m a DFL so not used to not having toilets everywhere I go!
    Topcat: thinking of you. Hope our paths cross one day.

  8. Disabled toilets upstairs! What madness! So we’re dependent on yet another dodgy lift. Remember the classic on a disabled loo on Margate Harbour arm? The notice on the disabled loo said OUT OF ORDER
    USE THE NORMAL TOILET Well we wish….

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