Women-only public toilets to be reinstated in Camden Town

Action to be taken as a 'priority' at underground loos

Thursday, 21st April — By Isabelle Stanley

toilets in Parlway

Camden made the underground toilet gender-neutral after saying it had to find money to repair the gents

THE Town Hall last night (Wednesday) said it was ready to reinstate women-only toilets in Camden Town as an urgent “priority” – less than a week after the New Journal revealed users’ safety concerns.

And Camden Council leader Georgia Gould said it was “unacceptable” that a woman had reported a frightening experience in the gender-neutral loos in Parkway but received no response from the council at all.

The council in recent years has spent months urging women to feel confident reporting incidents of harassment and intimidation.

Sandra Louis, 57, a lifelong Camden resident, had been using the loos with her 10-year-old son last autumn when a man in the cubicle next to her started shouting, “I’m coming for you”.

The New Journal reported last week how long-running delays to repairs at the nearby gents toilet has seen Camden open the ladies to everyone.

Ms Louis said: “I thought, ‘What the hell is going on?’ – and my stepson ran up onto the road. I felt really vulnerable. I was frightened.

“It was very unsettling and really unpleasant – it just didn’t feel like a safe place. I ran up the stairs and out as soon as possible and [my stepson] said to me: ‘I had to leave, who was that?’ And he was really shaken.”

She added: “I am very open-minded, I don’t mind things being mixed gender, but that toilet in particular, because it’s isolated and you have to go down those stairs, if somebody confronts you in there, there’s no clear way out. I know that can happen with women also, but it’s a very different thing when you feel a threat from a man. It’s not open, it’s not like you can just head for the door.”

After the incident, Ms Louis wrote to the council to raise her concerns and request the men’s ­toilets be reopened.
But, despite chasing the email up again in January, the council didn’t respond.

She said: “I know it’s only one individual but it would have been nice to get a response. It’s about feeling safe and making people comfortable in a high-tourist area – you’ve got to feel safe.”

Camden was the first borough to open women-only toilets – campaigned for by activist and playwright George Bernard Shaw. Last week, the New Journal spoke with outraged women who fear his hard work is being undone.

The men’s toilets across the road have been closed since July 2020, due to Covid social distancing and then  a wait for urgent repairs to be carried out.

As Camden rushed to change the gender neutral set-up, it said men would be asked to use facilities in the Camden markets and at the Crowndale centre.

Cllr Gould said: “Repairs will start on the men’s toilets as a priority and the women’s toilets will be reinstated even sooner. It is completely unacceptable that someone reported harassment and this wasn’t acted on. I have asked for an urgent investigation into what went wrong here.”

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