Women told to share Camden Town's public loos with the gents

Bernard Shaw’s now gender-neutral toilets are not safe, say objectors

Thursday, 14th April — By Isabelle Stanley

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The underground toilets in Parlway

WOMEN who want to use a public toilet in Camden Town have been asked to share the underground conveniences with men – leading to protests that they feel unsafe.

A campaign has now been launched to try and persuade the Town Hall to provide women with their own set of toilets, but the council says it needs to find funds to repair broken men’s facilities close to the Tube station – meaning the “ladies” is now gender-neutral.

The area, famous for the numbers who pour in for its eclectic nightlife, also has pissoirs that rise from the ground in the evening to give men a stand-up option.

Ironically, these very women’s toilets at the end of Parkway, now designated as gender-neutral while the men’s loos are closed, were the result of a historic campaign to provide a separate convenience space for females.

Pygmalion author and dramatist George Bernard Shaw, during his time as a St Pancras vestryman in the 1890s, had championed the successful cause of providing women with toilets for the first time in Camden Town.

They have to be accessed by walking down a set of steps.

Susan Williams, who lives in Hampstead, first noticed the women’s toilets were now gender-neutral a few weeks ago, said: “I was trying to go to work and was bursting for a wee. I realised the loos were gender-neutral and I went in anyway because it was there or the kerb. They were smelly, horrible and intimidating.”

She added: “I didn’t feel safe in there, I would never have gone in if I wasn’t bursting. If one does feel threatened, it’s difficult to get out from underground.”



Ms Williams said she does not object to the idea of gender-neutral toilets but added “there should be some for women-only too”. The ideal, she said, would be for the men’s toilets to be gender-neutral, and the women’s to be kept women-only.

Camden Town councillor Richard Cotton said he first raised the issue a year ago and was told the men’s had to shut for social distancing reasons due to the Covid pandemic.

But he said when he asked a few weeks ago why they were still closed, he was told urgent repairs were needed and the council was looking for money in the budget to pay for them.

He said: “I think it’s very worrying that this is subject to budgeting. If there is money for other things, there should be money for this. It’s crucial that women have their own toilets.

“Those loos were campaigned for and opened by none other than George Bernard Shaw. We were the first borough to have women-only loos, it would be pretty crazy if we were then the first borough to do away with them.”

He added: “I’m going to keep the pressure on about this. It’s a matter of safety and privacy. I’m not sure how I would feel about one of my nieces having to have her first period in a toilet with men or boys.”

Another complainant to Camden, Jill – she did not want her surname to be in print – said: “The council have been promoting they’re putting money towards VAWG, doing all these token things but they won’t open ladies’ loos, we need them for safety and privacy.”

She added: “They’re not hearing us. I know a few people have written to the council, and it’s just not good enough. The council as a priority, need to find the funds – they need to be single-sex, it’s putting women at risk.”

sThe closure of the men’s toilets in Camden Town is part of a bigger trend with public conveniences across the borough.

In October, the New Journal reported on a campaign to fund more public toilets in Camden, saying the shortage was preventing older people, parents with children and people with illnesses or disabilities from going about normal life.

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “For now a single block of toilets are open to all. Public men’s only and women’s only toilets are available nearby at the Crowndale Centre and Camden Market.

“Camden Council’s public toilets are there for the convenience of our community and for visitors to the borough. We are constantly looking at our facilities to make sure that they are of a high standard and to ensure that anyone who uses them feels safe.”

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