Ever since the chain was finally pulled on public toilets in Uckfield people wanting to spend a penny in the town have the choice of a busy pub, a dancewear retailer, coffee shops and the Civic Centre.
But without insider knowledge, visitors could find themselves trudging up and down the High Street in some discomfort.
So says retired JP and local resident Barry Horsman. Barry told the Express: “I believe the provision of satisfactory toilets ranks alongside free parking to ensure the economic viability of Uckfield.”
He feels lack of public toilets makes many people anxious about going out. For example older folk don’t want to leave their homes without the reassurance they have access to public toilets. Help the Aged’s paper ‘Nowhere to Go’ highlights the social cost to older people of the decrease in these facilities and is, in turn, a contributing factor to their isolation.
Barry points out a Parliamentary Report on the provision of public toilets published in 2008 says there should always be public consultation before existing ones are closed, a process which he says, did not happen in Uckfield.
Wealden now runs a Community Toilet Scheme which, the council states, ‘provides a wider choice of public convenience for residents and visitors.’ But the Parliamentary Report highlights the need for council toilets to supplement such a scheme. Barry says this has singularly failed to happen in Uckfield.
The scheme now provides facilities in Limelight and The Maiden’s Head pub at the top of the town, The Hop Barn, Costa Coffee and the Civic Centre in the middle. But Barry points out many people, for example mums and older people, religious and ethnic groups, feel uncomfortable entering pubs. He says the entrance to Limelight is poor, the Hop Barn is tucked away off the High Street and has just one unisex toilet.
But the major problem, he emphasises, is lack of information. “There are two very small discs, one outside Lloyds Bank and the other on the corner opposite Boots with a phone number for people to ring if they need the loo. I have rung the number and been given an automated message listing participating businesses including postcode. I need to find an accessible toilet, not write a letter.” He points out there is also the out-of-hours element to consider too.
He imagines the scenario where a young mum with a baby and toddler in tow, also carrying shopping bags, has to find a phone, clutch pen and paper and write down addresses - “that’s if the toddler hasn’t already made a puddle”.
He points out when you drive into Forest Row (the first town to offer the toilet scheme) you see a huge sign telling you where they are.
The issue was raised at Uckfield’s Town Meeting. Uckfield Central District and now County councillor Claire Dowling said: “I have now asked Wealden where are the signs in Uckfield? There should be signs on the old conveniences and we do need adequate signage in the town. And the signs should be big enough. The matter is being addressed.”
Photo by Ron Smith