Leeds Older People’s Forum are campaigning for better toilets in the city centre as part of Age UK’s Change One Thing campaign. In a guest post, their project officer Rachel Cooper reflects on their story (so far)…
A little over a year ago NHS Leeds produced the ‘Lav Nav’, a toilet map for Leeds City Centre. The intended purpose: to provide those for whom “your bladder controls your shopping route” the information they might need to access the city. The group that helped produce the guide evaluated each of the sites for accessibility. This information leaflet had an unexpected knock on effect. Such a visual representation of how few toilets there are prompted members of Leeds Older People’s Forum to take action. It wasn’t just the dismal number of toilets that was striking, but their poor accessibility. Furthermore, the toilets in the newest development were the least accessible: on the third floor, through a turnstile and chargeable.
For me, here’s where one of the lessons from the Change One Thing training and toolkit comes in. One of the messages of the training: don’t run to your timetable. Despite the economic situation, Leeds has continued to build new developments in its quest to be one of the top cities for shopping. Two new major developments are planned and based on the ‘Lav Nav’ experience we cannot presume that new equals better when it comes to toilet provision. If we wait for a more ideal time, say when we have less to do around the impact of the cuts, it will be too late for us to make a difference.
Like many Forums around the country we work as the strategic voice of older people in our area, acting as an interface between our members: third sector organisations and individual older people (a recent development), and statutory bodies. Campaigning is new to us but we see it as a valuable development for the Forum. Our member organisations have a key role to play when it comes to influencing change for older people but we really need individual older people as activists if we want to make things happen. I don’t think we are alone in the view that campaigning is the way forward; it reflects the mood nationally. The Forum has an important role in supporting that locally. But as I say, this is all new to us so we decided we needed some training and support. Change One Thing fitted the bill perfectly.
As part of our training we plotted routes of influence and who our allies are. There are many lessons to be learned from the training, but these are the ones that most struck a chord with us:
1. Joining forces with those who share the concerns gives you greater capacity and power, in this case: young families, disabled people, groups with concerns about city centre development.
2. Linking with disparate groups e.g. young people is a good way of attracting publicity and spreading the message further.
3. Plotting the routes of power and influence e.g. shops, Council departments with whom we don’t have a previous relationship (planning, marketing, city centre development), developers, ensures that we are targeting the right people. We adapt our message to suit different audiences.
The second point in particular has had a big effect on the campaign and more broadly in the way the Forum works. We were hoping that the new city plan, which we expected to have a ‘city for all ages’ aim, would be an important influencing tool for city centre accessibility. Leeds, however, (with good reason that I won’t go into here) has chosen to work towards becoming a Unicef Child Friendly City, a move which would previously have disappointed us but now we are working with the Council to establish where there is overlap between the needs and wants of children, young people and older people to ensure that there is a benefit to older people.
The city centre is viewed as a young person’s playground, with acknowledgement from planners that more must be done to make it accessible to young families, yet there is little consideration beyond the realms of social care for the needs and wants of older people in the city. Putting the moral argument to one side there is a strong economic argument for improving the city centre for older people; their spending power is at £76 billion (WRVS, 2011) and growing. Toilet provision is just one of many issues and the city centre is only one area of Leeds. We want to move on to other issues like benches, green space, safety, and cultural activities, and also address those issues out in neighbourhoods. For now, however, we must focus on one, winnable issue.
The aim of the Change One Thing campaign is to support local groups to improve the practical things, like publically accessible toilet provision, which we all know are so often the things that make a huge difference to the lives of older people. Whilst so much attention is focused on the major challenges we face on care provision, this is an important and timely reminder.
One last thing: are you one of our allies? Have you improved public toilet provision in your area and would be willing to share your expertise with us? Or maybe we are one of your allies? If you are looking at a similar campaign and would like to hear more about our experience then get in touch.
And if you want more detail, you can view our timeline – we’ll try and keep it up to date.