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  • Writer's pictureClaire Champion

An Inconvenient Truth

Around this time last year I published a poem on the blogsite, called The Price of Progress, discussing how our local amenities and precious public spaces have been taken from us. I argued that even when they weren’t completely taken away, they were still stripped back, with no visible signs of being returned to us fully.


We should really all be outraged by this erosion of our community assets. I know that many of us are, but we could do with channelling that rage into direct action. If we don’t pull together and either sign petitions, challenge local decision-makers like MPs and councillors, or make sure we keep using the remaining facilities, we will lose out. In so many ways and to our detriment in the future.


In my poem, I looked at the decline of our local facilities, including libraries, green spaces, and leisure centres. As far I can determine these are not being replaced in quite a few of the towns I visit on a regular basis – these are mainly Farnborough, Frimley, Wokingham and even my hometown of Basingstoke. At a time when the country is in crisis, I would say these community assets are more important than ever to save and refurbish.


There is another amenity to add to this ever-growing list of places we’re losing and it’s one I’ve noted after several trips around all of the above towns and further afield. Here it is, the inconvenient truth: public conveniences are literally going down the pan. Sorry for all the puns, but it’s just my own way of dealing with this problem. I wonder why getting rid of loos is a priority for our local councils. Do the decision-makers ever find themselves caught short when out and about in the urban areas? Are they somehow immune to the call of nature? I’m guessing that these people don’t really deign to visit their local facilities much at all, otherwise they might see it all so differently.


I first noticed that we were losing our loos back in 2022, when I had to go for a sight test at Leightons Opticians in Wokingham. After so many years being a customer of theirs, I prefer to stay with the Berkshire branch, even though I could easily transfer to my local one in Basingstoke. I went with my husband James, in mid-December 2022 to Wokingham. We travelled there by train and arrived in plenty of time for my appointment at 11am. Needing to take a comfort break I suggested we go down to the library to see if the toilets there were open. When we got to the library, we found that it had unfortunately been closed, for good. So, this was a double-edged disappointment. We couldn’t use any of the amenities that we had previously had access to, and therefore had to rush to the nearest café for our pitstop.


On another occasion we were out with my mother in Farnborough – this was in the spring of 2023. We’d had a pleasant walk and wanted to use the toilets at Rectory Road Recreation Ground. Now these toilets have been there for most of my life – and I’m 50 so that’s quite a while! But when we approached the toilets by the tennis courts in the park, they were quite clearly closed. My mother remarked that she had never known that to be the case We were all quite shocked. After that incident, I did some research as did my mother. We noted that the local nursery had taken over the toilet facilities and there had been repair works to the roof. Subsequently, Rushmoor Borough Council announced the closure of the toilets on their website, stating that unfortunately it was due to budget cuts.


I sense a pattern forming here and not a helpful one. It seems community assets are easily dispensed with when money is tight. But being able to use something so vital to all of us, is in my opinion, priceless. What happens when parents need to take their little ones to the loo, in public spaces? Also, for older generations who might need to use the public toilet on a walk, what are they meant to do otherwise? It should be much highlighted that disabled people are also being poorly served within this stripping back of access to public facilities. Having this access for all should be a civic right not a privilege.


On a lighter note, to end my rant/public service announcement I will say a “well done” to Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council. They have at least brought back some public toilets that were either closed during the pandemic or only open for limited hours. These include the loos situated at Eastrop Park and Memorial Park (just by the council offices). It looks like people are listening to us when we say we need these important facilities to be open as much as possible. Perhaps it’s a case of being persistent and keeping up the pressure on those with influence.


If you want to give me any feedback about this post, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section. In the meantime, happy reading!

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