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An Inconvenient Truth

Our final interview for 2020 is with Tom Riley, aka Sir Caughtshort, founder of Lockdown Loo, how joined OnFocus to discuss the lack of public toilets and how this has caused a public health crisis across the UK. His response was to set up Lockdown Loo, a digital map of available and accessible public toilets. In this interview we discuss how the lack of public toilets discriminates against older folks and, in particular, men with prostate disease, and how it is also becoming a unifying issue for members of the public to with back and demand these facilities be provided.

Download the map here, read our blog here and join our Facebook discussion here.

Press play in the audio player below to hear the interview.

Please find below a written transcript of the interview.

Clare Delmar:
Hello and welcome to On Focus brought to you by The Focal Therapy Clinic, where we connect you with issues facing men diagnosed with prostate cancer that are little known, less understood and often ignored. Prostate cancer is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, and with this sombre fact comes a multitude of challenges and opportunities. I’m Clare Delmar. Today, I’m speaking with Tom Riley, also known as Sir Caughtshort and the founder of Lockdown Loo, an interactive digital map of available public toilets across Britain. Tom’s here with me to discuss toilets or the lack of them and how this discriminates against older folks and, in particular, men with prostate disease. Tom, thank you so much for joining me today.

Tom Riley:
Hello, Clare, and thank you very much for inviting me on.

Clare Delmar:
And should I call you Tom or should I call you Sir Caughtshort?

Tom Riley:
You can call me Tom. Sir Caughtshort was when we founded him, we thought of him as a separate entity. We called him our spokesperson. He was our mythical being. But I seem to have ended up becoming the living embodiment of him.

Clare Delmar:
Well, you can tell me more about him as we as we move through. So tell me a little bit about the story behind Lockdown Loo and I guess Sir Caughtshort, your embodiment of Lockdown Loo and when and how did you set it up?

Tom Riley:
We started the map during the summer. Everyone was in the first lockdown, staying at home, and when the government started to ease the restrictions, the hot weather started coming our way and people could start meeting in parks again in groups of six outside. But a lot of pubs and restaurants were still closed. So people started drinking outside. And myself and my brother Charlie were two such people doing this. And we were at a park near Hammersmith and we went probably a little bit too far away from home and didn’t really think about needing to go to the toilet. And a few drinks later in the heat and suddenly the urge to go to the loo arrived and there was nowhere to go. And I guess certainly I think a lot of younger men would normally pop behind a bush or something, but that was out of the out of the question there. There are far too many people also enjoying the sun. So in the end we had to run all the way across what felt like most of west London in order to use our toilet at home. And I think we both were just so of sat on the sofa afterwards thinking there’s got to be a better way. This can’t keep happening. The next morning, almost within an hour, we set up a website and a map and just went with the how hard can this be sort of approach. And my brother, he’s the younger brother so he had to do a lot of the the grunt work, which at the beginning was cycling around London, visiting toilets to see whether they were open or not, which was… And I was I was back at base, I guess, logging the bogs as they were coming in. So I was getting texts saying no throne at Buckingham Palace and things like that.

Clare Delmar:
Even Sir Caughtshort was refused entry.

Tom Riley:
Yeah. So and that’s that’s how I started. And within the first couple of days we have 30 and that’s and I think about 50 or 100 people had used the map and that felt like everything in the world then and then it just started pouring in as the days went ahead.

Clare Delmar:
So what’s the purpose of the Lockdown Loo map? What is this service you’re offering?

Tom Riley:
It’s to help people find and share locations of open toilets in the UK. During the lockdown, with everything being closed, a lot of councils shut their public toilets. A lot of hospitality industry had to shut toilets, which might have normally been on community schemes or just been available to customers. And retail sector as well has also had to shut off toilets because, you know, the pandemic, it’s all been about hygiene. At the beginning, a lot of people thought, well, we must shut down the places where there’s potential for spread so that meant we were had a country during the summer where there were very few toilets at all.

Clare Delmar:
So it helps people find a toilet. So it’s anywhere in the country, you said, it’s not just London?

Tom Riley:
Not just London. We started in London. Very quickly realised that this was an issue happening everywhere across the UK. So we launched nationally and we still cover the entire country. It’s been used millions of times.

Clare Delmar:
Is it updated like daily or weekly or in some regularity?

Tom Riley:
The way we update it is, people can send us… And it’s great when people do send us sort of information, whether it be tips or an actual a new location of an open toilet. And we will check it out. Every single one of our locations on our map and there are around 5400. Every single one of those, we had to check on Google Street View to check they were actually there and pinpoint the locations so we weren’t sending people off down strange streets and into forests. We do update it. People can send us updates if the location is wrong. We also check and we’re checking with councils, businesses and other organisations like the National Trust, say, that a lot of car parks and we do keep it updated almost daily.

Clare Delmar:
OK, so it is current and it’s being refreshed, so to speak. And is it businesses, commercial properties, like a restaurant or an office building. Does it include those types of publicly available toilets?

Tom Riley:
Yeah, we set out to log all those which were publicly accessible so they could be in a supermarket. And these are ones where you didn’t have to necessarily buy something to actually go and use it. And if there are those properties, so we do have some cafes and and pubs I know of which are mapped. And people have told us because people can send us and we do ask that people send us comments and there are always reviews of their locations they’ve been to. And they’ll say, you know, you need to speak to Mark behind the counter in order to use it. Or maybe think about buying a croissant if you come here. So we do. And it’s those reviews actually from people which I think made the map so valuable to people because it’s other people.

Clare Delmar:
Yeah.

Tom Riley:
Neighbors almost that have to used them.

Clare Delmar:
And obviously they all share a bond for this being an issue that’s really important. And it’s kind of like a TripAdvisor for toilets, it sounds like, with reviews and locations. So just to get to a final point on how people use it, so, you know, you’re an older man, you know, maybe a bit reticent about going out specifically because you don’t want to be caught short, to quote a pun. And you can have this app on your phone and you can say, OK, if I’m going to go X, Y, Z place today, I can see that there is a public toilet toilet open and available nearby.

Tom Riley:
Absolutely. All you need to do is go to our go to our website. There’s a Google map there. You can open it. And if you’ve got on your mobile phone, if you have the Google Maps app, it will actually open in that. And from there you can also download it. So if you’re somewhere without signal, you can kind of reach it and it’s all there and and kind of integrates well with people’s phones.

Clare Delmar:
OK, so I will make our listeners able to access this when I put this on our website. So you will probably get a whole new set of users. So let’s move on to that sort of impact of this. And how many people did you say are using it? Like as of today?

Tom Riley:
Today’s a special day today because we’ve just gone over 8 million people having used the map, which is now a mighty achievement.

Clare Delmar:
Wow! Since June or July?

Tom Riley:
Yeah, so that’s in six months. And when we started our aim, our top ambition, which feels very naive now, our ambition was to reach and help twenty thousand people.

Clare Delmar:
Wow.

Tom Riley:
8 million is absolutely amazing.

Clare Delmar:
That is astonishing, but it just shows the scale of the of the opportunity, you know.

Tom Riley:
Well exactly. And even today, you know, we’re not in lockdown at the moment. Obviously we’ve got the tier system. But even at the moment someone uses Lockdown Loo to find a toilet every five seconds, which is a statistic which I struggle to comprehend with really.

Clare Delmar:
So say it again. Every five seconds, what happens?

Tom Riley:
Every five seconds, someone uses our map to find an open toilet.

Clare Delmar:
Wow, that is incredible. And are you collecting data on these users? And do you have an idea of, you know, the different circumstances and needs of your users, maybe age groups or gender, anything, anything like that?

Tom Riley:
We get some, but not loads. What we do know is that we’re very popular with people who are maybe a bit older, people who might need to know before you go almost, and also those with medical conditions and young families. And also often kind of forgotten, some essential workers. So people who are delivering our Christmas presents and what not. Couriers, for example, but, yeah, those are the strongest, certainly we get a lot of comments from people who do use it. And I’ve had people get in touch who have been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. We had actually one which was really, really heartfelt, someone that… So they’d recently been diagnosed and they thought they were going to be very much stuck away from their family, being able to go and see their family outside. And the fact that they could know where they were going.Where toilets were which were open, meant that they could they could go out and they could see family rather than being alone.

Clare Delmar:
The link between mental health and isolation, which can be very much driven by this, this fear of going out because you’re going to be cut short once again and keeping you inside. It’s you know, it doesn’t it’s not a stretch to say this is a real health problem for a lot of these people. And you mentioned these comments, you know, we have a Facebook page, our clinic. And this week I posted a blog I wrote where I actually I mentioned you and and the Lockdown Loo. And I posted a blog on this topic. And it has generated I think we’re up to one and a half thousand people commenting. It’s an incredibly lively debate amongst men and women. And so it’s interesting to hear the comments you’re getting because this is something that I’ve never seen so many people take such an active interest in one issue.

Tom Riley:
That’s something that we didn’t know really as well. When we started, I guess we set out quite selfishly to try and help ourselves go out and have a drink in the park. But suddenly there’s groups of people who have been trapped on this. Either the loo leash, they weren’t able to go out. They’re just people who wanted to go and see their family, go and do exercise. So we get people going, oh, I had stopped going running.

Clare Delmar:
Yeah.

Tom Riley:
But now I can actually go on my run because I know which places I can stop on my routes.

Clare Delmar:
Exactly.

Tom Riley:
It is such an issue that we’re passionate for. I think very much more so in the UK than anywhere else. So we have these reviews that people send us. We’ve obviously read every single one and some people write, oh, you know, just one one toilet, disabled access. But a lot of people, most people, write humongous amounts about it. They go whether it was it was clean, the toilet, the toilet rolls, the location, how they felt. Was it… Did they enjoy it and or like their… And they’re like, oh, oh yeah. My husband used the other toilet and he said it was probably a seven out of ten. And it’s really it’s those bits that I love. People obviously have huge passion.

Clare Delmar:
They take great care and communicate this. One of the things that I’ve noticed are these these comments that I’ve just referred to is that there are certain people who are very intent on debating and discussing and arguing why there is a scarcity and who’s to blame and is it the politicians or is it who? But then there’s another sort of population, if you will, that are actually kind of saying, well, let’s not worry about that. How do we campaign for more public toilets? Because we need to look to the future and let’s not worry about why they’re not there now, what can we do to get more available? And I’m going to throw that question over to you. I mean, given what you’ve been up to for the last six months, you know, how would you advise people to get involved in campaigning for more access?

I feel I’ve been on a baptism of fire with this journey. And through this, we’ve partnered with a company called Cistermiser. We started to work together on how we can solve this kind of issue, because I feel from what I’ve learned doing Lockdown Loo is fragmentation of ownership and talking about the issue of public toilets is probably one of the biggest reasons why they fall away, because we all have an opinion about them. We’re all very passionate about them. Every council says, oh, you know, we’ve got to keep them going, but, you know, there’s costs and whatnot. But there are lots of councils in the UK and it’s very easy because of the fragmented ownership of toilets, our fragmented opinions, you know, there are lots of different charities who want and need and fight for more public toilets. But they all, I feel, do it a little bit isolated. So we started doing this work with my colleagues at Cistermiser and we’ve been meeting other groups and charities like the British Toilet Association. And we’re going to start coming together. And I think that’s how we move forward. It’s… All of us, we’re all very passionate about public toilets and having toilet access. And we need to bring it together. I’m not sure yet how exactly that happens. I think the fact that if we start we’re starting to talk in groups more and bring influencers together is a start. Whether we need to take that to parliament ultimately. Obviously, they’re the top of the food chain in terms of politics, even though it’s local authorities that largely own these. But does there need to be a top down strategy for the whole country? And maybe I’d say that for someone listening if they wanted to get involved, it’s reminding your politician whether that be your MP or whether that be your your councillor, especially with… There are local elections coming up, I believe, next year. Just say this is very important. It doesn’t…. It takes probably a few minutes, but I reckon there are very few number of people who actually say what is useful. And if we don’t do that and maybe remind people that toilets are extremely useful, then that’s when they all disappear and it’s harder to get something back when it’s gone.

Clare Delmar:
Absolutely. Absolutely. So in the short term, our listeners can download your app or access Lockdown Loo. And can you just remind us how they will do that?

Tom Riley:
To download it or to use it, all you need to do is go to lockdownloo.com and on there is our map and if there are any problems you can tweet us @LockdownLoo. And we’ll be more than happy to help anyone get access to it.

Clare Delmar:
Fantastic. Well, Tom or Sir Caughtshort. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. This has been a real pleasure. And hopefully this will not be the last time. I think you’re on to something. We are on to something. We know our listeners care about this. And hopefully this will just be the start of a campaign for better public toilets.

Tom Riley:
I hope so. And thank you very much for having me.

Clare Delmar:
It’s been a pleasure. A transcript of this interview is available on our website. Please visit our Facebook page to join the lively discussion there about the public toilet crisis and visit our website at www.thefocaltherapyclinic.co.uk, where you can access additional interviews with both patients and clinicians about their experiences with prostate cancer. Thanks for listening. This is the last podcast for 2020. I’ll be taking a break over Christmas and will be back with more illuminating interviews early in 2021. Wishing all of you a very happy Christmas and a much, much better New Year.

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