LONDON — With Britain slowly easing its way out of its third nationwide lockdown, people across the country are enjoying a return to a sense of normalcy. Shops and gyms have reopened and parks are once again heaving with groups of up to six people — for many, it’s a welcome step forward and a joy to be back socializing outdoors.
But what happens when nature calls?
The issue of where to relieve oneself in a world where so many facilities have been shut in recent months has long been a concern in Britain. Many public bathrooms, in particular, were closed during the various lockdowns.
While current restrictions stipulate that venues such as restaurants and pubs can reopen to serve food outdoors, some public toilets remain unavailable — a result of facilities across the country being run by different councils making different decisions.
Of those that are open, some are poorly maintained or overburdened with snaking lines of people queuing up to use them. In London’s Soho, the heart of the city, portable toilets have been installed to help deal with the issue.
British media reported Wednesday that the “Friends of Tooting Common” group in South London had also demanded more toilets be installed to “avoid unsanitary and inappropriate use of bushes and wooded areas,” which has been an escalating problem since the weather began improving along with the lifting of stringent restrictions.
The group branded human excrement an “increasingly serious problem,” adding it was also concerned about the volume of litter being left behind by visitors who flock to the area to eat and drink outside with friends — often for hours at a time and under the influence of alcohol.
Across the country, police patrols have been stepped up in a bid to deter people from urinating in bushes, on beaches and on private allotments. The problem isn’t just in parks, with towns and cities complaining that people spending time outdoors had no choice but to defecate in the street — much to the horror of local residents who said the odor was so bad on certain streets they were unable to open their windows and had to clean up after others with bleach and water.
The lack of facilities has also meant people were unable to wash their hands — an instruction the government has repeatedly used in its messaging to curb the spread of infections over the past year.
Last summer, an investigation by the Guardian found that lack of investment in public services along with the closure of many public toilets was becoming “a significant secondary public health risk,” due to the fact that those spending time outdoors were not given any other option but to relieve themselves in public.
“In some parks, certain bushes end up as designated loos with a queue to use them,” one Londoner told the publication, adding that some women were purposely dehydrating themselves so that they would not need to use the bathroom while out of the house.
While many public toilets have since reopened, they are often small and not always fully functioning — an issue that has become so widespread that two brothers decided to launch a website which allows people to search for open facilities nearby and to share “loo-cation” updates.
Creators of the site estimate that as of last month, more than 10 million people had used the service to locate a toilet.