Back to basics: toilets, baby change facilities and the High Street

Continuing our review of factors that may influence town centre vitality and viability, we were asked to investigate the importance of toilets and baby-changing facilities by our partner towns.

There are a few sporadic comments about the needs of families for baby rooms, baby-sitting services and diaper changing rooms on the high street or in shopping centres (Jones, 1990; Cohen, 1996; Reimers & Clulow, 2000), but these factors are investigated as part of a centre’s infrastructural services/amenities or its overall convenience.

Outside the retail literature, the absence of decent quality public toilets and baby-change facilities has been suggested as making urban space unwelcoming to women (Greed, 1996). Children’s perceptions of and concerns about town centres, including the facilities they offer, appearance, maintenance and potential threats have also been explored by Woolley and colleagues (Woolley, Dunn, Spencer, Short, & Rowley, 1999; Woolley, Spencer, Dunn, & Rowley, 1999). The need to encourage town centre visits by the elderly through provision of facilities (toilets, benches, lighting etc.) has been researched by Gilroy (2008).

In our model, toilets and baby-changing facilities, on their own, have little impact on high street performance. Like (Gilroy, 2008) we find a whole set of amenities, that we term ‘necessities’, need to be provided – toilets, seating and even car-parking fall into this category.

In summary, studies of these necessities conclude “car-parking, toilets, cash-dispensers or guides cannot compensate for a suboptimal tenant mix or atmosphere” (Teller, 2008). However, whilst they are not ‘attractors’, their absence can repel potential visitors.

All 200 factors that influence the vitality and viability of the high street will be presented at a free half-day conference in Manchester on 10th July 2014. Please email if you would like to reserve a place before tickets become available on Monday 9th June 2014.

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