Healthy Ageing by Design: A success story

A Community Service: Great British Public Toilet Map making toilets accessible for older people

Our older population has changed from being a minor segment to be ignored, to become a hugely important and vibrant part of our economy and the Healthy Ageing Challenge is leading the UK’s biggest transformation in the lives of older people funding a raft of innovative projects. Here is another great example of how design supercharges an idea into action.

SOCIAL CHALLENGE. An alarming finding from the research by Royal College of Art Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design is just how few public toilets are now available.

Across the UK the number of public toilets has been reduced by more than a third (38%) over the last two decades so that many public toilets in the UK are inaccessible or closed down, making it more difficult for older people to venture out and worsening social isolation.

Eight councils in the UK fail to provide any public toilets, and schemes that allow the use of publicly available toilets have dwindled, research by New Dynamics of Ageing has found.

As toilets are not a statutory provision, London Borough of Wandsworth discontinued their public toilets in 2013, due to government spending cuts. Private participants dropped from 75 to just two.

DESIGN THINKING. The Helen Hamlyn Centre at RCA investigate the needs of the public, from parents of new-borns to people aged over 90 …. and providers of publicly accessible toilets. Four user profiles were created and 20 providers of toilet facilities, from local authorities to shopping centres and train stations, participated.

“How successfully we age depends on our interactions with the spaces, artefacts and communications around us. That is why design is so central to active and healthy ageing. Access to work, safer homes, inclusive neighbourhoods — all depend on raising the bar in design.”

Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design, Royal College of Art

OUTCOMES. The two major outputs are a citizen-driven website — the Great British Public Toilet Map that encourages local authorities to improve access, including details about availability and opening times involving local communities in decisions that affect their public toilets.

The second is an Inclusive Design Guide to Publicly Accessible Toilets, featuring case studies and outlining location-specific problems and potential solutions.

The Great British Public Toilet Map provides details of over 8,000 public toilets in the UK including council facilities, train stations, community toilet schemes as well as shopping centres and libraries.

In 2018 The national ‘Use our Loos’ campaign was launched, supported by Domestos, to mobilise local business to make their loos accessible to the community they serve and allow everyone to enjoy their local neighbourhoods

The ‘Can’t wait card’ is a national membership scheme available for people with a bladder or bowel problem. The card states that the holder has a medical condition and needs to use a toilet quickly.

In London, toilet facilities in Marks & Spencer, Tesco, John Lewis, Sainsburys and Asda are available to use without the need to buy anything as part of the Mayor of London’s Open London scheme.

People are generally reluctant to talk about toilets, and a lack of knowledge about which toilets are available to use is a huge problem for those with bowel and bladder problems.

Dan McLean, director at Crohn’s and Colitis UK, says, “For people with a chronic bowel or bladder condition, not being able to find or access a public toilet can be a blight on life and sometimes stop people going out altogether.”

John Mathers and Julian Grice advise the Challenge, review projects and help organisations capitalise on user-centred design thinking to accelerate innovation, increase adoption and create value for product and service providers to drive growth.

For more information about Healthy Ageing by Design contact John or Julian: or

For details of the Healthy Ageing challenge check out —



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John Mathers

John Mathers


John Mathers and Julian Grice are embedding design thinking in the IRUK Healthy Ageing Challenge and share insights on how it accelerates innovation.