Guest article: Changing times for Changing Places
In the 2020 Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP committed a £30 million investment to increase access to Changing Places toilets.
The new program will see the Government match-fund the costs of installing the facilities into existing buildings in England, with government working closely with the Changing Places Consortium and others to identify sectors where the provision of the facilities need to be accelerated the most.
Alongside the new £30 million investment, the UK Government also announced major changes to current building regulations for disabled people. These changes mean that, from 2021, new, or majorly refurbished, large buildings used by the public must have Changing Places toilets.
Changing Places toilets are larger accessible toilets for disabled people, with specialist equipment such as hoists, curtains, adult-sized changing benches, and space for wheelchair users and carers.
From 2021, places of assembly, recreation and entertainment with a capacity for 350 or more people will be required to install Changing Places toilets if they are newly built or have a major refurbishment.
Other public venues included in the new building rules cover arts venues, cinemas, universities, libraries, places of worship, motorway services and museums.
Discussing his views on the latest Changing Places changes and what this will mean for disabled people, in this article, Mark Sadler, UK Sales Manager at Ropox, shares his thoughts on the new building regulations, drawing on his 15 years of knowledge of installing Changing Places toilets.
What difference will these changes make?
While they could result in an increase in enquiries for companies such as Ropox, to be honest, these latest changes will have little effect for anything up to 3 or 4 years, especially for service users.
But 5 years from now, I believe people will look back at the current situation with regards to Changing Places facilities and fully realise how inadequate it was in 2020.
The reason for such a delay in seeing the benefits is that the new rules will only apply to new build planning applications which are submitted after January 1st 2021 and we all know how long an initial submission can take to come to fruition, especially for something as substantial as a shopping or leisure centre, motorway services or theatre. The big difference is that, at the moment, incorporating a Changing Places facility is optional and seen as best practice but from January 1st next year, it will be compulsory in all new build applications and plans for building types listed in the link above which are submitted after that date.
What else do you think could be done to further improve Changing Places?
Personally, I think they could be better signposted, both within each building but also to the wider audience. This could include venues highlighting them on their website, promoting them through social media and clear signposting from the building’s entrance.
Staff awareness could also be improved. For example, I have often gone to large shopping centres to carry out work on a new or existing Changing Places toilet and when I have arrived at the Information Centre to ask where the facility is, I have been met with: ‘Sorry I will have to find out’. It would make such a difference if all staff at least knew what the Changing Places facility is, where it is situated and how visitors access it, be it with a Radar key, key code etc.
Training is also vital. While many visitors will be familiar with the equipment found in a Changing Places facility as they will have similar items at home, this will not always be the case for staff. Therefore, I would advise that several people receive training once the installation is complete to ensure there is someone either available or contactable to advise should a user have an issue and require assistance. However, staff should not get involved in the manual handling.
People need to be as aware of Changing Places as they are of baby changing facilities. The last thing we want is organisations investing the money to include them in their buildings only for it to sit there unused.
Many Changing Places facilities will still be installed in an existing building. What challenges can this represent?
One of the biggest challenges is when the venue is a listed building as you cannot just start knocking down walls and sometimes it is necessary to place the facility in an adjoining building or a portable unit. Unfortunately, on some occasions, it is just not possible to carry out an installation.
Space is also often an issue with an existing building along with finding a suitable location that is accessible for all potential users and large enough to house the Changing Places, which must be at least 4m x 3m with a ceiling height of at least 2.4m, if possible. Smaller Changing Places have been approved in the past, but these minimum dimensions are acknowledged as best practice.
Ropox is one of the UK’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of accessible bathrooms and kitchens in both domestic and care environments. It can arrange the design and full installation of Changing Places units across the UK and Ireland.