Oh Marks and Spencer, how I love thee. In the decade that I lived in Australia it was one of the things that all my expat pals and I consistently and collectively missed. Their food halls, their underwear, Percy Pigs, their kids clothes, they were a constant source of nostalgia for the UK. It should come as no surprise then that when we moved back to Scotland late last year, I renewed my love affair with M&S. I thought it would be a fleeting affair, passionate and short lived, however I was wrong. I still can’t walk past an M&S without thinking ‘I’ll just pop in and get dinner’… a basket full of goodies later I emerge, breathless and satisfied, having got my fix.
And now they have cafes, I don’t think this was a thing a decade ago? The new cafe’s are my go to place when I’m out shopping with Lyla and Blair. Gorgeous food and decent coffee combined with spacious seating areas for wheelchairs and prams makes life all that bit easier. The staff, especially at The Fort, Glasgow and Braehead, go above and beyond to make sure we are settled in the cafe as quickly and painlessly as possible. They gladly carry my tray to our table, move chairs, I can’t fault them. Lyla loves a piece of their cake and the food halls make it easy to grab something smooth and slightly healthier for her to eat before we head inside where I can devour a BLT and a coffee with one hand while feeding Lyla some yoghurt and cake with the other hand. They even have tables specifically designated for wheelchairs which is fantastic.
Then the inevitable happens, usually when I am only half way through my coffee … Lyla gives me that look and I know it’s time for a nappy change. Now the fun begins. How long can I leave it before she gets really peeved and will I have finished my coffee and BLT by that point? The answer is generally not very long and no. Every Marks and Spencer’s I have been in has great toilet facilities, more than two cubicles in the ladies, tick, a baby change room, tick, a disabled toilet or two, tick, I’ve even seen two disabled toilets, one for right hand side transfer and one for left hand side transfer, however what do you do when you have a child, young adult or adult with a complex disability, who is obviously too big for a baby change table and is unable to use a toilet even with assistance? You are left with the floor. That’s right, a disabled toilet cubicle floor.
In years past I have had to change both my kids on a toilet floor when there wasn’t a baby change table provided. It happened less than a hand full of times and both times I had to use a pram blanket on the floor to lay them on but it was gross and a last resort all the same. There in lies the dilemma. Luckily Lyla is still small enough, just, to use most baby change tables. But I am left wondering what happens when we are in M&S in a year and Lyla is too big to use the change table safely? What if she is unable to be fully toilet trained for many years to come or never? Do I have to use a toilet floor? I can change her in the boot of my car in an emergency but the lack of dignity that brings with it is shocking.
Marks and Spencer’s believe in ‘doing the right thing, not just saying it’, well this is the time to show up for that. I believe that they want to do the right thing, after all they put a lot of thought into making their stores as user friendly as possible, but they need to go one small step further.
Changing Places are toileting areas which provide a bit more space than a disabled toilet, 3m x 4m, with a height adjustable changing table and a hoist so that the toilet habits of those who are unable to use toilets are treated with the same respect as those of the more able bodied. They don’t take up that much more room than a disabled toilet and in the grand scheme of the cost of a fit out for a shopping centre, an M&S, a hospital, a motorway service station, or an airport they really don’t cost that much either and yet the difference they make to many many families and individuals is immeasurable. Marks and Spencer’s are already leading the way in providing a range of clothes suitable for children with a disability and who have a feeding tube, which is fabulous, hopefully they will take up the challenge to go one step further to accommodating those customers.
I wonder if reason that this issue has been ignored for so long is because the toilet habits of those with multiple or complex disables are something that make people uncomfortable. No one wants to think about it but for many it is a reality of life and doesn’t deserve to be ignored. While I certainly don’t think every shop and cafe should have a Changing Place, I think it is something that major shopping centres, transport hubs and hospitals should have. With nearly a quarter of a million people in the UK unable to use an accessible toilet, surely everyone is entitled to go to the loo in dignity and not on a toilet floor. Would you stand on a public toilet floor barefoot? I doubt it, and yet this is the reality for many people with complex disabilities. It simply isn’t good enough and doesn’t deserve to be ignored any more.
Come on Marks and Spencer’s, you can lead the way in doing the right thing with safe, hygienic Changing Places. Go on, you can do it!
You can sign here to petition Prime Minister, Rt Hon David Cameron MP to ensure that Changing Places are installed in the public buildings listed by the Building Standards.