Rachel Erickson, creator of London Loo Tours, a walking tour of the capital’s conveniences, reports on the opening of 2theloo in Covent Garden, London, a new concept in public toilets that has taken Europe by storm with more than 200 venues and over 10m visitors.
When I first moved to London in 2011, I was appalled at the idea of having to ‘spend-a penny’ to pay to use the toilet. An obsession with fee evasion turned into a passion and a career in toilet history which, ironically, lead me to a greater appreciation that you get what you pay for.
2theloo is a unique concept… the world’s first toilet shop which aims to be a ’better than at home’ toilet. On entering the facility you pay at the turnstile, but receive a voucher which can then be spent either at their own shop or in a partner business. I visited their pilot store in Amsterdam in 2014. They have been taking Europe by storm with over 200 venues opened since 2011, and now they have reached the UK.
In case you ever wondered, the launch party for a toilet involves canapes, drinks, and a ribbon cutting ceremony with short speeches by dignitaries humorously declaring that this is an honour because they have never opened a toilet before (this last is the most obligatory.) In this case it was Margriet Leemhuis, Deputy Head of Mission at the Dutch Embassy in London.
Also present was Almar Holtz, one of the founders of the company (who has presumably opened lots of toilets!) In his brief address he told us that the Covent Garden location had been one of the final goals for his business partner Eric Treurniet, who tragically died in a car accident in early 2014. So this was truly a momentous day for the company.
In a way 2theloo represents a return to the civic pride that Victorians took in London’s early public conveniences.
When Sanitary Engineer George Jennings opened his controversial retiring rooms at the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 ’spending a penny’ got you not just a receptacle in which to do your business but a guaranteed pleasant place to freshen up, a towel, a comb and even a shoe shine. One’s toilet, after all, traditionally included the whole process of washing and dressing before it became the euphemism it is today.
People were intrigued, and the toilet’s 827,280 visitors brought in a profit of over £2,000. The remainder of the century might be said to be the golden age of toilets if there ever was one, as legatorial entrepreneurs tried to meet the needs of London’s growing population.
Since the early 1900’s public facilities have devolved somewhat. Indeed, many now make it a point to get users in an out as quickly as possible, designing environments that are just tolerable enough to visit without being so hospitable that you’ll want to hang around longer than strictly necessary and do.
When 2theloo state ’It’s our mission to make the absolute most of your toilet break,’ they mean what they say. The facility is pleasant and clean and each cubicle is decorated with pictures of Covent Garden. The washbasins look like they belong in a posh hotel, and the ladies side has a separate area for freshening up makeup. In a progressive nod to shifting gender roles there are baby change facilities in both the ladies and the gents.
A visit to the Covent Garden 2theLoo costs 70p, and the machine even dispenses change… a rarity for UK public toilets!
The facility is open 10am-9pm daily. If you go try to make sure you enter on the correct side (the ’Gents’ and ’Ladies’ markings are subtle).
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