In Conversation With Changing Places Campaigner Sarah Brisdion

Just over a year ago I wrote a post titled 'The Importance Of Changing Places' in which I introduced changing places, a different kind of disabled toilet, to you all. Since then I've watched the campaign to install them in more public places take off enormously, with it being fronted mainly by parents of disabled children. Sarah Brisdion is one of those campaigners who has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of this issue and instigate change, in the form of the introduction of more of these facilities. I recently got the chance to have a chat with Sarah about her recent Loo Advent campaign, and her upcoming plans to get this issue into the public eye once again.

Boy lies on toilet floor with wheelchair next to him. Text read's 'nobody should have to lie on a toilet floor' and '11 May, Bathstore, 95-97 Baker Street, London, W1U 6RN '.

Sarah is Mum to seven year old twins, Erica and Hadley, who were born severely premature at just 27 weeks. As a result of the premature birth, Hadley has Cerebral Palsy that affects his entire body, but particularly his lower limbs. He is unable to stand unaided as a result and so is a full time wheelchair user, with his continence (the ability to control your bladder and bowel) also being affected. Sarah told me about what led to her campaigning.

"I was so fed up of having to lie Hadley on the floor of public toilets to change his nappy or undress him to lift him onto the toilet. I remember being in a local store with my mum, lying him on a toilet floor to change him, and just thinking 'I've had enough of this. This isn't right! How is this fair?"

Woman sitting on a toilet smiling. Text reads 'Would you sit on the loo in public?'

Sarah has been campaigning for Changing Places facilities locally, and across the whole UK, ever since then. She set up Hadley's Heroes, her website, as a point of reference for businesses that she was encouraging to install these facilities but also to praise businesses that had already done so and to ensure people and families like hers knew they existed and could be used. But, what exactly are Changing Places?

"Changing Places toilets are larger accessible loos with extra bits of kit: a changing bench (adult size) and a tracking hoist. Without them, children and adults like Hadley are put at risk of injury and illness as they have to lie on the toilet floor to have their continence needs met and be dangerously lifted manually. I can barely lift my son anymore, he's seven years old. It gets harder by the day. I can't even imagine how parents and carers of older children and adults are managing.

The truth is, they invariably aren't able to manage away from home at all and so are limited to staying in or only visiting those places with suitable facilities, which are still few and far between. There are just over 1000 Changing Places toilets in the whole of the UK, which sounds like a lot until you compare that to the fact there are 2618 toilets in Wembley Stadium alone!"

It's estimated that over 250,000 people in the UK need Changing Places, so 1000 being available to use doesn't come close to fitting the need of the people who require them, which is why campaigners like Sarah are working so hard to increase the numbers.

Boy sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a red top and orange hoodie, smiling with his thumbs up.Woman visible in the background is smiling.
Photos courtesy of Sarah Brisdion

As part of her campaigning during December of last year Sarah came up with an idea to shine a light on this issue. She posted a photo of herself on the toilet everyday throughout advent, calling it Loo Advent, even having some celebrity contributions throughout the month. I talked about her about it and whether she expected the reaction it received.

"I was not expecting the attention it got at all! Although clearly I hoped it would cause a stir and raise awareness, I honestly thought that nobody would really pay any attention - after all, it was just photos of me having a wee. Something that we all have to do around eight times per day! But to have the guys from Channel 4's The Last Leg take their own loo selfie and then feature it on the show, and to have Hannah Cockcroft, one of our amazing Paralympic wheelchair racers take a photo too - was just incredible! I'll be framing those and popping them in my downstairs loo!

I am so pleased that it has helped to break down a little of the stigma that we associate with going to the loo. It is nothing to be ashamed of. And in turn, I hope that has got more people talking about the need for Changing Places and encouraged more people to speak out about their needs and their loved one's needs. The more we talk about this issue the more likely we are to see businesses naturally being inclusive and catering for everyone."

Changing Places logo, showing a wheelchair user, ceiling hoist, standing person and bench.

When you do such a big campaign it can often be difficult to know where to go next, I was overwhelmed after my involvement in the single use plastic debate and wasn't sure where to take the issue next but Sarah already has plans to continue her campaigning!

"This year I'm planning another toilet selfie campaign to raise more awareness, but taking it to the next level! The amazing people at the Bathstore have agreed to let myself and some other campaigners, sit on the loo in their store window on Baker Street, for an entire day! Pants down, on the throne, in public!

I really hope that this will get lots more media attention and we will see some big businesses announce that they are going to roll out Changing Places toilets. We will also be raising funds during this time - I'd love to help build another loo somewhere that needs one urgently. Perhaps helping a project providing leisure activities for disabled people."

I cannot wait to see how Sarah's next campaign goes and I'm hoping to head to Baker Street myself to show support! No one, child or adult, should have to lay on the floor of a toilet to have their needs met, especially when there is an avaliable solution that can be put in place. We know that Changing Places make a difference, a big difference, so I urge people to support the campaign in whatever way they can.

Head to the Changing Places website to learn more and follow Sarah on Twitter to keep up to date with her campaign! Sarah's campaign at Bathstore, Baker Street in London is taking place on 11th May.

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