Toilet Trouble Hits Cardiff: “finding relief is a nightmare”

It’s really hard to find a public toilet in Cardiff. How is the lack of toilets in the city challenging everyday life for people?

The high cost of maintaining toilets has led to the closure of more and more toilets in Cardiff city centre

For many in Cardiff, finding a public toilet can be a serious challenge. Currently there are only six public toilets in the city center in locations like the Cardiff Central Library and Cardiff Market.

In a city where there are over 360,000 residents, this is not enough, according to most of the people in Cardiff.

Anna Maria Cameron, manager of Gold Reserves, knows this struggle all too well.

“It is a bit of a problem trying to look for toilets, I usually rely on the facilities at the Cardiff Market and St. David’s Centre where no purchase is required. But for many other toilets around town, you have to buy something first to get the access code from the receipt.”

Cardiff once had a beloved public toilet on Hayes Island that offered free, clean facilities. But for reasons unknown, the council closed it down years ago.

“They were a bit of an attraction at one point because they were clean, tiled – absolutely lovely,” Cameron said. “But they’re all locked up now. It’s such a shame, people used to queue there all the time.”

Beyond stores and fast-food chains requiring a purchase for the bathroom code, Cameron says “I don’t think there’s any public toilets in the city center.”

Even finding toilets at a bar means an added cost. With this in mind, people who like to go out at night at pubs or restaurants in the city will have to be wary about when they are able to use the toilet.  

“It’s very expensive to go to the toilet at nighttime,” she says. “If I’m in a public bar, I feel obliged to buy a drink – basically very expensive just to use the toilet.”

“But sometimes that I would say is quite understandable, because at the end of the day, you have to pay for the cleaning, toilet rolls, chemicals, and so on. Some toilets really do need to get them cleaned,” Cameron said.

The scarcity of public toilets brings difficult choices for tourists who also visit the city.

Janet said the toilets in Cardiff are not as good as they were when she was younger

Janet Thomas recalls a desperate time when she could not wait to reach the train station toilets.

“I had to go into the hotel, it’s called ‘Slug & Lettuce’. Downstairs is mostly a bar. I didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t find a toilet but couldn’t wait.”

In 2017, the Welsh Government had efforts to provide funding for more tourist-friendly public facilities which included more toilets added to public infrastructure. Yet, the issue is still at large for this community.

For some stay-at-home moms like Olivia Chan, they have to plan their bathroom use ahead of time every time they go out.

“Because I have a baby and need to change diapers anytime, I will predict in advance whether there is a well-equipped public toilet nearby when I travel. If I can’t find a public toilet then I have to do simple things in the stroller,” says Chan.

“Sometimes we want to take our children out for a walk at night, but are forced to stay at home because we can’t find a toilet,” said Olivia.

The lack of public toilets affects businesses too.

Cameron said more elderly people had been seen at Cardiff Market since the toilets were opened

“When we came back from the lockdown, the toilets were closed to the public, only open to staff,” says Cameron.

“You’ll find people didn’t come in as much then…Now the toilets are open again, there is a bit more foot traffic.”

As Janet Thomas bluntly puts it, “I think there is not enough public toilets really, as well as signposted. If you are a stranger, you wouldn’t really know where to go.”