Austerity has led to a huge decline in public toilet provision in the UK over the last decade, and more toilet facilities have been closed permanently or become temporarily unavailable since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These closures have made it increasingly necessary for the public to make use of private facilities as substitutes, such as toilets in pubs and cafés.
Toilets in hospitality venues also bring challenges, however. Since the UK government began to ease the national lockdown in July 2020, there have been concerns about the COVID-19 transmission risks involved in visiting public venues. More recently their status continues to be debated as part of regional restrictions and curfews. Safely preparing and maintaining these spaces for the public has therefore required significant work for hospitality staff.
In collaboration with workers, trade unions and local campaigns, this project responds to rapidly changing circumstances in the sector. We explore the labour involved in new hygiene routines in the time of COVID-19, with particular attention on the cleaning and monitoring of toilets, and the impact these additional measures have had upon the lives, safety, and responsibilities of hospitality staff.
This research has been developed and will be carried out collaboratively, with outcomes intended to support the wellbeing of workers. The study is funded by a Wellcome Centre Enhanced Research Award.
The research team brings together academics based across the South West of England and Yorkshire, and builds on a series of co-produced projects about toilet accessibility (Around the Toilet), previously funded by AHRC Connected Communities.
Dr Charlotte Jones
Charlotte is a Research Fellow at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, University of Exeter, and is based in Bristol. Her research interests lie at the intersections of gender, sexuality, disability and medicine. Charlotte was Research Fellow on the Around the Toilet project, and also contributes relevant expertise from previous work on public health activism and biocitizenship, and HE staff support. She leads Reprofutures, a collaborative project about variations in sex characteristics, intersex and reproduction.
Dr Jen Slater
Jen works as a Reader in Disability Studies and Education at Sheffield Hallam University. They led the Around the Toilet project due to their wider interest in issues of gender, disability and the body. Jen is involved in University and College Union (UCU) work as a department representative.
Dr Jill Pluquailec
Jill works as a Senior Lecturer in Autism at Sheffield Hallam University. She is situated in education but draws heavily on sociology and critical disability studies. Jill was part of the most recent phase of our Around the Toilet project, and is also a UCU department representative.
Dr Lauren White
Lauren works as a Research Fellow in Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield. Her interests span the sociology of health and illness, everyday life and qualitative research methods, such as diary methods and mobile methodologies. Lauren recently began an ESRC postdoctoral fellowship titled ‘Everyday life with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Accessibility, mobility and belonging’.
This study is guided by a group of hospitality workers, representatives of trade unions and local campaigns, and academics, who provide valuable experience and/or expertise to shape the project, improve the quality of our work, and help to ensure our research is ethical and accountable. The advisory group is working in collaboration with the research team over the course of the project.