Around the Toilet, a project led by Sheffield Hallam University, worked with organisations and individuals to look at how cultural and societal change in modern Britain means the humble public loo is now in danger of discriminating against some of those who need to use it.
This week [November 29] the project was awarded the top prize in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences category of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s bi-annual Engage Awards.
Dr Jenny Slater, who led the research team at Sheffield Hallam, said: ‘The project has been amazing and has led us down avenues of debate we simply never expected to explore when we started out.
Now we’re using the findings to help start a conversation with architects about how toilets are integrated into public spaces in the future.’
Awarded nearly £50,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project engaged with disabled, gay and trans people, people with religious beliefs that affect their toilet experiences, parents, lorry drivers, and school children.
The NCCPE judging panel said “This project took something seemingly mundane – the toilet – and used it to leverage profound change in how people think about and design toilets. A remarkable project, led by a researcher in the early stages of her career, weaving the very best of the arts, humanities and social science disciplines.”
The project is just one example of a growing trend amongst the UK’s researchers – to reach outside the university to really connect their work to wider society and involve the public in research in meaningful and potentially transformative ways. The three finalists in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences category were selected from more than 180 entries and demonstrated a broad range of high quality activities to inspire and involve public audiences.
Other finalists’ work ranged from digitally reconstructing city histories to protecting endangered species; from working with older people as researchers to delivering hyper-local science festivals; from young children conducting their own research to influence the United Nations, to using theatre to improve oral health outcomes.
As award winners, the Around the Toilet team have received £1,500 to go towards further public engagement work, and will be supported by the NCCPE to share their work across the UK.