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Well Done Loo

From the East Anglian Daily Times

"WELL DONE LOO" Even at the grand opening ceremony of Colchester Arts Centre's splendidly baroque new lavatories, there was irony within irony. St Mary's Arts Centre, housed in a historic former church, prides itself on doing things differently. Parodying the famous John Lewis pledge "Never knowingly undersold." The Arts Centre promises its customers that it is "Never knowingly understood."

Accompanying this declaration is an illustration of a workman using a piece of horticultural machinery. During the construction and design of the new loos, for convenience's sake we must suppose, the man in the illustration was referred to simply as 'lawnmower man'. Only upon closer inspection, did someone point out that the machinery which the man in the picture was using was actually a rotavator. This, ladies and gentlemen, illustrates, if nothing else, the reassuringly large gulf still existing between the world of the arts and the one outside it.

Colchester Arts Centre, in its time, has played host to more laughter, curiosity and gasps of astonishment than any other room in the region – oh apart, possibly from my own bedchamber. The venue's management has taken advantage of various lockdown closures this past two years to rebuild their bogs in a suitably decorative style.

In the language of Front Row, Radio 4's wafty old cultural debacle (I'm sorry, that should have read " Radio 4's flagship arts magazine" ) the venue's necessaria have now been reimagined as an immersive experience. In my own words, however, the Arts Centre's Grand Vizier, Anthony Roberts, who has managed the venue so ably for three decades, commissioned an artist, Anne Schwegmann-Fielding, to design spangly new launch-pads for the customers. This time, she's gone above and beyond, with bewitchingly lovely mosaics -- and more. If you conduct a quick internet search on Anne, Wikipedia describes her as a British Sculptor. This does not adequately convey what it is that she actually does. One of her earlier pieces was described by Channel 4's Kirstie Allsop as possibly the most beautiful mosaic she'd ever seen. Anne recycles fragments of rather classy old crockery, with coins and all manner of other materials to make her mosaics.

Apart from anything else, however, she is also a notable public artist. Her work, which has graced hospitals, schools and other municipal buildings, is genuinely trusted by ordinary punters, who love it. The kind of clods who shuffle around art galleries grumbling, "I got a four year-old grandson who could do better than that." would find no purchase here. It's lovely stuff, plain and simple. It is also great and durable art.

The Art Centre's new and very blue loos are now the most gorgeous in the country. And yes, confirms the venue's director, they will indeed be entering them for the various awards. Last weekend's opening ceremony of the 'Cistern Chapel' as the loos have been wittily dubbed, was well-attended. Appropriately, it was a seated audience who came to hear Anthony Roberts and Anne Schweggman-Fielding take the stage to discuss the design and construction processes of the toilets. Gazing around, I noted that the demographic of the audience was, somewhat understandably, chiefly people of middle-to-cherishable age. So attractive are the Arts Centre's loos, claimed Mr Roberts, that people paying a visit will now stop to admire the décor and to chat with each other. Ms.Schweggman-Fielding, told the audience that it didn't cost 'that' much more money to make loos look beautiful, as opposed to simply utilitarian.

The crown jewels, as it were, of this extravaganza are the actual 'engines' themselves, which are adorned with blue, bleach-proofed Victorian-style print designs. Mr Roberts also pointed out that the toilet cisterns are re-filled with 'grey water' from the wash-hand basins. This ingenious and very modern aspect of their design is pleasing to old eco-luvvies such as myself. There is a serious side to this business, of course. Visiting public loos nowadays, although our biological functions remain exactly the same, is an experience which has deteriorated over recent decades. Public toilets, usually for reasons cited as economic, are fewer and often less well-appointed than was the case when I was a man in my maytime. How many times, nowadays, when visiting an unfamiliar town or village, do we find that there are either no loos, or that the facilities are unaccountably closed during certain hours. Not everyone is sufficiently uninhibited as to bellow an indignant epithet, before relieving themselves on a nearby tree, or the rear offside wheel of one's vehicle. Especially not, if that vehicle happens to be, say, an electric scooter.

Long gone are the stately old underground public lavatories of the mid-20th century, with their sturdy vitreous china, their penny-slot doors and sometimes, even, an attendant standing by to see fair play – or whatever it was they used to do. We need the return of facilities of such distinction. Colchester Arts Centre has led the way with this well-done loo. We now need to rise up and demand that our local and regional councils will follow through -- I mean 'follow suit'.

(That's enough toilets- Ed.)


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