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13 Jun 2016

Spend a Penny

I’ve came across a couple of schemes I think are clever adaptations to an ageing population.

spend a pennyIn London, the number of public toilets has been falling because the maintenance costs are such a burden on councils. This makes some older people less likely to go out and about in those areas because they don’t have ready access to a toilet when needed.

Clever council staff realised in fact there were plenty of underutilised toilets in local businesses. So in some parts of London there is now a “Spend a Penny” scheme where businesses, in return for a small payment from council, make their toilets available to the public. There’s no pressure to buy anything but some advantage to businesses in having potential new customers become familiar with their store. The scheme is so popular it’s been oversubscribed.

The council provides a map of participating businesses and stickers for the window displaying the types of toilet available (eg wheelchair accessible or baby changing facilities) and ratepayer $ are saved.

On a similar theme New York has “Take a Seat” which recognises that older residents often need a break when out walking. Businesses displaying the sticker allow them to come in and rest for a while. Some have bench seats inside or outside their business, others have foldaway chairs they whip out when needed.

Great to see clever, low-cost ways to make cities more age-friendly without putting pressure on rates. And I suspect an added benefit is likely to be the community-building that happens along the way.

There are lots of interesting blogs on ageing. One that may be of interest to women in their seventies, is at It was started as a place for women to share stories/anecdotes/observations about the experience of their eighth decade and now has a published book of the same name. The women who started it thought they could generate a conversation about what it takes to flourish in your 70s that would be useful to the baby boomers who will soon be hitting this age in large numbers!

One last snippet is a finding from a WHO global survey on ageing which I was reading because it was conducted by a researcher here at the Institute. One section dealt with intergenerational transfers and what parents hoped to pass on to their children. The worldwide winner here was not cash (only 10% of parents wanted to endow their heirs with cash), it wasn’t the family home or other property (20% wanted to gift that to their children), no, the winner at 23%, was a sense of humour. Maybe it’s just me but I find that very funny - plenty of potential for disappointed expectations at the reading of the will!