The Tower of London is part of Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), an independent charity that is committed to ensuring that its buildings, activities and associated services are accessible to everyone.
Despite the challenges posed by the historic fabric of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and Scheduled Ancient Monument – everything from cobbled paths to spiral stone staircases – a key priority is to provide easy and dignified access for all visitors in and around the palaces.
To ensure we meet these expectations, HRP commissioned Goss Consultancy to review accessibility of all the visitor-facing areas across the tower in summer 2017, which identified areas for improvement in line with the Equality Act 2010.
One of the key recommendations was to explore the possibility of installing a Changing Places toilet to make our site more inclusive and to cater to visitors with complex needs.
After careful consideration by our historic buildings curator and extensive research into the history of interventions in the few available locations, an area of roughly 9.5sqm was identified on the ground floor of the New Armouries, the building that houses the Tower’s café and event spaces.
Although it was not the ideal recommended size – the British Standard Code of Practice for design of accessible buildings recommends 12sqm – it had been proven in a number of case studies that a fully equipped Changing Places toilet could be installed in smaller spaces with appropriate design.
It was important to establish that there was no significant archaeology or historic fabric that would be compromised by the installation of a new facility, and that any intervention had minimal impact on the building. We therefore decided that relocating an existing accessible toilet to another area of the tower and making full use of this space would be the most feasible option.
With a suitable site identified, the next step was to consult Historic England to ensure that our proposed interventions were acceptable.
Facilities have very specific criteria to fulfil to be classified as a Changing Places toilet, and at the time of starting the design there were just four registered toilets in central London.
It was crucial to involve the Changing Places Consortium as soon as our feasibility study was completed, to ensure that the design met all requirements. The consortium also provided valuable guidance throughout the process as the design progressed.
Installing a fully functional Changing Places toilet in a historic setting also came with its own set of restrictions. The New Armouries is a highly significant building dating back to the 17th century. As such, no fixings could be made to the historic fabric and all of the structure had to be fully detached and independent.
To overcome this challenge, a structural engineer was appointed to develop a superstructure that was only fixed to the modern concrete floor in the area to bear the weight of all the specialist load-bearing equipment that forms part of the Changing Places toilet.
A formal Scheduled Monument Consent was submitted, and a final approval was sought from the Changing Places Consortium before the design was deemed ready for construction.
Construction of the facility was carried out by Coniston, which has prior experience in working in historic buildings – a key consideration for any construction work across HRP sites.
Once completed, the facility was checked for suitability one last time by the Changing Places Consortium before being registered on the official map.
Preethi Narasimhan is project manager at Historic Royal Palaces