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Reading's Rising Urinals

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Reading's Rising Urinal

In Reading, a town with an expanding nightlife, a peculiar problem has arisen. Due to the lack of public toilets in the city centre area, drunk men were beginning to get into the habit of urinating against walls, causing not only bad smells and unpleasant sights, but also erosion. The solution? A surprisingly simple, but effective, Dutch idea; the UriLift.

Previous Toilets

In the past, councils have tried to solve the problem by providing temporary, often plastic, urinal stands. These, often used only at weekends, allowed those in desperate need to relieve themselves with somewhere to go without resorting to the outside of buildings. However, they had their disadvantages.

Often, the area in which the plastic urinals were kept were busy with shoppers and others in the city centre during the day, where they were not only an unattractive eyesore, but also likely to smell; those toilets have to be physically emptied of their waste, which, as the toilets are only temporary and not attached to water mains, is not flushed away.

Not only that, but, in the case of the toilets only in use during weekends, there was the added problem of having to assemble the toilets at the beginning of the weekend, disassembling them at the end, and storing them the rest of the time. All this meant a lot of money and a lot of effort over a problem which had a simple solution; the pop-up loo.

Pop-up toilets

The UriLift was designed to solve the ever increasing problem of being caught short1 at night and not having anywhere to go, and so using side alleys or building to 'go' on.

Marco Schimmel, a Dutch toilet designer who has successfully fitted the toilets in eight Dutch cities, came up with a high-tech answer to the problem; the pop-up loo. The toilet is a stainless steel urinal that, during the day, fits in a 1.3 metre deep hole beneath the pavement and is as conspicuous as any other manhole. At night, between 9pm and 10pm2, on the operation of its remote control, it rises hydraulically to become an easily visible urinal. Then at around 6am it goes back down, out of sight.

As the toilet is connected to the sewage system, electricity and water mains it never needs emptying. It also boasts an in-built automatic flush and cleaning system. It is lit, and even heated. Although the cost to build a pop-up loo to spend a penny is a staggering £17,850, it is hoped that the Uri-lifts will save money in the long-term through low maintenance costs.

If Reading's new loo is successful, many more cities in the UK will use pop-up loos on their streets.

The Toilet In Reading

Reading's UriLift was showcased to the British Public on Tomorrow's World on the 20 March, 2002. The christening ceremony was not until Thursday, 25 April. Then, at 1:30pm at an event to mark the arrival of the new, space age 'Tardis Toilet', Marco Schimmel pressed the remote control to activate the toilet. As it rose for the first time, Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, made famous in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey was heard as smoke, fireworks and silver confetti marked the occasion.

The first to use the new toilet was Mr Belfast Rab. His was an unscheduled use, and was much to the surprise of the press when, after leaving a pub, made his way through the crowd and before anyone could react, fully demonstrated its use.

Despite the ceremony, it was not opened fully to the public until the evening of Monday, 29 April, after it had undergone extensive testing by the engineers involved in its construction.

It is located in Reading Town Centre outside Reading Town Hall, on the end of Friar Street. It is placed by the statue of Queen Victoria, whose amusement is shown by her having her back to it.

Although the light fittings are often vandalised, it has survived all the abuse that drunk men on a night out can inflict on it, without damage to any other part of it. However, plans to build a second UriLift in Reading, by St Mary's Church near the Oracle Centre, have not yet materialised.

In an attempt to revitalise the town centre, Reading Town Council have encouraged more pubs to open in the area. Before the arrival of the UriLift, there simply weren't the facilities to address the problems generated by a larger number of drunken customers. Reading Town Council also plans to build permanent toilets in Friar Street as an attempt to address these problems.

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1Needing the toilet.2Men in green jackets from the council drive up and operate it so that there isn't the chance an old granny could be trapped on top of it at the time!

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