A carry-on at your conveniences

When public toilets in Burnsall were threatened with closure it provoked an outcry.

Critics feared the move would impact on visitors to the picturesque Dales village and would also deny residents access to a vital facility during local events.

So it was without a second thought for the cost to their own time or finances that Ed and Brenda Williams stepped in to take on the running of the toilets.

More than a year later the couple are still the driving force behind the convenient facility.

The unsung heroes, who live in the North Yorkshire village, were spurred to take action last year when Craven Council announced its intention to close the toilets as part of a wider cost-cutting measure.

Mr Williams, 58, said: "The Parish Meeting was against it. It's a normal thing – you visit somewhere else and you expect to use public toilets. Plus, we have events on the village green when locals use the toilets.

"People felt strongly about it. It would deter visitors from the area. We like walks and we like to go where we know we can go to the toilet.

"I have concerns about keeping toilets going all over the country. Also we own the car park so the last thing we wanted was for them to close.

"They are for the car park but most people who use them are just walking through the village. There have been days when there have been no cars in the car park but people still using the toilets. It's fine, that's what they are there for.

"We were always going to take them over and I think the parish meeting was told that so they were happy for us to do that. When Mr and Mrs Williams, who also run a kiosk in the village, took over the facility, they both worked full time as teachers."

Retirement has since beckoned but neither of them were tempted to take it easy – and running the toilets continues to be part of their daily routine.

Since taking over the facility, the pair have made a series of improvements, from adding air fresheners, soap dispensers and better taps to more expensive investments.

They clean the toilets themselves free of charge and during the summer can spend at least 30 minutes a day cleaning – undeterred by nappies left in toilets bowls or discarded bags of dog mess.

Even when the pipes burst last winter and they were forced to temporarily close the toilets, there was no question of throwing in the towel and they installed basic heating to keep the temperature up.

The couple rent the toilets from Craven Council for a peppercorn rent, spend about 1,400 a year running them and expect to break even.

Mr Williams, who is now chairman of the Parish Meeting, said: "There is an honesty box outside the gents' and ladies' and people are very generous.

"We have had some lovely messages shoved through. We get lots of good comments and we know they are clean."

Grateful visitors have stopped off at the couple's kiosk to thank them.

The couple also find time to fulfil their roles as church wardens at St Wilfrid's Church in Burnsall, where Mr Williams is the organist.

Mrs Williams, 56, said: "Initially we thought there needs to be toilets here because that's the reason people park in Burnsall – because they know there are toilets, especially people going off walking.

"Craven Council was saying, your local parish council can take it on. We don't have a parish council because Burnsall is not big enough. We have a Parish Meeting. Any money got through the parish meeting goes on street lights so we could not expect the parish meeting to fund toilets.

"We really do think that if these toilets were not there, quite a few people would stop coming. They would go somewhere else where they know they would be guaranteed a toilet."

The couple have won praise from the British Toilet Association which campaigns to keep toilets open.

Its director Mike Bone said: "If you are in a rural area, you need a public toilet so we really do commend what this couple are doing."

Economy blamed for closures

The British Toilet Association predicts about 1,000 public toilets will close in the UK in the next 12 months.

Director Mike Bone said: "In the last decade more than 40 per cent of public toilets have closed in the UK.

"Every day local authorities are saying they are going to be closing toilets. In the current economic climate we reckon about 1,000 more public toilets will close in the next 12 months in the UK.

"People with incontinence problems and the elderly tend to go to the toilet more than most people. When they leave home they have to know if there's a toilet on the way.

"The alternative is to stay at home and not go out and that's tragic because you are restricting people's mobility by not providing enough toilets."