There are many reasons to love or loathe the Westfield shopping centre at Stratford. It’s glitzy and modern, packed with top end retailers, but it lacks any character or warmth. My wife works in Stratford, and enjoys not travelling through the centre of London to get there, and there’s no doubt that, for us in north London, it’s easily accessible from the Overground and provides an alternative destination from the West End and Brent Cross.
But strangely, the biggest attraction for me about Stratford Westfield are the baby changing facilities. They’re well located , spacious, accessible, unisex with good clean facilities. The nursing tables are well orientated for changing nappies and there’s a comfortable sitting area, toys, a TV showing CBeebies, microwaves and facilities for heating milk and private feeding rooms. Within the same space are the disabled loos, which are also large and well stocked. It means, as a man, taking two kids of different ages in for a rest and recuperation is a pleasant experience completely free of difficulty and embarrassment.
I was reminded of Westfield last week when I tried to change my youngest’s nappy at Pizza Hut in Haymarket, central London. On my own with a four year old and a 15 month old, I found the baby change at the back of the restaurant, between densely packed tables, down a narrow, steep staircase and part of the female toilets. There were no separate toilet facilities in there, so once I’d changed my youngest, put up with the funny looks of women coming in and out of their toilet visits, I had to carry both my children into the men’s to take a pee myself. Then, back up the stairs to hope that the pushchair was still there with everything on it. It was hardly convenient or pleasant.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered wholly inadequate baby changing facilities. For the most part, I’m pleased to find them, particularly if I have a toddler with a nappy full of the latest evacuation, but my some of them are a trial. Recently, I’ve struggled with the Tate Modern (inadequate lifts, queues for the disabled loos where the baby change facilities are, a broken baby table leading me to balance Bub on a precarious ledge, unpleasant environment) and John Lewis at Stratford which seems to have learnt nothing from their much better facilities on Oxford Street.
So, for the record, here are my top tips for junior interior design graduates with no children who seem to be gainfully employed designing baby change rooms:
1. Some parents are male. If you do insist on putting baby change facilities in the female toilet, or in a room that requires access through the female toilet door, at least provide the same facilities in the male toilets.
2. Some parents have more than one child. If you’re going to have baby change facilities in a regular male or female toilet which makes parents think that it was a half-baked add on at the end of the design process, at the very least think about how the space might be used by three people who might not themselves need to urinate.
3. Some parents do occasionally need to piss, and find it convenient or efficient to do this at the same time as changing their family members who have a more limited capacity to hold their bladder. Always – always – put a loo with the baby change facility. Bear in mind points one and two.
4. Bearing in mind point three never, ever, make a parent change the baby in one room and then make them have to find their own toilets in a completely different room, especially if that involves carrying children, or shepherding more than one child, through the same route.
5. Some parents make it easier to push children around by using a wheeled device called a pushchair. This often needs to come into the changing room as well. Avoid stairs, self closing doors, narrow entrances and double sets of doors (particularly if they involve stairs, narrow entrances and self-closing doors). And remember some parents will have double pushchairs.
6. Toilets can be dirty, smelly, unhygienic places. Why not pretend that the toilets are part of your shop? You wouldn’t sell food or clothes in a place that smells of piss. Why make parents change their kids in such places? Keep them clean, stocked and mend stuff that breaks.
7. Or just go and visit Stratford and then do it properly (which includes you, Westfield, as your White City changing rooms are no patch on Stratford).
That should sort it.