Campaigners in Findhorn are bidding to take control of both of the village’s beach toilet blocks in an attempt to prepare for another staycation rush.
The coastal community was one of the most overwhelmed parts of Moray last summer as tourists stayed in the UK.
Gloved-up volunteers were forced to clear human waste during the early months of the first lockdown when the pandemic forced public loos to be closed.
Now the Findhorn Village Conservation Company has lodged an application with Moray Council to take ownership of the two toilet blocks to secure their future – and prepare for another summer staycation surge.
Staycation trend led to Findhorn visitors ‘increasing exponentially’
The group currently leases one block while the other, which is the only one with dedicated disabled facilities, has been closed for years as the local authority has cut spending on conveniences.
Meanwhile, tourism bosses have backed the Findhorn plan, saying it will provide long-term confidence public toilets, suitable parking and waste disposal facilities will remain available.
Cathy Low, secretary of the Findhorn Village Conservation Company, said concerns about the lack of loos for beach-goers have existed since 2013 when the council first shut one of the blocks – and have only grown during the pandemic.
She said: “For the village, the importance of having public toilets available for day visitors was highlighted at the start of lockdown in March last year when the only toilet block was shut under Covid precautions.
“We also shut the motorhome area in support of the travel restrictions, but the volume of day visitors to the beach area increased exponentially.
“Unfortunately this led to human excrement in and around the public toilet area as there was nowhere for visitors to take a comfort break.
“With cafes and pubs closed, or only open to carry-out customers, visitors had nowhere to go.
“During this time, volunteers gloved and masked-up to clear the waste – human and other. Once the toilet block reopened this greatly reduced.”
Investment in facilities to cope with staycation rise
The Findhorn Village Conservation Company has also recently secured £76, 500 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to make further improvements to the beach car park beyond the current toilet and staycation concerns.
The cash will be used to repair the surface, improve drainage and reinstate areas that have become overgrown.
A more formal 21-capacity motorhome park for two-night stays is also planned, with access via an electric barrier and a booking system to prevent the area becoming overwhelmed.
An honesty box system asking for £1 donations from cars and £10 from campervans has been running for several years at the popular car park.
Mrs Low explained the income from the scheme had enabled the group to invest in improving the other facilities.
She said: “The income from the car park is vital to operating the toilet blocks for the first two to three years, after which we hope they can become self-financing.
“We also hope to secure grant funding for the renovation of the toilets.”
Concerns about long-term access to public toilets
Laurie Piper, chief executive of Visit Moray Speyside, has praised Moray Council for providing additional cash to help prepare for the expected summer influx of staycations.
However, he also praised the “multi-year vision” from the Findhorn Village Conservation Company for addressing long-term concerns about toilet access beyond the current staycation trend.
Mr Piper said: “The Findhorn project is a great example of a local community leading the way in responding to and mitigating the impact of visitor volume in one of the region’s tourism hotspots.
“The anticipation of a busy summer with UK-based visitors and the experience of last year, when there was an influx of motor homes, reinforces the pressing need for both public toilet provision and facilities which allow hygienic disposal of camper van waste.”
The Findhorn Village Conservation Company’s application to assume ownership of the two toilet blocks for no cost will be decided by councillors at a later date.