Anglesey mum helps start campaign against Island’s planned unisex changing rooms

An Anglesey mum petitioning against a council decision to make all changing rooms in leisure venues unisex, says they “are dangerous for women and girls”.

Rhian Hughes said she and her 14 year-old daughter will not use the facilities while men and women can change in the same space – and neither will her husband.

The row broke out after Anglesey county council decided to adapt all of its leisure facilities to include unisex changing spaces instead of single sex and family areas.

It said it had done so “in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, to allow people to maintain social distancing and to provide the best opportunities to be able to clean between sessions”.

Although users have lockable cubicles to get undressed in, a group of mums  including Mrs Hughes took exception to the adaptations, citing research suggesting mixed facilities lead to more sexual assaults against women.

The mum of one maintained far from being a feminist she was just a “concerned mother” and the mums’ online petition, started on Thursday last week, had almost reached its 500 signature target by lunchtime today (Monday).

Speaking to the Local Democracy reporting service, she said: “I’m a 45 year-old woman and my daughter is 14.

“I am for family rooms, not against them, but the fact the council has done this is unreal.

“There are locked cubicles but men can buy cameras for as little as £10 which can be placed under and over the doors.

“There is research showing there are lots of assaults against women in unisex changing areas.

“It’s simple – do a rota and send male staff to male changing rooms and female staff to the women’s to clean them.

“There’s a lot of women out there who are outraged by this – I will not have it on my doorstep.”

Research by The Times in 2018 showed 90% of sexual assaults in changing rooms took place in unisex areas, which accounted for less than half the number of changing facilities in sports and leisure centres and swimming pools.

Of 134 reports of sexual assault in changing rooms over the two-year period 2017 to 2018, 120 took place in gender-neutral changing rooms compared to 14 in single-sex areas.

Mrs Hughes added: “My 14 year-old daughter is sports mad and she loves swimming but she won’t change when there are men there.

“There’s no way she will feel comfortable, or will I be letting her, shower next to a man.

“She will not visit unisex changing rooms – mixed sex changing rooms are dangerous.”

The petition wants changing rooms converted back to female and male areas claiming the move “discriminates against women” and those with specific “religious and cultural beliefs”.

An Anglesey county council spokesman said it had received complaints “in relation to the changing rooms at Plas Arthur leisure centre” in Llangefni.

He said: “These areas are separated by lockable doors to ensure people are able to change in private.

“All areas have been reserved specifically for the people for whom they have been designated and a member of staff inspects the changing rooms before and after each session.”

“Before the pandemic, our changing rooms were separated into men’s and women’s sections and Plas Arthur also had a family section.”

The spokesman said most “modern leisure centres” have changing villages split into family and individual rooms, which he claimed “increases the users privacy”, before saying the move may not be permanent anyway.

He added: “Naturally, we will consider the implications of further easing of restrictions, and we expect to return to the previous changing arrangements when  appropriate to do so.

“We continue to monitor the situation and we welcome any further feedback from residents.”

North Wales Chronicle | Anglesey