Elvina Bay’s Taylor Springthorpe wins a national competition to design a portable handwashing facility for use in Nepal
The COVID-19 pandemic taught the world many things. High on the list was the importance of handwashing.
It’s easy enough to tell people they should be washing their hands frequently and easy enough to do it in places where water is – if you’ll forgive the expression – on tap.
But what about places where facilities are limited or absent? That’s where the Sydney-based Paul Pholeros Foundation comes in. The pandemic halted in-country sanitation work it was doing in Nepal but the foundation didn’t want to lose momentum. The idea of a competition to design a portable handwashing facility for use in Nepal was born – and was won by Taylor Springthorpe, 22, from Elvina Bay.
Taylor, the daughter of long-time Elvina Bay residents Roger Springthorpe and Jackie Graham, recently completed her Bachelor of Design (Architecture) degree from the University of Newcastle’s School of Architecture and Built Environment. She is currently taking a year off to gain experience with various architecture firms and plans to start a Masters degree next year.
Taylor was deeply impressed by the work of the Paul Pholeros Foundation, which was set up in 2018 to honour the work and life of Paul Pholeros AM, who died in 2016. He was a co-founder of Healthabitat, an organisation devoted to improving the health of people living in poverty by improving the homes in which they live.
“This opportunity to design something really meaningful has been amazing,” Taylor said. Indeed, her “dream job” would be to work for Healthabitat. The blending of architecture with humanitarian work and the results that could be achieved through design were inspiring, she said.
After getting through her busy final semester at university last year, Taylor then turned her mind to the Challenge, having been encouraged to enter by a university course co-ordinator who had previously worked with the Foundation. “It was a good enough amount of time,” she said of the month she spent devising her entry. It quite clearly was more than good enough. The competition judges described the task as a “challenging design problem” and found that Taylor’s design offered “a practical and workable solution, suited to the conditions in Nepal”.
Entrants were asked to come up with a compact, durable unit that, among other things, could be easily put together and disassembled, was easily packed and transported, and that used water safely and conservatively.
Taylor’s design is foot-operated and can be adjusted to two heights and comes with various hoses and pipes, a tap, circular basin, soap storage container and more – including hand-washing instructions.
A thoughtful element of the design is its timber construction. Not only is timber cheaper than plastic or metal, it can be easily painted. Taylor pointed out in her entry that communities can customise their units artistically, something that also deters vandalism or tampering.
“I’m really impressed with the maturity of what Taylor’s come up with. It’s really sophisticated for a very complex problem,” said one of the judges, Sandra Meihubers AM. Sandra, who was Paul Pholeros’s partner and is Chair of the Foundation, is a dentist who has worked with many remote communities, including in Australia and Nepal. As it happens, Sandra is also a Northern Beaches resident. She lives at Bilgola Plateau and can see over to the Western Foreshores that nurtured Taylor. “I couldn’t believe our winner is a neighbour. It was an Australia-wide contest. It’s amazing that she’s on our doorstep.”
Over a period of 20 years Sandra has seen first-hand so many situations in which “wherever we are, the water isn’t”. It’s not that water was entirely absent – there was always a stream or spring nearby to provide it – but there was never a tap right there for handwashing. Not only did handwashing become more vital than ever last year, it continues to be a requirement for people if they want to use public or community facilities such as schools. Sandra realised that if she could take portable dental equipment to remote places, it should be possible to have a portable handwashing facility. And so it is.
A prototype of Taylor’s design will be built and sent to Nepal for assessment in situ. And while COVID-19 was the driving force behind the idea for a portable handwashing facility, it’s clear there is use for it far beyond the pandemic. The Paul Pholeros Foundation also sees relevance for families and communities who struggle to have good to access clean running water at any time.
The Foundation would love to take Taylor to Nepal so she can see her design in action. “I think she’d be an amazing asset,” Sandra said. As for Taylor: “As soon as I can go I’ll be off.”