Single parent battles the odds to invent handheld toilet
- Credit: Polly Hancock
From growing up in a cupboard, to being homeless at 16, Zoë Chapman has overcome all the challenges life has thrown her way – and now she’s set her sights on helping millions of families.
The single parent from Camden Town, living in a one-bedroom flat, has started her own business selling the Whizzer – a unisex handheld portable toilet for children.
The product is one the 36-year-old invented and designed, but also a product of a remarkable personal story of sacrifice, pain and inspiration.
Born at the Royal Free, Zoë grew up in York Way with her family in a one-bedroom home. There, her father built a cupboard for her to sleep.
After later moving to South End Green, she became homeless aged 16 and lived in a hostel in Finchley Road for two years.
At 19, after her father became paralysed and brain damaged following a stroke and months of being in a coma, leaving him unable to talk – Zoë cared for him for twelve years, right up until he died on February 17, 2015.
To mark the fifth anniversary, now looking after her nine-year-old son, the former New End and Parliament Hill student launched her own business in memory of her father – and to give her boy a better life.
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“When I first started the only thing I wanted to do was give my son his own bedroom,” Zoë told the Ham&High.
“I just wanted to make sure that I could give him a safe life and give him his own bedroom.
“I've had a lot of health issues. Because of my health conditions I can't have a normal job so I knew I'd always have to think outside the box.
“I didn’t want to be just a mum that showed my son it was okay to sit and just let your life go because of the things that had happened, or because of your disabilities.
“I chose to basically risk everything and put us through an insane amount of stress and pressure and such hard times because I want to show him that if you want to do something, there’s no reason why you can’t do it. You just have to give it a go.”
Growing up, Zoë's dad, Pete Chapman, ran a rehearsal studio in Bonny Street in Camden Town – which she took on aged 19 when her father, a musician, became paralysed.
Zoë, a former City worker, says her dad would be “so proud” if he could have seen her launch her own business, with his determination and grit having inspired her own story today.
“When he had me, my dad had to stop touring," she said. "We lived on the breadline. We had less than those who lived on benefits but he was working seven days a week. He was self-employed and running a business that he was passionate about.
“I've learnt from that experience growing up, it's going to be hard. I’ve been stressed, sleep deprived, and so many days I just think I can’t do this anymore... what am I doing to myself? Why did I think I could do this?
“But I get through them because I believe now.”
After lifting her father in and out of bed for twelve years, Zoë lives in constant pain and has suffered chronic back problems, using crutches regularly prior to spinal surgery in 2019.
“If I didn’t take him out he would never go anywhere or do anything, he wouldn't be able to,” she said.
“So I would just literally get him in his chair, and put him in my car. I took him to concerts, I took him anywhere against the odds, I was just determined for him to have any bit of enjoyment.”
Despite all these challenges that life has presented, which has led to a series of mental health struggles, Zoë is looking forward to the road ahead with her new business, and with her son by her side.
Precisely because of her own, her son’s and her father’s stories, the 36-year-old believes she is now best placed to launch a product for market that can help parents up and down the country.
“Once my son became a toddler I was in a predicament where I was potty training on the go,” she said.
“I was still looking after my dad who was bedbound at that point, and who digressed into nappies himself.
“So my dad was in nappies and I was trying to get my son out of nappies, and I had nothing apart from these huge potties that everyone has, which cause huge waste.
“For any parent potty training is the part that you dread, it’s completely unpredictable and you can’t prepare for it.
“So I was in that situation where I was on the go and I had to do it. I needed to find a solution and I couldn’t find one... so I invented one.”
As a handheld potty, Zoë sees the Whizzer filling a “huge gap in the market”. The 250ml product collects urine for children, is made of silicone, and its parts are detachable.
The most exciting part, however, the parent says, is the capacity for it to help so many children with medical difficulties, for instance with urine infections.
Already, Zoë's product has supported kids with sensory disorders and a five-year-old double amputee.
And as she looks for investment to take her business to a global market, the Camden entrepreneur hopes her lucky break could be just around the corner.
“To be honest its quite crazy that I’m actually even alive, let alone doing anything else, after everything," Zoë said.
“But hopefully it's all going to pay off now and after these decades of terrible things happening, I’m going to have some good luck soon.”
For more information about the Kiddiwhizz visit https://kiddiwhizz.com/