This week I am reviewing the YMCA at The Hawker Centre, Kingston’s new children’s play area, this is local to us, a ten minute bus ride away from where we live.
This is a recently rebuilt area, which replaced their old play area, (which was pretty basic, but popular) and is called The Pod
I usually tend to avoid play areas and activity centres for children for two reasons, they tend to be busy, and I find them unpleasant and stressful, and they can get pretty dirty and germ infested. Having done some infection control courses during my nursing career, I am well versed in what kinds of bacteria lurks in these places. I remember one particular slide being shown on a training day that showed two specimen swabs. One was from a toilet seat, one was from a ball pond/pit at a children’s play centre. Guess which one was heaving with bacteria and viruses? I can tell you now, the toilet seat swab was the cleaner of the two…. I will let your imagination work out what kind of ”delights” were on the swab from the play area.
There are several in our local area, and each time I visit one, I am repulsed by the noise, the general shabbiness of the toys and play area, and I have to say, I have come across plenty of parents who frequent these places who basically come, dump their kids, sit in a corner ignoring them for the duration and pretend not to notice when their kid decides to pee in the ball pit (I kid you not, and yes, I did complain to the management or are being less than, ahem, gentle with younger children in the play areas.
So, I took myself and Small Boy and his mate Max, to the Pod, feeling a little apprehensive, it has to be said, last week to see what all the fuss was about, because a few of my friends had raved about it.
I was pleasantly surprised. It has been running for six months, but still looked clean and new, and is obviously well maintained which made me feel like we were off to a good start. The YMCA employee who was in charge of supervising the play area was friendly, helpful and actually did an excellent job of welcoming people, keeping an eye on the whole area, and making sure things were running smoothly.
It cost £8 for the two children, which is not as expensive as some places. You do get a two hours session, with an hour’s free WiFi usage for this, and the coffee and tea prices at the YMCA are reasonable, so I was happy with the costs. We weren’t allowed to take our push-chair into the actual area, which I understood, as it would make the area too crowded, although the supervisor did point out that if you had a baby sleeping in a push-chair, you could bring them in, which is always helpful. They were also happy to watch Small Boy for a few minutes while I did a quick toilet run with Max, who is potty trained, which was helpful. When Small Boy bumped himself coming down a big slide, and had a few tears, the supervisor came over and checked that we were OK, and to make sure Small Boy wasn’t hurt. The play area itself is spacious, clean, lots of fun, with an enclosed ball pond, lots of big slides and tunnels, a smaller area for little children, and also a quiet/sensory room, which both the boys and I really enjoyed visiting for 5 minutes of calm during the play session.
There are tables and chairs for carers and parents to sit at, although it does get very crowded and busy, and there was a fair amount of table sharing and chair shuffling going on. I would also be a little concerned at their age bracket. They say the main are is suitable for children aged up to 11. I would probably avoid going there during the holidays, because whilst it is occupied by non school aged children (ie aged 1-4 ) it works, but I cannot imagine letting my 2-year-old loose there with much older children careering around. I would be interested to see how they manage and maintain it when there is a wider age range using the facilities. I may have to send LSH there with the kids one Saturday afternoon and see what he thinks! I would say smaller children have to be fairly closely supervised, particularly on the bigger slides and play areas, but this is generally common sense anyway, and most parents seemed very happy with the facilities when I asked their opinions.
All in all, we enjoyed the visit, and if the Pod can keep up with the cleanliness and supervision, and maintenance then we give it a big THUMBS UP! The boys had a blast, I managed about 1/2 an hour of writing in peace, before they insisted I join them having fun, and price wise, I would compare it favourably to other indoor play areas in the local area.
We will definitely go again, which is not something I can say for other, similar places we have visited!
Well done YMCA Hawker Centre, you got 8/10 from the Mad House of Cats & Babies!
For more information: http://www.ymcalsw.org/Sites/space/Pages/pricesandtimes
This review is all my own thoughts, and I was not compensated or sponsored in any way for my writing.