A recent visit to my local soft play had me wishing for eyes in the back of my head, attempting to split myself in two so I could attend to two children on opposite sides of the room, and guiding a hysterical Saria from the top of the enormous climbing frame down the “big scary slide” in Crystal Maze style – Forward, forward, FORWARD, keep going… I needed a big glass of wine and a sleep when I got home…
After that, I was ‘off’ play centres until Lu, the kids and I were invited to check out Battersea based private family club Purple Dragon, a 10,000 square feet contemporary play centre concept founded by mum of two Sharai Meyers. Launched in November 2008, she was inspired by her four year old son and the alienating play spaces they visited – She wanted to create a space for families. I’d heard a bit about the club but I was still thinking ‘Surely all play centres are a pain in the bum?’. Turns out, they’re not!
Once I’d navigated getting out of Battersea Park station (very pushchair unfriendly) and located the almost blink and you’ll miss it club on the corner of a residential street and Battersea Park Road, I was buzzed in and immediately blinking in amazement.
Divided into zones (0-3, 4-7, 8-12 years), we made a beeline for the Maze Play Zone. If you imagine a space with BG’s favourite toys and designers – it’s heaven. Chock full of pretend play and small world delights by Plan Toys, Kidscraft, Brio, Pintoy and other familiar names with several pretend play kitchens, shops, market stall, shopping trolley, a giant wooden dollhouse, a large train set table, touch screen Mac’s that have been customised in the US, a dressing up corner, and soft play, you could easily spend most of your time here. Seating is strategically placed beside the maze to get a birds eye view, but there’s staff on hand in every zone to entertain and keep an eye on the kids, acting as those eyes in the back of your head that you’ve been wishing for.
A garden next door to the maze where they can play football, mini golf, or drive around on Little Tike cars and bikes, or play in the mini shed was a hit, and there’s also a mini garden where the kids can learn about plants and grow their own flowers and veg.
Walk through the enormous purpose built space and there’s a changing room with warmed baby wipes and everything you need, the juice bar, mini play sections filled with fantastic baby toys and soft mats for them to play with the toys or chill out, as well as a reading room stuffed full of captivating reads. A custom built wet play zone designed by the same guy behind the one at the Science Museum is a mini individual’s fantasy – Nia in particular could not get enough of this room.
The music room has drums, a keyboard, lots of instruments, and the option to record a CD, plus across the way there’s an art room with easels, tables, and three sinks at various heights to suit even babies. There’s a wall where the kids all draw on it and every few months it gets painted over. They teach classes and run activities in each of these rooms (there’s also a mini people sized kitchen for cookery classes), do face painting, and there’s even a self-contained kindergarten, plus a room that can be used for parties, sensory classes, or exercise. Did I mention that you can even book an appointment in the beauty room?
As a measure of how much we enjoyed it, a few days later we spent Saria’s 3rd birthday there. The boyf is also a fan now and enjoyed watching the cricket on Sky Sports (yawn) with some of the other dads, playing table football and air hockey, ‘making’ music, and romping around with the kids.
It’s a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and yes, there are some very posh folk there and I can imagine there might be some keeping up with the Jones but you can get that anywhere. There’s a lot of nannies, kids wearing white, and it’s frequented by celebrities – we bumped into a very famous band member on our way in. A number of the parents were really chatty and I overheard Dads saying that they escape to the club at the weekend and arranging to meet friends. Normally these places are very oestrogen-centric, but there were lots of dads about when we went which was quite refreshing.
Basic membership starts at Â£28 a week (excludes classes and extras like food), but there are all sorts of membership options, plus a day rate option of Â£40 per child. To be fair, it costs the day rate and more for a child to go to a childminder/nursery in London/Surrey! It’s not in the league of your typical play centre, cost or experience wise, and the best value is to to be had out of membership and living nearby, although it’s certainly great for occasional treat days.
Purple Dragon has tapped into design conscious, play centre weary, experience hunting parent’s desires. It is a ‘posh club’ but it’s more that it totally bucks the trend of jarring primaries, formulaic layouts and giant climbing frames with questionable safety and instead is totally focused on learning and experiencing through play and making the visit a family affair. Sharai has thought of everything and created an amazing concept and is planning to open a club in North London and looking at other spots around the UK and abroad.
Thanks to Sharai, Shosh and the team for having us!