Hangouts

Float around in an origami boat at the Westfield Biodiversity Playground

There's plenty of sensory stuff for super-tinies, with lily pads to bounce on and chimes to beat the crap out of

What?: A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our traumatic experience at the emphatically awful and questionably named Playworld, a drop-in 0-5s area at Westfield’s White City centre. Despite it taking the cake for the worst experience we’ve had since we began our Bablands adventure, and the fact that we both picked up some kind of gross clammy child lurgy that we’ve still yet to shift, we stood undeterred, and yesterday we journeyed to the opposite end of the Ginger Line to find out if what was on offer at Westfield’s Stratford centre was any better. Spoiler: it was.

While Stratford trumps White City’s solitary play area with its choice of not one, not two, but three play zones, two of these are almost identical to the latter’s crappy Playworld, which, in case you need reminding, is basically a few square feet of fenced-off filth containing a rubbish slide, a pointless tunnel and not a lot else besides a few pieces of litter that previous users had kindly left behind. Looking on the bright side, at least having two of these play-prisons halved the number of children and the amount of dirt that was lurking in them, and there seemed to be fewer broken bits than in the White City centre.

But let’s not waste any more virtual ink on Playworld, because the outdoor Biodiversity Playground is a million times more exciting than its sad rainy-day sibling. Imaginatively designed to resemble a pond and its diverse inhabitants, the playground incorporates conventional park apparatus into exciting and unexpected forms. Older kids can disappear into the belly of a giant koi fish before making their escape via the climbing wall, while smaller ones will love the origami boats with their sloping decks to balance on and mini slides to launch themselves down. There’s also plenty of sensory stuff for super-tinies, with springy lily pads to bounce on, chimes to beat the crap out of and distortion mirrors for kids who like nothing better than to gawk at their own reflections – which is all kids, right?

Where?: Opposite the bafflingly titled Stratford International Station, whose trains actually only go as far as Kent. If you’re coming from Stratford Underground (Central, Jubilee), Overground or DLR you can get to the Biodiversity Playground by walking straight through Westfield’s lower ground floor and out the other side.

Facilities: None in the playground itself although Westfield boasts baby-changing and feeding rooms aplenty, as well as step-free access and billions of child-friendly eateries. The sign on the gate told us to leave our buggy outside the playground, which we blatantly weren’t going to do given that it was loaded with purchases from our shopping trip. We’re not total morons.

Best Bits: Just look at Bab’s face. I live for that face.

Worst Bits: Obviously this is one for the warmer months. In winter you’ll just have to put up with Playchamber or whatever the hell it’s called. Also ‘Biodiversity Playground’ is a bit of a misnomer given that the only thing relating to biodiversity is the fact that the apparatus is shaped like stuff you might find down the bottom of your garden. Yes everything’s made of wood and there are a few plants and things dotted about but I was kind of expecting more, like some kind of local environmental youth initiative or something. If this is happening they’re not telling anyone about it.

Cost: Free, and so it should be. I’m pretty sure Westfield can afford it.

Would We Come Back?: Yes, this is bloody brilliant. Shopping centres are heinous hubs of misery and should be legally obligated to provide post-shop playgrounds where kids can scream their little heads off. Maybe they could also build ones for adults with brick walls to bang our heads against and gin rivers to drown in.

uk.westfield.com

Bab has the time of her little life in a bouncy lily at the Biodiversity Playground, Westfield Stratford

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