Stay, play and tuck into a vegetarian lunch at Burghley Road PlaySpace

What?: Burghley Road had been on my rainy day list for some time and seems to pop up on Hoop every time I look at it. The thing is we’ve had so many crummy stay-and-play experiences I’ve always been a bit reluctant. The council-run ones I felt obligated to attend when Babu was a baby for fear social services would come round if we didn’t were incredibly depressing, and the community ones we rocked up at in desperation back in the days when I was afraid to leave the postcode were generally full of Daily Mail-reading childminders I wanted to throw Stickle Bricks at.

Burghley Road is entirely run by volunteers – most of whom are parents – and aims to provide a support network for the parents and carers who attend. Obviously this is all great stuff, but then when you’re a parent who doesn’t live in the immediate area popping in on a whim, you can’t help feeling a little bit like you’ve gatecrashed a toddler birthday party, no matter how nice and friendly the other parents and carers are. Babu got into a conflict with another girl who kept following her around and trying to take basically every toy she picked up off her, which obviously could have happened absolutely anywhere but made our visit a bit stressful and put me off returning when I deduced she was a regular – because who really needs that on a Thursday afternoon?

The space itself is ok, if rather tired. I wasn’t completely happy about having to leave our buggy outside, even if it is an old, knackered piece of crap, and there didn’t seem to be a huge amount of toys around, save for an admittedly pretty well-stocked dressing-up rail and a couple of naked baby dolls (you know things are pretty bad when another kid asks to play with the doll you brought from home instead). That said, the walls had been fairly recently painted with bold geometric designs, which looked great, and the ball pool and outdoor play area were good, even if the climbing frame was covered with sheets of ice that Babu ended up hurling at the floor rather than actually using any of the play equipment.

Babu enjoyed the loo-roll-crocodile-making activity that had been set out on the craft table (which later became the lunch table) and snacks both healthy and less so were included in the entry fee. We didn’t bother with lunch (vegetable pasta) – partly because we didn’t arrive early enough to order and partly because Babu doesn’t eat anything that isn’t entirely beige – but I still think it’s brilliant that they provide a cheap, nutritious lunch for less discriminating children and adults. We ended up spending an hour here before we got a bit stressed out and left in favour of an awful nearby play cafe where we lasted five minutes and then jumped on a bus home. I mean in theory I love the idea behind this place and the world probably needs more of them, but the reality was somewhat lacklustre.

Where?: Burghley Road Under-5s Community Centre can be found at 23 1/2 Burghley Road and is a four-minute walk from Turnpike Lane tube.

Best Bits: Brilliant if you’re a local looking for a cheap toddler hangout and a chance to make new friends.

Worst Bits: It’s a bit rough around the edges, though I can’t really begrudge them that since it’s obviously run on an incredibly tight budget.

Facilities: Outdoor (covered) buggy parking, step-free access, baby changing, food available to buy.

Price: Entrance costs £3 per adult and child then £1 extra for each additional child. Lunch costs £3 per adult and £1 per child.

Would We Come Back?: Probably not, though I’m sure we would if we lived nearby.

Babu the pirate investigates the ball pool at Burghley Road PlaySpace, Turnpike Lane.