What?: Ah, Purple Dragon. The kids’ hangout by which all kids’ hangouts are judged (and that almost none live up to). We were recently invited back to this magical place, to spend the day, enjoy the facilities and just generally chill, and picked a full day right at the end of December as a lovely end-of-year treat. Since Purple Dragon is described as a “family club” we thought it’d be fun to hang out as a full family of four for once, to see what the club offers for small babies and older toddlers as well as adults, and to give me a bit of a break from trying to wrangle a strong-minded three year old and a giant runaway baby on my own.
We arrived late morning and, after tucking all our stuff away in the roomy “Buggy Stable”, we decided to head straight to the restaurant for an early lunch: smashed avocado and feta on toast for me, some kind of chicken thing for Bab Dad, kids’ sausage and mash for Babu and a selection of vegetable sides for Roro. It was ridiculously yummy and way more than we’d normally eat at 11.30am, but it was exactly the fuel we needed for all the crawling around in the soft play we were about to do – because everyone knows an hour of soft play makes for a much more intense workout than your average session down the gym.
I took Babu to the toilets where we had fun using adjoining ‘big’ and ‘little’ loos (honestly, you can’t even imagine the japes), after which she made a head start on the soft play while I headed back to the restaurant for coffee. This was such a luxury since it’s usually a case of “one child’s done with lunch so we’re all done with lunch”, but here the reassuringly on-it reception staff and security doors coupled with the presence of ‘play buddies’, PD’s brilliant team of staff who are all poised for improvised play and rounding up wanderers, mean letting even a young toddler trot off to explore on their own doesn’t feel horribly irresponsible. Bab Dad was initially a bit hesitant in case Babu lost us and freaked out, but he needn’t have worried since literally five minutes after I’d left her outside the loos she casually pulled into the restaurant in a Cozy Coupe dressed like Iris Apfel, so I think it’s fair to say she was fairly comfortable here.
After lunch we decided we’d just follow the girls’ lead, beginning in the music room where Babu had a bang around on the electric drum kit – accompanied by a would-be Elton John on the purple baby grand piano – while Roro got stuck into the percussion fruit basket – also with her own play buddy to jam with. Actually it sounds weird since I constantly complain about having to do everything myself but I actually really hate other people looking after my kids unless they’re related to them or I’ve specifically instructed/paid them to do so, which is why I love the approach to childcare here since the staff are basically there to pick up as much slack as you need them to, without anyone having to have an awkward conversation about it.
Another thing that’s oddly great here is the soft play, because everyone knows soft play is the Devil but somehow here it manages to be lovely and – crucially – clean, with an aesthetically pleasing colour scheme and a smallish but exciting multi-level setup featuring an all-white ball pool, trampoline, orange tube slide and even the front of a model Spitfire poking out of its entrance. In this area you’ll also find a curious wall of tubes where you can insert a ball-pool ball, press a button and watch it shoot off through a tube and into the air, as well as a giant magnetic pipe game, a foam-shape building area and a row of Little Tikes vehicles that toddlers are free to ride wherever they please. Freedom – for everyone involved – is a key theme at PD.
Next up was the art room for some very messy, painty easel work, at Babu’s request, though one of the Play Buddies was also leading a structured craft activity at the communal table. Kids are also always free to help themselves to art room supplies as if they were at home, so they don’t always have to feel like they have to join in with whatever everyone else is doing if they’d rather just do their own thing. Likewise if they’re the kind of kid who loves getting involved there always seems to be something exciting happening in some corner of the club, whether it’s a singalong in the music room, a puppet show in the Imaginarium or a game that’s just spontaneously happened. Basically, it’s completely impossible to be bored.
If you do fancy a quiet moment though, the Imaginarium’s your best bet. The first room you come to when you pass through the club’s glass doors and past the hypnotic fish tank in the entrance hall, this vast space packs in plenty to occupy little ones, as well as offering adults a comfy ringside seat where they can grab a coffee and a minute to themselves whilst keeping an eye on the kids. Here you’ll find Liquorice Allsort mini soft play and play tables dripping with train sets and construction toys, a kids’ library packed with with ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ titles, and a huge, cushion-filled chillout pod suspended from the centre of the space to read them in. There’s a superhero dress-up area decorated with comic-strip wallpaper, desk-mounted tablets loaded with fun yet educational games, a home corner where they can catch up on the housework, and a beautiful playhouse that’s set up as a grocer’s. I kept thinking that a play cafe half the size of this room with even half the facilities would be amazing, but the Imaginarium is just a tiny portion of the PD offer.
So what didn’t we do? Well, not a lot to be honest but there were a few things that even we, the masters of shoehorning 50 things into one day, couldn’t quite manage. We bypassed the cookery room, where kids can concoct two different delectable dishes every day during supervised sessions. I actually think this would have been right up Babu’s street, but by the time it’d occurred to us we were edging dangerously close to rush hour and both kids were totally exhausted, so there was sadly no homemade milkshake and pastry for Babu. We’d already decided to give swimming a miss on this occasion since we’d taken a dip on a previous visit and we thought it might be one activity too many, but it’s such a lovely pool I kind of instantly regretted not bringing our things. Oh and the final thing I really wanted to do but didn’t because I was obviously meant to be having an “experience” and “being present” etc. was to sack the whole thing off and hide from my family in one of amazing relaxation pods whilst necking copious volumes of coffee and binge-watching Messiah. But hey, one day…
Where?: Purple Dragon can be found at 30 Gatliff Road, Grosvenor Waterside. It’s around a 15-minute walk from both Victoria and Sloane Square stations.
Best Bits: It’s really, really hard to pinpoint one thing, but I have to say I was pretty impressed by the baby-changing room with nappy dispensers spitting out pull-ups in every size.
Worst Bits: A serious amount of work (and, obviously, money) has very clearly gone into ensuring that there are no bad bits.
Facilities: Buggy park, swimming pool, baby changing with nappies etc., restaurant, chill-out spaces, child and adult toilets, step-free access, soft play, cooking room, art room, music room, library/lounge.
Cost: Price on application. Membership includes a joining fee and an annual membership fee.
Would We Come Back?: If I lived in West London, wasn’t the sort of person who likes to do something different and every day and didn’t run a kids’ activity blog I would seriously consider joining, and I can completely see why people are happy to splash the cash on this place, even if they’re not super rich. Everything just feels so easy and lovely here, and to be honest – with two young kids in tow – that feeling is pretty rare.
Disclaimer: this was a gifted experience (except for lunch, which we paid for), but my reviews are always completely (sometimes painfully) honest.
Babu takes charge of the grocery store in the Imaginarium, Purple Dragon Chelsea.