What?: If, like me, you grew up in Harrogate in the nineties, you probably had at least one of your birthday parties at Granby, one of the local secondary schools that rented out its gym on a weekend for the purpose. Granby parties were the best, with massive bouncy castles and a huge capacity that meant you could invite everyone in your class and get all the presents.
The worst thing about them? Having to make a completely impossible decision: did you want a soft-play party or a ‘hard’-play party? Most people went hard, which meant all the classic gym apparatus came out: ropes, horses, those wall-mounted climbing frames that sort of swung open and bolted into the floor; while soft meant a gym filled with ball pools, inflatables and crash mats – basically a knackered parent’s dream.
I hadn’t thought about Granby parties for a good 25 years to be honest, but visiting Toby’s Adventure Club in Streatham brought it aaaall flooding back. Why? Because this place is so cool it has ‘hard’ and soft play. However, contrary to its name and branding, which give it a very ‘kidz’ feel, (and unlike my childhood party spot, which my Mum deemed a once-and-never-again experience), Toby’s is actually pretty adult-friendly.
Think aesthetically pleasing, custom-made wooden apparatus; good coffee and cake delivered to you ‘ringside’ while you keep an eye on the kids; and a nice, chilled vibe that’s massively helped by the widespread presence of baby gates, team of approachable staff, decent baby-change facilities and a downstairs soft-play room where you can go and lie down when you get tired (accompanied by your child of course, it’s not quite that good).
My favourite thing about this place is that it could so easily have been just another generic soft-play centre with a lurid PVC play frame stuck in the corner. But the owners have clearly put a lot of thought into making Toby’s stand out from the crowd, by commissioning local design company Treesaurus to plan and install a bespoke structure loaded with exciting features, including wobbly bridges, an indoor sandpit (albeit currently sandless due to COVID), a climbing wall, a fireman’s pole and a positively thrilling big metal slide (I went on it. It was fun).
Admittedly the soft-play area is essentially a small basement room with a few of those big squashy block things (in lurid PVC) and an assortment of baby toys in it; and we did start to go slightly insane trapped down there for 45 minutes listening to a looped soundtrack of nursery rhymes while our kids ignored our constant insinuations that we should go back upstairs. But at least they were having fun I guess (actually Roma really needed a nap and had a full-on lying-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming tantrum down there, but at least we were basically inside a padded cell so she couldn’t injure herself).
Finally, I can’t really write a review of this place without mentioning the glass floor, which serves the ingenious triple purpose of letting light into the downstairs soft play, adding an element of fun to the reception/cafe area, and encouraging kids to spread out across the centre and use the entire space. It also really freaked out Roma, who is terrified of standing of anything that allows you to see what’s underneath it, so she sort of did this comedic edge round it with her back against the wall, which made me laugh because I’m mean.
When and where?: Toby’s Adventure Club can be found at 66 Streatham High Road and is a three-minute walk from Streatham Hill Station, while parking is in the nearby Horse & Groom pub carpark. Stay-and-play sessions currently take place Monday-Saturday from 9.30-11, 11.30-1 and 1.30-3, and can be booked here.
Price: Free for babies under six months, £2 for babies aged 6-12 months and £5.50 for 1-7s (£5 after the first session). Adults go free.
Facilities: Buggy parking at the front, cafe serving decent food and drink, baby changing, step-free access to ground floor (but not basement).
Best bits: The climbing structure is so cool – like the kind you’d find in a really good playground, but inside.
Worst bits: They didn’t have any oat milk. I’d love it if the soft play was as great as the ‘hard’ play.
Would we come back? Absolutely. Such a good find.
Roro squashes a rabbit hopper in the main play area at Toby’s Adventure Club, Streatham.