“ Address: Unit 6 / All Saints Industrial Estate / Shildon / County Durham / DL4 2RD / Tel: 01388 779477 „
I've visited a few soft play centres around the North East and The Play Shack in Shildon, County Durham, has become the favourite to take my three year old to. So, why do I like it?
It's Big. It's Clean. It's good value for money. It's fun.
Based in a warehouse on an industrial estate, the shack claims to have 13,000 square feet of space across the multi-level soft play area. There are three separate play areas which are; baby and toddler, football zone and the main play area which is for children up to the age of 12, with a maximum height of 4' 10".
It's bright and cheerful with a colour theme of yellow, green and orange.
There are plenty of tables and chairs around for the adults to sit at. The website tells me there is seating for 200 although I don't know how it would feel if there were that many actually in there, extremely loud probably as it's in a very echo prone building. I've seen it moderately busy and quite quiet, which is how I prefer it.
*The Baby and Toddler area - This is quite small and only really little children go in here. Through the entrance is a ball pit and a low second level can be climbed to with a small slide to take the children back down. Nearby is an assortment of toddler toys such as a playhouse, a building table full of lego and several construction toys.
There are plenty of other toys dotted around, several trikes, bouncy hoppers and walkers as well as smaller toys. On my last visit there seemed to be a proliferation of plastic flashy toys around that had run out of batteries. These are all included in the price but there are also a handful of slot rides, the kind you see outside supermarkets, and a £2 'win every time' crane toy grab machine.
High chairs and baby walkers are provided and there are little seats and tables provided too. My daughter likes the novelty of having a special sized table for her and a friend rather than having to sit up with the adults, makes less mess too.
*The Football Zone - This is basically a small pitch with netting all around and inbuilt goalposts and nets. Balls are provided. I don't think anyone would come here just to play a game of football, but there are often kids/parents having a kick around in here and/or playing with some of the other toys in there too. It's likely that if a game of football starts other children may run in to either join in or add their own interpretation of the game, it seems a bit too chaotic for a proper game of footie.
*Main Play Area - This is on three levels. There are two big slides; a closed spiral slide, (also called the 540 Degree Tube Slide), and a three lane astra slide which is one of those bumpy types. There are all the usual soft play features - rope bridges, ball pools, rope and ball slides - I think these type of slides are called gliders, not sure though, and there's also a dark den area called the spooky corner and an area full of huge bouncy balls to roll around on. There are a few rules of play which are basically common sense - don't take food or drink into the play area, no shoes, socks must be worn, no sharp objects... etc etc
Although my daughter is still small enough to go in the baby and toddler zone, she generally plays in the bigger area which is recommended for over fives but usually has lots of under fives in there too. There haven't been that many older children around on the occasions I've visited. Certainly through the week, during term time there are only under fives around in any case, so they have the run of the place. I don't have any qualms over the safety levels as I can see what she is up to almost all of the time and I can always go in there. There doesn't seem to be any issue with parents playing on the equipment with their young children. I wasn't sure at first if this might be frowned on, but it seems rather to be the norm. The rules do say that all children should be supervised, so I suppose that's one way of doing it, (of course I don't actually want to go down the astra slide!). My daughter loves it and will specifically ask to go to 'Shildon soft play' as opposed to others we sometimes go to.
*The Cafe - The cafe serves reasonably priced food and drinks. A mug of tea or coffee will only set you back a quid, but I have to say the instant coffee is really not very nice - there are a several types of coffee available but I haven't tried any others yet. A sandwich which comes with salad and chips is only £2.85, but again I didn't think much of the chips - too big and a bit burnt both times I've had them. A 'Kids Combo' for two to share is £5.55 and consists of Chicken nuggets, fish fingers, sausages and chips. I have found that children won't really sit down and have lunch in here, it's too distracting, so maybe it would be an idea to get a plate of something like this at lunchtime and just let your children pick at it, not the healthiest option, but if it's only once in a while, why not. I would say the healthiest things on the menu are the jacket potatoes with a choice of toppings. There are veggie burgers too, or rather Dalepak grills in a bun - vegetarians will know what I mean, these are often served as veggie burgers in eating establishments and I'm always disappointed when that's what turns up on my plate. Still, it's not somewhere you would go for a meal, but if you're there a few hours it would be nice to get something half decent, rather than chocolate bars, sweets or crisps, which are also available.
*Toilets - I have found that although basically clean they can get a bit messy later in the day. I suppose that's inevitable with hordes of children trampling through them all day long, but I think it could be kept on top of a little better. There are baby changing facilities in the disabled toilet, well okay, not actually in the toilet, but in the same room.
Extras - There is a magazine rack for neglected parents to leaf through. There are themed party rooms, I believe one of these is an under sea room, another is castle themed, but I haven't been in so I can't say much about them. There are letters on the notice board from children and parents saying thank-you for the great parties they've had there, (the cynical side of me imagines staff members faking children's handwriting).
Last time I visited there were notices up telling of a couple of forthcoming dates when the centre will close at 4.30 for parties. I would have been annoyed if I turned up on the day and found this to be the case. I think these details should really be posted on the website so people can check up before they go.
*Price - On a weekend the entrance per child is on a scale from £3.25 to £3.75. This is meant to be for a two hour session, but if it's not busy the time is basically unlimited. I've certainly spent longer than two hours in here before. It isn't the cheapest soft play around, but considering the amount of entertainment and the length of time you can spend in there it's cheap enough entertainment for a rainy day. Under one's go in for free.
Where you really get value for money though is on weekdays. There are parent and toddler sessions from 10 'til 2 on weekdays during term-time. These cost £2.50 and the price includes a cuppa for the adult(s) and juice and a biscuit for the child(ren). I think this is amazing value. (Get the tea though - that's passable.)
There is a loyalty card scheme, which is basically a case of getting a card stamped on five occasions in order to get a free sixth visit.
Overall I think this is one of the best, (maybe the best), soft play centres in the North East. The equipment seems to be well maintained and clean, which hasn't been the case in other centres I've visited. There are lots of extra toys. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, the staff seem happy in their jobs. The food could be improved and the toilets kept up a bit better, but I'd still say that on balance it's good enough for four Dooyoo stars.
Anything not covered here should be on the website at http://www.theplayshack.co.uk