Boing! Softplay Family Centre was devised and established by the Head of Children's Centre at Lockleaze Primary School & Early Years Centre (later becoming Stoke Park Children’s Centre), and was launched at the Blake Centre, just off Gainsborough Square, in August 2011. This followed the success of many groups and activities run by the Children’s Centre on their main site which they shared with the local primary school. However, it was also in response to certain issues that had been picked up through talking with our families. Some families couldn't attend the Stay & Play group because it finished at 11.30am and their son or daughter napped until 11am. Others didn't want to come to a school site because they had had such a bad education experience themselves or because, since they didn't have a existing relationship with the school/children's centre, they didn't think they were allowed.
We felt that there was scope for something including a cafe that could be open most of the day, whilst older children were at school, that could support parents/carers in the most simple fashion. Despite a general dislike of softplay, it was felt that this could work really well as it would attract the children and enable them to play independently giving us time to talk to and build relationships with parents/carers. We knew that to transform any softplay dislike into love the place would have to be, at the very least, well-organised and clean.
The Blake Centre - an old ramshackle prefabricated building (which leaked constantly, was freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer!) was the go-to place for that support over the next 3 years. We saw hundreds of families locally, from the wider north Bristol area and from as far away as Portishead, Weston-super-Mare and Newport.
However, we knew that the life of the Blake Centre was short and almost immediately, if this project was going to last, that we would have to search for a more long-term location. We were successful with several funding applications and that enabled us to work with United Communities Housing Association and Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust to buy land at the top of Gainsborough Square and build the Hub and Fedden Buildings. Cutting a (very) long (rollercoaster of a) story short, Boing! moved to the Hub in September 2014 where it has been since.
(As a brief aside, this whole project was a massive catalyst for change in Lockleaze with the renovation of Gainsborough Square happening shortly afterwards, further investment for housing in the community and also the exciting journey to getting a brand new £25 million secondary school - Trinity Academy - in Lockleaze).
Boing Bristol CIC took over the management of Boing! in September 2017 and, following huge reductions in funding, redundancies and massive changes to the children's centre world in April 2018, took on the ownership of it.
It's a very interesting model - one that pays for itself as well as increasing footfall to an area and helping young families at the same time. The future looks interesting especially as we are now looking to expand to the south of the city. Watch this space for further details.
We so want to thank the various people and organisations who have helped us reach this point. It's been an exciting journey and, hopefully, there's more to come. A big thanks to all of you - we couldn't have done it without you.
People: Our families who are customers but also friends - too numerous to mention, Gareth Simons, Becky Storey, Georgie Batt, Jennie Cope, Alicia Myrie, Elise Dyer, Jade Sheeley/Dennison, Alex Wood, Becky Tossell/Bradly, Andrew Street, Sarah Hardiman, Rachel Varley, Alice Watson, Bob Smith, Anne Jelf, Suzanne Wilson, Jess Higgins, Katharine Futak, Hayley Cremen, Carly Jenkins, Louise Turner, Beth Hall/Dobson, Sharon Reddrop, Amy Reddrop, Joshua Reddrop, Matt Doherty, Jacqui Tarr, Keli Bateman, Hannah Welch, Carole Sudworth, Ann Watts, Sally Jaeckle, James Harding, Shaine Graham, Rachel Lilley, Jess Hardiman, Cheyanne Dempster, Pippa Hawkins, Sofina Malik, Afsana Kauser, Harriet Winfrey, Hannah Walker, Claire Talbot, Jess Jones, Matt Godfrey, Joe Doran, Maria Damsell, Nicole Bontemps, Mavis Williams (RIP), Natalie May (RIP), Val Knight (RIP), Val Harvey, Pauline Brake, Chris Woods, Gio Smith, Poppi Toon, Alice Green, Becca Huttley, Maggie Thomas-Ellis, Jessie Leitch, Jessi Viljoen, Steph Norton, Lizzie Bond, Hannah Sharpe, Sean Emmett, Gill Kirk, Estella Tincknell.
So sorry if there's anyone we've missed - do get in touch (we'd love to hear from you) and we'll add you to this board of honour.
Organisations: Stoke Park Primary School, Bristol Public Health, Quartet Community Foundation, Seedbed Christian Trust, Little Foxes Forest School, Bristol City Council, North Bristol Children's Centre, Probation Service, Bristol Cathedral School/Cathedral Schools Trust.