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We’re heading into the winter limbo of childcare; the promise of new Christmas toys to keep your children entertained is still weeks away and the weather is a relentless form of grey perma-damp, making impromptu trips to the park harder and harder. Sure you’ve given them the tablets for three hours, they’ve watched Netflix for two hours, played Fortnite online for four hours – but that still leaves a few waking hours before bed. To get you through the home stretch do you reach for the iPad to keep them entertained or, as the walls slowly close in, do you concede that that some form of physical activity is preferable?
No judgement either way, but if it’s latter then take heed, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite Preston haunts I visited during paternity leave a couple of years ago. I should note this list is in no way comprehensive so if you don’t see your favourite play centre listed, rest assured either I haven’t been or I have been and genuinely feared for my child’s safety there.
Although tucked away on Lodge Street, Mini’s (formerly Mini Magees) is still fairly centrally located. On first glance, it seems the ratio of tables to play equipment is somewhat skewed towards tables but frankly, I’ve never been to a play centre and wished there were fewer places to sit. The layout is such that you could be reading a book, arguing pointlessly with strangers on Facebook or just crumpled over, face-down resting with both eyes clamped shut and in most cases you’d still be able to locate your children at a glance.
The attractions are fairly standard soft-play regulars; obstacles to clamber over, a fairly well equipped mock kitchen area and those God awful ball pits where each individual ball acts as a disease vector. However, it wasn’t called Mini Magees for nothing and, like a Netto-brand costumed Mickey Mouse, Magee will periodically make an appearance high-fiving and delighting children. Magee’s entrance is announced by the song ‘Superman’ by Black Lace, and Magee will lead any and all children in a dance routine. Honestly, it’s a spectacle of which I never grew tired.
Although they offer fairly standard kids meal fare, the adult menu is surprisingly edible. Further to this, their home-made cakes and flapjacks had me heading back to the counter so often I sometimes actually felt physically uncomfortable. I can give no higher praise than that. Actually, yes I can, it’s also the most modestly priced out of all the venues listed here.
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The newer kid on the block for kids entertainment is the 1950s American diner themed Billy Bob’s Parlour, located in Myerscough. Demarcated into two distinct play areas, the outdoor section is wholly dedicated to expansive wooden framed vehicles and playhouses for the kids to climb, and precariously dangle and swing from. It is somewhat exposed to the elements, which is something to bear in mind as winter has its wicked ways with our hypothalamus. However there is a good selection of hot and cold drinks, ice creams and American diner staples, which help stave off the elements and ensure Billy Bob’s does more than merely nod at its charmingly gaudy 50s Americana theme.
The indoor section is a hay-lined and covered activity barn but beware, rampaging kids will kick so much debris into the air you’ll feel like you’ve arranged a day out in an old hoover bag. Further to this, the immensely tactile nature of all the attractions (rope swings buffered with hay bales, sled slides, zip-lines and a rope powered bucking bronco which will enthral your child and dislocate the shoulder of the adult operating it) means you’ll want to keep a very close eye on younger children (I know you’re supposed to anyway but… come on). No pain no gain though and the occasional face-plant aside, my children have never been less than utterly engaged whilst playing inside here.
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Trampolines have a reputation for injury; Fusion (formerly Energi) on Queens Shopping Park is not blind to this, which is why you’ll immediately be presented with a legal disclaimer and a brief safety presentation on arrival. Upon entering though, it’s all fairly benign – no more harmful in most cases than the casual athletics most four year olds manage on your sofas at home. Bouncing is, objectively, an extremely satisfying way of getting around and the large grid layout and variety of levels here give plenty of opportunity to bound skyward at almost any angle and punch the very face of gravity itself.
While ostensibly the central attraction is a sky rail that propels and rag-dolls your child on a ceiling mounted aerial track reaching speeds you wouldn’t usually want to see seven year olds moving at, my personal favourite is the long series of steps that you can climb near the back. Once you reach the top you simply fall off it on to a padded mat. Simple but effective.
The party food is of a reasonable standard too, with pizzas being a cut above the anaemic Tesco Everyday Value cheese and tomato style usually spewed out at these places. However, this does come with a cost premium, which is something to bear in mind if your child is popular and needs to invite a lot of friends for a birthday.
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With no less than four outdoor play areas you can access without charge (including a sandpit area), a nature trail, climbing frame and a mini zoo, it’d be a crime to omit Ribby Hall. Honestly, the only reason it hasn’t placed higher is that it’s a 25 minute drive from my house and I’m a lazy, lazy man. There’s also a suite of exercise classes for kids and adults though these require membership. That said, given the current price of admission for West View Leisure Centre, this could be worth it for the access to the two swimming pools alone, they’re maybe a little well attended (though rarely uncomfortably so) but also well maintained, which not every swimming pool in Preston can claim.
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Where is your favourite play area to take the kids? Let us know in the comments.