Kool kids Chelmsford - Uninspired soft play
I can never remember if this place is called Kool Kids Chelmsford (complete with atrocious spelling) or Jungle Gym. For reasons lost to the midst of time, I’ve referred to it as both for as long as I remember, as have friends and family. Whatever the official name, it is the masonic lodge equivalent of soft play areas.
Kool Kids Chelmsford is hidden in plain sight but rarely talked about unless you actually go there. Although you don’t quite have to offer a secret handshake to get through the door, you need to know where it is as it’s not advertised.
I hope that by revealing its location as Riverside Ice and Leisure, I’m not breaking some mystical long-standing oath. It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.
This afternoon my 11-year-old announced she was going swimming with a friend (oh and, by the way, could I pay for her please?) and the 13-year-old mumbled something incoherently in the way that young teenagers do (but I translated the various grunts and mutterings of displeasure to mean that she had plans with friends). Therefore, I found myself with only the seven-year-old and nine-year-old to amuse, and it was in the midst of a nice, free outdoor activity that the youngest two announced they wanted to go to Kool Kids.
It’s my own fault, really. After planning an afternoon of strolling by the river, complete with half a loaf of stale bread to feed the ducks, I forgot to plan ahead.
The route took us right past the leisure centre. Given the weather conditions in recent weeks have been non-stop rain, the river was quite high and fast flowing, and the ducks had all abandoned their usual haunts. So, armed with half a loaf of slightly green Hovis, and two junior school children bending my ear, I acquiesced and agreed to go inside.
Stepping foot inside, I was pleased that I didn’t have to resort to rolling up a trouser leg, showing off a nipple or any other masonic clichés.
Set over three floors, the play area is split into two sections: the under-3s section which has a massive ball pool and a small slide, as well as an open area with various soft shapes that the kids can play around with, and a bigger section for the older kids. The latter has all the things you’d expect and is completely separate from the smaller area.
The slide starts three floors up and goes all the way to the big ball pit at the bottom. There are vertical and horizontal sponge rollers for the kids to squeeze through, as well as soft staircases all the way through. On a couple of levels, there are punchbags dressed as penguins and various other animals that the kids can barge their way through, and that’s as far as the excitement extends.
The cost of entry was £3.30 each for the kids, which includes a discount for using the Chelmsford Borough Council Leisure Plus card (free for kids under the age of 16) as opposed to £3.50 for non-cardholders though these prices both reduce by 50p during term time weekdays. Adults, thankfully, get in for free. The entry price allows an hour of play though it’s not uncommon to stay for longer, simply as no-one ever checks.
This is another place that I’ve been coming to for about a decade. In that time, I’ve known it to close for refits and refurbs, but all they seem to do is to recover the soft play areas.
The actual room itself has barely changed in that time, and although the pull swing has been removed, the layout is the same at is has always been. Once upon a time it was staffed and you were able to buy food here, but now the room is unmanned, and food has to be purchased from the cafe by the reception, which is a pain when you have kids with you, especially if you’re the only adult.
My two enjoyed their time here, but it was noticeable that they were ready to leave after an hour or so, when at many other soft play areas they will stay as long as I’ll let them, often making me resort to having to drag them out kicking and screaming. It’s also worth pointing out that the seven-year-old spent some time weighing up if it was possible to take a camel on a plane, and what would happen if you did, so to say he can be easily amused is an understatement.
t that’s as interesting as it gets. If you go here, make sure your phone battery is charged or you have a good book with you. The room that the play area is situated in is quite small, and although lovely and cool in the Summer, it suffers from being bloody cold at Winter, and I spent the afternoon with my coat on in there earlier.
The biggest downside for me is the frequency at which they close the play area. Quite often we’ve turned up to find a note at the entrance to the leisure centre declaring that “The Kool Kids play area is closed for a private party.”
The disappointment in the faces of the kids when they see this is only outweighed by the glee on mine. I don’t know any other place that does this locally, and though I can see the benefit if you’re booking a party for your kids, it’s a pain to the general public. As far as I can see, these private sessions are not advertised on the website, so it’s difficult to plan ahead.
All in all, Kool Kids is perfectly adequate to kill an hour or two with young kids, but it’s not going to inspire you to want to return too often.
It’s a beacon of the apathy that the City excels in, in terms of decent play areas for kids, and though this trend seems to be turning a little with at least three new play areas opening in quick succession over the past few months, it’s more hope than expectation that leads me to believe the established brands will start pulling their socks up and improving their offering.