What’s on in West Essex this weekend: Saturday 8 – 9 August 2015

It looks like a warm and sunny weekend ahead, so here are a few ideas for fun family-friendly activities to enjoy in the open air in the local area.

Not content with hosting the UK’s largest urban beach this summer (you can read my review of Beach East here) the Olympic park is going all out with a whole weekend of free kids activities suitable for a wide range of ages. There’ll be music and aerial and acrobatic circus performances from NoFit State’s Open House, the UK’s leading large-scale contemporary circus company. They’ll also be hosting introductory workshops and performing impromptu stunts so catch them at 4pm on Saturday, 11am and 2.45pm on Sunday at the South Park Lawn.

Folk Dance Remixed

Folk Dance Remixed

If your kids are more into dance, then they’ll love the Folk Dance Remixed Festival, a mash up of popular dances to live music. It is promising to be a high energy and unique mash up of maypole, clogging, ceilidh, street, house and breakdance with a hint of African and Bollywood, to a live soundtrack of fiddle & beat boxing. There’ll also be a special native Māori performance as well as dance workshops on both Saturday and Sunday between 1pm-5pm at the Fountain Room, South of the Park.

As part of Taste The Music, across both days there will also be a whole host of performances and free music taster workshops rom samba style drumming to reggae vocal sessions. And if that’s not enough, the Arcola Theatre will be performing Bella Bartok’s famous Opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, in the scenic parklands using puppets as well as professional opera singers.

And I love the sound of the Giant Storytelling Snail, home of two eccentric storytellers Sheldon and Shelby, who travel the lands and gather stories as they go. They will actually be at the Olympic Park for the whole of August with daily storytelling trails at 12pm and 3pm but they will also open their home for reading, colouring and drawing all day. This weekend it will be open from 10am-6pm and the Snail will be opposite the Timber Lodge and Tumbling Bay Playground in the north of the Park.
Further information: Go East Fest website

Although Marsh Farm is a bit further away in Chelmsford, there is loads going on at their Kids Fest it looks worth the trip. They are billing it as Glastonbury for kids with lots of favourite characters and children’s TV personalities on stage. Your children will no doubt recognise Mr Bloom from CBeebies and apparently quite a few mums admit to a little crush (I hear he’s also starring in Hollyoaks too, anyway I digress). There will also be Lloyd from Disney’s Art Attack, Mad Science, Shaun the Sheep, Happy’s Circus, Hupsilly Hill and all the Partymen. There will also be bubbles, the biggest inflatable village in the South East, dinosaurs, Punch and Judy, Horse World, robots and lots more. The ticket price also includes entrance to the farm and if you’re quick you can currently buy tickets for 20% off (making them £19.99) via the Little Bird website.
Further information: Marsh Farm website

Rescheduled from 21 June, between 1pm – 4pm children can learn Learn bushcraft skills such as fire lighting, den building and the responsible use of knives. Suitable for ages 5-15 the event is free but you do need to book in advance so hopefully there are still places – call 020 7332 1911
Further information: Epping Forest website


Sorcerers apprentice poster

And although this isn’t strictly on this weekend, I thought it was worth pointing out that an open air play suitable for children is on this Wednesday at the The Temple Enclosure in Wanstead Park. We went last year to see George’s Marvellous Medicine by the same theatre company and even though th little one was a bit small he enjoyed it and I loved it. It’s a great event to go to, just pack a picnic and an umbrella (we got rained on a bit last year but it was still great). This year the play is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the traditional tale of a lazy wizard’s apprentice and his runaway ensorcelled broom. A play promising more water than you’ve ever seen on stage before! Gates open at 2pm and the performance starts at 3pm.
More information: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice booking website

As ever I’d love to hear what you think if you visit any of the events listed, so feel free to add a comment below or tweet me @westessexmums.

Wanstead Park: The bluebells are here!

Boy walking in Bluebell Wood Wanstead Park

When we first moved to the area, I was pregnant and living in a temporary flat in Leytonstone waiting for our house purchase to go through. I remember heading to Wanstead Park when I went on maternity leave hoping that what people said about a long walk might really bring on labour.

Long walks proved to be completely ineffectual, but I did get to happen upon the Bluebell Trail in Wantsead Park completely by chance and was overwhelmed by how beautiful it is. It felt like stumbling on a little secret (it’s often very quiet in the week) and it’s quite magical in among the fragrant woodland with the carpet of blue in all directions. I remember thinking that I’d bring our son there one day to run around the bluebells and this year he was finally old enough to toddle about. If you live locally at all, I would definitely recommend a visit but be quick as part of their appeal is that the bluebells are only around for another few weeks.

Bluebells in Wanstead Park

We’ve become regular in Wanstead Park now and it’s always worth visiting the little cafe where they sell home made cakes, tea in proper mugs and what I think is the best 99 flake around. (Trust me, I like ice cream a lot and have sampled my fair share but the ice cream here is properly creamy rather than full of air and the portions are very generous.) It’s just by the lake, a short walk from the temple and has lots of chairs and benches to watch the world go by. Although, watch out for the geese as they can be a bit over-friendly or aggressive depending on your outlook!

cafe in Wanstead Park

And if you live anywhere near the Bluebell Railway in Sussex then now is the time for a trip. The Bluebell Specials run until the 8th May and you can ride in a special 1918 observation steam train through the countryside with full panoramic views of the bluebells.  I haven’t been since I was little and I’m desperate to take the Little One as he is obsessed with trains but I’m not sure we can fit it in this year – it’s definitely on the list for next year.

Wanstead Park website

Bluebell Railway website

Local Lowdown: How you can support the renovation of Wanstead playground

The Little One and I regularly visit the playground in Wanstead. The park is such a lovely place to  see the seasons change and the nearby Larder coffee shop on the high street is the perfect place for a coffee with its handy play area to keep the Little One amused. Its location means that the playground is always busy at all times of day throughout the year. So I was really interested to hear about the campaign to renovate the equipment in the park and I’ve asked the people behind it to share some more information.

Firstly, tell us about the campaign to renovate Wanstead Playground – what are you hoping to achieve?

The playground is in a terrible state. Everyone who visits is really surprised by how tired the equipment is, especially compared to neighbouring boroughs. We have two plans – firstly, to replace the piece by the gate with the bridge – it’s one of the oldest and nearing the end of its life. We would also renovate the tractor and the climbing frame, buy new swing seats, new picnic tables and replace the old horse. The second plan is to completely renovate the whole playground.

What changes exactly do you think are needed?

The playground has been added to whenever the council has money, rather than in a planned way. The swings would never be placed in the middle and the barriers are useless. The whole area just needs to be looked at as a whole.

Why is it so important that these improvements are done?

The playground is heavily used. Even when it’s tipping down with rain or freezing cold, there are children here. People travel for miles because it’s so welcoming. Snaresbrook is also one of the boroughs most deprived areas in terms of play provision, so we really need it to work.

Why isn’t the council doing the refurbishments?

They just don’t have the money. They need to cut £120million from their budgets and they didn’t have capacity in their budgets before this. The playground has been in a sorry state for years. Previous parents fund raised for the tractor. The local councillors paid for the rope swing, but since that was installed, their budgets have been slashed too.

This campaign is being run by the Wanstead Playground Association, who are your members?

Our membership is open to anyone who uses the playground. Our trustees are Sarah Boud, Chair, Nicola Jarratt, Secretary, Danielle Palmer, Treasurer and Louise Meenaghan, all local mums, Darrell Toakley, Chair of Wanstead Business Network and Scott Wilding, Chair of The Wanstead Society.

And finally, how can people get involved and show their support?

We’ve had enormous support from the community already. Our Singalong Frozen sold out in six hours and our Wanstead Comedy Night playground fundraiser sold lout in 24 hours. We’ve almost reached half of our crowd funding target and you can donate here: Spacehive (crowd funding) spacehive.com/wansteadplayground

 To find out more and get involved via social media:

If, like me, you regularly use the playground get behind the campaign now and ensure the space is available for us all for years to come.