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

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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.

Review: NCT Nearly New Sale and Woodford Fire Station Open Day

It’s not for the faint-hearted. With ten minutes still to go before it opened, the long queue was already snaking through the church car park and I looked on in awe at the pregnant ladies in the line. I seem to remember having no patience at all for prolonged queueing while I was in their position, not least because I need the loo every five minutes. Soon the doors were opened and cheery volunteers were ushering us to the table and rails groaning with toys, books and clothes. One friend who arrived at this point, took one look at the scrum and walked straight out again. Admitedly she is eight months pregnant. But the elbows-out jostle is not for everyone.

NCT Nearly New Sale at Christ Church Wanstead

However, it was worth persevering. I got lots of In the Night Garden toys (as that is the current addiction in our house) and a few books that look new to put away for Christmas. I was a bit disappointed by the selection of clothes for our Little One’s age group but was cheered up by some as-new wellies from Mothercare for £1. But the real bargain of the day was a second-hand MacClaren pushchair for £24. We’ve been keeping an eye out for one for while now, and although it needed a bit of a clean it even had a rain cover.  There was another one next to it which was a bit cleaner but cost £60. That’s the beauty of the NCT sales, everyone prices their own stuff so things can vary which also means you can get some good deals. When I paid, the volunteer cashing up helpfully told me that I could just put the seat in the washing machine on a cold cycle which worked a treat. So free tips as well, double win.

Next time, I must try to organise all the bags of clothes so I can actually sell stuff myself.

Family Open Day at Woodford Green Fire Station

Our trip to the Woodford Green Fire Station wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped. Firstly, The Little One had a late nap so we didn’t get there until almost 4pm and by then there was no sign of the helicopter, guide dogs or even much going on. But really, I think he’s actually a bit too young. He usually loves big trucks and vans so I thought he’d love the fire engines. But as they are static they are not quite as exciting and he was a bit little to get inside them and try on the helmets etc. However, all was not lost as there was a little fun fair ride with mini cars that went round which he totally loved and went on twice. There was also a bouncy castle for older children. By the time we were leaving at 4.30pm they had already packed up all the stalls inside so we didn’t get a chance to look at those and I’ve heard a few other people complaining that things were finished well before the advertised time of 5pm. I do think it will be more of a success when the Little One is older so I’d definitely go again and maybe in the morning next time.

The other event we had hoped to go to was the Apple Day at Copped Hall but instead, I stupidly uttered those dreaded words ‘I think we need to go to Ikea’. I then spent most of Sunday wishing I’d just ignored the growing pile of toys like normal instead of buying shelves and toy storage. I joined the chorus of people in the car park muttering ‘never again’. But sadly, like Arnie, I know I’ll be back.

What’s on this weekend: 10th – 12th October

Let’s hope this rain doesn’t hang around until the weekend. I’ve just ordered waterproof trousers for The Little One (as he’s still bum shuffling and refusing to walk) but at this rate we’ll be needing them too.

Well rain or shine, there’s lots on locally especially as its the last few days of the Woodford Festival which I’m keen to support as I think it would be lovely to have even more community events like this in the area. The programme includes music, an arts trail and walks plus a children’s author was doing a reading at The Village Bookshop on Wednesday. It would be great if there were more things for kids but maybe that is something to get involved with in the future. Perhaps I could convince some other mums to set up a children’s fringe festival. Now there’s a thought. (Note to self: stop having good ideas that will involve yet more time I do not currently have.)

toy fire engine on wooden floor

Photo via hellosputnik http://bit.ly/1pWnaBT

Anyway, back to this weekend, my top pick is the Woodford Green fire station open day this Saturday which is being billed as a Community Safety Day for families together with the Metropolitan Police, St Johns Ambulance, Guide Dogs for The Blind and Cadets. As The Little One has turned into a stereotypical boy shouting with glee at every bus, lorry and aeroplane, I’m pretty sure a giant firetruck like the one in Fireman Sam might blow his little mind. Combine that with some dogs and rumours of a helicopter and we could be hitting the toddler jackpot.

When: Saturday 11th October 11am-5pm

Where: Woodford Fire Station, 2 Snakes Lane, IG8 0EX

Before that I’ll be heading over to Wanstead for the NCT Nearly New Sale. You’ll find second hand toys, books, clothes and sleeping bags amongst other things and the quality is usually pretty high while pricers are low – double win. But don’t even think about bringing your little ones along. This is an elbows-out, stay-focused kind of affair. Seasoned NCT shoppers will know that the best bargains go early and NCT members can get in 15 minutes before anyone else by presenting their membership card. It starts at 11am so I recommend getting there as early as you can, queue up and get stuck in. If you’re running late, forget it. The excitement is usually all over in an hour.

When: Saturday 11th October 11am, 10.45 NCT members (last entry 12.15)

Where: Christ Church Hall, Wanstead Place, E11 2SW

Admission: £1

More information: Redbridge NCT Website

And last but not least is the Copped Hall Apple Day. I have to confess that I haven’t actually been to Copped Hall or even heard of it before this week. It looks really interesting; its a Georgian mansion that was saved by local campaign groups and is currently being restored. National Apple Day is all about celebrating our unique British food heritage by highlighting local varieties and orchards, so Copped Hall will be displaying and selling their apples. And just for the adults, I’ve heard rumours of cider… now we’re talking! They are promising entertainment and food as well as access to the gardens and mansion.

When: Sunday 12th October 11am -4pm

Where: Copped Hall, Crown Hill, Epping, CM16 5HS

Admission: £7

More information: Copped Hall Website

If you do visit any of these over the weekend, feel free to let me know your thoughts and views. And if you have events coming up for families that you’d like me to consider for future features, just get in touch via the comments or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

Welcome to West Essex Mums

How the hell did I end up living in a grown up house in the suburbs spending more time watching In The Night Garden than having a social life? Somehow this happened and my previous life, drinking my way around London trying to fit in all the new bars, restaurants, and films is no more.

So I’m getting used to my new life in Woodford with The Little Guy in tow, and to be honest I’m loving it. Having a little person has been even better than I imagined and as he heads towards being one and a half he gets funnier and more amazing each day. But where do you take a one year old? Which cafes aren’t going to kick us out when he insists on feeding himself aka drops stinky tuna sandwich all over the floor? Is soft play a special kind of hell or a handy haven on a rainy day?

The Little One playing with record coasters

I’ve found it quite hard to find out about where to go and what to do with kids in the local area. Not knowing that many other mums means I don’t have the inside knowledge. And as lots of other new mums seem to be moving to the area, I thought it might be useful for others too if I shared what I learn as I investigate the local area seeking out kid-friendly ways to spend our time. So I’m going to give you my honest opinion about local things to do and places to go, reviewing them and writing about them on this blog to help other mums. I’ll be looking at classes and clubs, family friendly activities and kids days out in the local areas: Woodford Green, South Woodford, Wanstead, Snaresbrook, Loughton and Epping. And armed with an Oyster card we’ll also cover London and will take the trusty, rust-bucket we call a car to the M25 seeking out countryside and outdoorsy things in Essex, Surrey Kent and beyond.

The reason I’ve called this West Essex Mums is that this isn’t just about our little family, I want this to be a genuinely useful resource for all local mums, dads and families so please feel free to get in touch with recommendations, questions, suggestions of places or things that you want to know more about and I’ll investigate for you.

Come and say hi on Twitter @WestEssexMums.