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How child friendly is Newham and Tower Hamlets: Parents’ verdict

11:50 10 February 2013

(L-R) Father Miguel Capo and daughters Paula, four and Ana, two, enjoy playing at the merry-go-round in Victoria park playground.

(L-R) Father Miguel Capo and daughters Paula, four and Ana, two, enjoy playing at the merry-go-round in Victoria park playground.

Archant

As a new app locating the best spots in London for families is launched, parents give their verdict on how child-friendly Newham and Tower Hamlets are.

6-year-old Dusty enjoys the swing in Victoria park playground.6-year-old Dusty enjoys the swing in Victoria park playground.

As a new app locating the best spots in London for families is launched, parents give their verdict on how child-friendly Newham and Tower Hamlets are.

Social media entrepreneur Jennifer Chen created the app after she and a friend with a baby found themselves in a unfamiliar part of the capital, and had no idea where to go.

The free app, called Wowmum, lists more than 3,000 locations in London and 10,000 nationwide ranging from cafés, restaurants and shops to nearby playgrounds. There is even a nappy-changing panic button to instantly find the closest place with the necessary facilities.

When it comes to child- friendliness Newham has a lot to learn from both Tower Hamlets and Hackney, according to the chair of the local NCT, part of the UK’s biggest parenting charity.

Victoria Park playground.Victoria Park playground.

Sense of community

Kelly Drake, chair of Newham NCT, says the borough doesn’t have enough family-friendly cafés and spaces, and lacks some of the village feel and sense of community you find in parts of Tower Hamlets.

Kelly, who works part- time as charity consultant, beside her voluntary role with the NCT, often arranges parent events and trips.

The single mother of two said: “Tower Hamlets and Hackney are lots more child-friendly than Newham. In Stratford, where I live, it’s a mixed picture – parts of it is really childfriendly.

The playground in Stratford Park.The playground in Stratford Park.

“You can take children into the back of King Eddie’s pub in the High Street if you want a drink before 6pm but most of the other cafés and restaurants are not terribly child-friendly.There are too many tables and chairs and not enough room for children to play. Or the cafes are full of workers or men.

“What we need is a family café, which is warm and friendly, with a play space and highchairs.

“We don’t have the same sort of cultural spaces that you get in Tower Hamlets such as the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. We have the Museum of Docklands, but that’s quite a long way away.”

The Discovery Centre in Stratford, an indoor play centre, is a “fantastic asset”, but costing £4.50 for an adult or child over two, it is not somewhere you can take your children every day, Kelly points out.

Two-year-old Matilde Kvist-Waddell enjoys the swing in Victoria ParkTwo-year-old Matilde Kvist-Waddell enjoys the swing in Victoria Park

The Sure Start classes the council runs at the children’s centre offer “fantastic” activities for children, she says.

As for parks it is again a mixed picture. Kelly said: “West Ham Park has a lovely children’s area but there is no café like the Pavilion in Victoria Park.

“There is a market here for such cafés and someone needs to take that up.

“Because parents live such busy lives, what we really need is somewhere we can meet up for a warm drink and feel relaxed about the children running around.

Mum Else Kvist and daughter Matilde Kvist-Waddell, two, enjoy a day at Victoria Park playground.Mum Else Kvist and daughter Matilde Kvist-Waddell, two, enjoy a day at Victoria Park playground.

“Stratford Park is disgusting, dirty and out of date, sadly. It’s got just one swing. It really needs some regeneration.”

Stratford’s new retail palace, Westfield, has also missed an opportunity to really capture the family spirit, according to Kelly.

She said: “Westfield is terrible, it’s not childfriendly enough. There are two play areas but they are both much too small for such a large shopping centre and it’s not safe to let your children run around anywhere else in there with so many people.

“On the walkways outside it would have been simple to put some swings or slides, but there is nothing for children.”

Andy Smith with his twins Florence and Samuel.Andy Smith with his twins Florence and Samuel.

Lovely cafés

As for myself, as a mother of a two-year-old daughter, I found nowhere in Forest Gate I wanted to go for a coffee during my maternity leave and would meet with other parents either in Stratford, Wanstead or occasionally Tower Hamlets. But that has all changed as two lovely cafes, Caffeine and Cafe E7, have sprung up at the same time on Woodgrange Road.

Cafe E7, which opened last month has a warm living room style feel to it and toys and books are to hand while kid’s portions meals are served.

Although I live near the lovely unspoilt Wanstead Flats it has only a very small playground along Dames Road and with a very agile two-year-old I have to travel further afield, such as to Victoria Park, to find more challenging climbing frames and slides. The Green also has no paths for children to take their scooter or bycycles on.

Anthony Withstandley, 42, with his son Hugo, aged 2.Anthony Withstandley, 42, with his son Hugo, aged 2.

But once the Olympic Park reopens I hope all that will only be a bus or cycle ride away.

The Wowmum app is available from the Apple store and via Google Play for androids.

Fathers’ verdict:

Father of twins Andy Smith, who lives in Forest Gate, said: “There are some really lovely play areas in Newham. West Ham has the most amazing facilities for all age groups. We often walk down there so Florence and Samuel can go on the swings and slide. Central Park is nice, too.”

However, the married 46-year-old IT engineer said shopping almost anywhere in the borough with a double buggy is a battle – apart from at Westfield.

He said: “Particularly independent shops tend to have incredibly narrow aisles and are jam-packed with goods.

“Westfield is a completely different kettle of fish and really easy to get around.

“The nappy-changing facilities are excellent, there are a lot of them and they are always clean.

“Taking the bus to Stratford is fine but coming back can be difficult as the bus is always a lot fuller, so it’s easier to drive.

“Forest Gate station with the stairs is not accessible with a buggy at all.

“Stratford station is fully accessible and it’s dead easy jumping on the Jubilee line but we wouldn’t attempt going on the Central line into central London.”

Andy welcomes the new cafés that have sprung up in Woodgrange Road, Caffeine and Cafe E7, with the latter offering easier access for families with a buggy.

Though many parents say Tower Hamlets has a lot to offer for children, a father in Bow says there is not much around.

Anthony Withstandley, a 42-year-old marketing manager at UCL university, said: “There is not a lot for anybody around Bow. It’s not surrounded by cafés like around Victoria Park, which estate agents call a village. But on the whole there is a lot to do with kids in Tower Hamlets and London.

“We often walk half an hour up here for the playground and in the summer you can have your picnic here.

“There is also smaller old playground near where we live called Grove Hall Park. It’s an older playground and not as quirky as this one but it has swings and a slide and Hugo likes it. On the whole I think the council does make an effort with the parks.

“My wife, Jo, misses some of the children’s music activities which the council has cut.

“When she is out and about then the Museum of Childhood is her lifeline because they have such good play areas and changing facilities for children.

“Since we had Hugo we don’t really go to pubs or cafés much.

“We tend to go to Nandos at Mile End simply because it’s convenient and child-friendly.

“You don’t feel so self-conscious as you might do in a café as people expect a bit of noise from children.”

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