Children learning the value of stories in Stratford

Alexandra Zaczek-Gbiorczyk reads a bedtime story to daughter Hanna

Alexandra Zaczek-Gbiorczyk reads a bedtime story to daughter Hanna - Credit: Archant

“It’s all about imaginative free play, stimulating the senses.” That’s the premise behind Stratford’s Discover Children’s Story Centre.

Story builder Emma Deakin at Discover, Stratford

Story builder Emma Deakin at Discover, Stratford - Credit: Archant

It opened in 2003, transforming a derelict Edwardian building into a creative, colourful hub in the High Street.

An outdoor play area has also been opened, as has a basement area hosting temporary exhibitions, with consultation with young users throughout.

The development of the centre is helped principally by 15 youngsters who are part of the children’s forum.

“They come up with ideas and they ask questions about the place,” said Racheal Brasier, Discover’s head of marketing and events.

A child plays at Discover, Stratford

A child plays at Discover, Stratford - Credit: Archant

A slide designed to look like users are coming down a monster’s tongue came from one child’s imagination, while another conceived Hootah,a fictional alien from the planet Squiggly Diggly where stories are running out.

The basement’s exhibition is currently Once There Was... The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers, focusing on the creativity of the picture book author.

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Young visitors have the chance to dress up as the main character and explore rooms, the street and the seaside found in his books.

“We’ve got this exhibition running for about a year, as we put a lot into it,” explained Racheal.

Story builder Kes Gill-Martin

Story builder Kes Gill-Martin - Credit: Archant

“We worked with Oliver in creating it. Some of it was made away from here, then we close the basement for about three weeks while we install it and paint it.

“For the first time this October, we’re taking it on tour to Liverpool and Cornwall, and it’ll be in each place for three weeks.”

Alex Shipp brings her two-year-old daughter Lyra van der Vijver to Discover “as often as I can.”

She said: “Since she was about one, we’ve been coming regularly as we live in Hackney Wick.

A father and his daughter visit Discover, Stratford

A father and his daughter visit Discover, Stratford - Credit: Archant

“It’s a great place, it’s really good fun.”

While weekends and school holidays see the venue full of families, term time is a different matter.

“We have about 80,000 visitors a year, and about 30 per cent of those are school groups,” Racheal explained.

“We run a schools programme, working with primaries across Newham and beyond.”

There are also special events where authors, illustrators and poets come in for talks and signing sessions, with these held “a couple of times a month.”

The Mighty Mega Saturday Club runs a series of activities for children with special educational needs and their families, and there is also the opportunity to have a birthday party in the centre.

The charity receives funding through grants and renting out office space above as well as through entrance fees, but despite a lack of space moving to a new site is out of the question.

“We’ll have to find as much space as we can,” said Racheal. “We’re looking at creating even more activities in the future.”