So here’s a great way to start August – go to the newly reopened Discover Centre! And you might thank me for that recommedation, as August is invariably wet and miserable (my “months of the year” jigsaw when I was a child really did lie to me). After an extensive refit, it’s all ready to go and I’m happy to say a lot of things have improved.
The foyer is, naturally, the first thing you notice. The cafe has moved upstairs, so there’s a lot more space for the shop – and for generally hanging out in when you’re waiting for someone:
Then the layout has changed as well – the doors to Story World are still where they were, but there’s a new entrance, which incorporates a cloakroom/buggy park area so you can put things in lockers without your kids running off and looking at the shiny lights and things. I guess you can still use the old entrance but the signage definitely points you the new way. It removes the bottleneck and there’s a much more efficient way of storing buggies, with the lockers on top:
So this is to the left of the ticket desk, if you can kinda picture that – I tried to photograph the whole setup but couldn’t get the right angle. Mind you, I left my camera at home and my camera app has long been unusable, so you’re lucky I’ve got any pics at all (go on…ask me how…it’s magic. Alakazam!)
Following the new entrance then, it brings you out kinda behind the toilets into an all-new foresty world. You’ll recognise some of the old elements but they’re rearranged and there’s some brand new stuff, like this boat:
And this story sorting office:
It’s pretty cute – you write a story on the form and then put it in an appropriate pigeon hole (“adventure” was one…I forget the rest). There weren’t any story forms that I could see when we were there but that’s OK because the kids were very busy doing everything else. Like climbing through the tunnels and up the slopes of the “forest” and peering into the bit where the floor-lights now live. And doing puppet shows in the “castle” and yelling at me for steeping in the “sea”.
(I must apologise for the overdose of speech marks in that paragraph. It’s a habit)
It’s kind of moodily lighted, for the forest ambience. This guy who wandered into my shot was not feeling moody though:
I hope that whoever he is, he doesn’t mind me sharing this pic. As Eva would say, I just yuv it. It sums up the excitement of being somewhere so new that you can smell the wood glue.
We spent some time in the garden too, which hasn’t changed in the refit. But it’s still a fun place to sit atop a taxi, pretending to be an Avenger:
I was hoping to get the kids fed before our 12:15 Dr Seuss event but that involved dragging all the kids away from playing and into the all-new cafe. Which would be a tricky proposition anyway, without the disadvantage of having no idea where the cafe was. I had a notion it was upstairs, so we went up the stairs in the corner of the play area and found….another play area!
This one was more ethereal themed:
Eva pointed out that the lollipopter, which used to be downstairs, has relocated to this new bit. I’m amazed by her recall sometimes. Especially when she can’t remember agreeing to eat her dinner and things like that.
The slide had also made it upstairs:
And there was a new bit – something like the Rhyme Rocket I think – which had some great random word generators. One was a series of blocks you span round to come up with story titles – “The Fascinating Adventures of the Smelliest Children” was one of our favourites. And this one:
Which Roo could not resist leaving on:
But really, these children (and mothers) needed feeding, so we asked a handy red-shirt and they directed us through the door at the back of the play area (by the cloud seats) and across the landing to the new cafe. It’s where the storytelling studio used to be – the studio is now a smaller space next door (that used to be just kinda empty I think) and is a chill-out zone for babies and toddlers when they get over-stimulated. And the cafe is therefore much bigger than it used to be:
Now, the cafe was always a weak spot in the Discover experience – the space was confused, sharing with the shop and ticket desk, and the menu was limited. Post-refurb, the space is sorted out but I get the feeling they’re still working on the menu. The sandwich options were combinations of cheese, chicken, ham, tomato and rocket. They could toast them for you too, but in gentrified East London, the sandwich expectations run quite high and so there’s probably still room for improvement. Reuben was delighted to see a slushy machine though, so that was one very happy customer.
Time for Seuss! I have enjoyed every exhibition they’ve run in the basement and am gutted that we didn’t get organised to see the Michael Rosen one. They are always so immersive and imaginative – great fun. And I’m happy to say that Seuss is just as good as the others. The experience starts with the beginning of “The Cat in the Hat”, up to the point where the Cat comes in. Then the kids are encouraged to – as the Cat says – go and have lots of good fun that is funny.
There’s lots to do. There’s a ball game from “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think” (I think) and you can dance with the Boom-Boom band or complete the Lorax wordsearch. There’s some green eggs and ham that someone has painstakingly created:
And you can channel the spirit of “Sam I am”, with some magnetic letters. Reuben claimed to be a Mancunian Britpop band:
Don’t believe him. He’s not even Bonehead.
The house from “Cat in the Hat” was there too, so you could recreate “Sally and Me” looking out of the window at the rain. My one regret in life is that I got the kids the wrong way round in this photo:
Sally should be on the right. Dagnam!
There were building blocks to play with in the house:
There was also dressing up stuff. Eva was dressed as Thing 1 when the story resumed, which meant she got to play the part:
After such excitement, I was well ready for a coffee…but first, the obligatory Discover-spoon-making:
The cafe at 2ish was much calmer than it had been at 11:30ish and so I could sit and enjoy my coffee while Roo rearranged the giant magnetic monster on the wall:
And when he complained about being too hot, well…I just stuck them both in front of the fan:
It was time to be getting home, as I sensed they were tired. I can congratulate myself on my Mummy instincts on this occasion because they were indeed tired. Eva denied it until the moment before she fell asleep. On the train. Just as we were pulling in to Hackney Central and had to make the change. I was,,,unimpressed. 5 flights of stairs later, on the platform at Hackney Downs, I was even less impressed:
Luckily, she woke up on the next train and in time to a) walk home and b) go to Tesco. Because there was something that impressed me at Tesco. Free fruit for kids!
Eva chose an orange, which took her the entire shopping trip to peel so it was vitamins and entertainment all rolled into one.
So, the Discover Centre is clearly a good place to tire your kids out this summer, and I like what they’ve done with the spaces. I would strongly recommend booking your Seuss session in advance – find out more info here.