It’s not often a completely new playgroup springs out of nowhere, so when Play on the Hill at the Windmill Hill Community Centre opened its doors, I wanted to find out more straight away. Lots of us have thought about it, but the ladies behind this new venture have actually gone and done it.
I talked to Helen Jones and Rachel Sandeman, two of the founders, about how it’s all going.
I asked Helen:
So, how did the idea for the playgroup come about? What made you start it?
We got involved when we saw a notice on Mumsnet local from Mary-Jane who was wanting to start a playgroup in Windmill Hill. She wanted to create something in our area so parents could get together in our community. I was still on maternity leave at the time and I thought it would be good to get involved with something that would hopefully benefit my daughter as well as other local children.
I’m loving being part of the playgroup. There are a few of us who run it and it works really well as we have different skills to bring – one of us is great at the procedural stuff, others have been amazing at finding bargains and knowing what toys to buy. I’m a spreadsheet geek so I’ve been helping on the finance side. But we’re always on the look-out for more volunteers to help setting up and clearing away at the sessions; people can just get in touch if they want to help.
How did you go about choosing a venue? What made it the perfect place?
The Windmill Hill Community Association have been great and allowed us to use their hall rent-free for the first six months of the group to help us get going. We teamed up with the WHCA and were successful in getting a small grant from the council to get us started. The Windmill Hill Community Centre is great as there are loads of families nearby, it’s a great size and with good facilities already.
What do you think the ingredients of the perfect playgroup are? Have you been able to create what you wanted to create?
One thing we’d really taken on board with our research is that some people can find playgroups a bit ‘cliquey’. So that’s definitely something we’re keen to avoid. We really want to create something welcoming to everyone as we feel that those networks of parent-friends are so important when you have little ones.
For the children (although in many ways it’s more important that the adults are happy so they come back!) we have tried to get hold of a variety of toys and make sure there is something for different ages groups. And we have a dedicated baby corner where tiny ones can play safely and mums can feed etc. comfortably if they want to. And we have tea, coffee, biscuits for adults and snacks for the little ones.
Were there any issues/sticking points you had to address?
Not really, although at the beginning I think we were concerned that our money wasn’t going to go far and we’d struggle to get enough decent equipment. But we’ve done a fantastic job and have loads of toys which means that we can put different things out each week and if things get a bit worn, we already have a supply of replacements. We’ve bought some items new, some second hand and we’ve kind some very kind donations from parents and the Hungry Caterpillar play cafe.
Fellow parents have got on board with our mission and are happy to see their no-longer-used toys go to a new home for the benefit of other children. We’ve been really touched by the number of people who have contacted us to offer things, it gave us faith in our project.
How do you see it developing over the coming year?
I’d like to build up a group of regular attendees while still remaining open to newcomers. Some people have mentioned that they would like a group on a different day, or in the afternoon, so who knows, if there is a demand then maybe that’s next.
We are determined to be known as being friendly and open to everyone. It’s great to meet more and more parents in this area that we’ve not met before and to see them making new networks too.
We’re also open to suggestions for improvements to sessions and to hearing what people want from a playgroup. If we need to do something differently in the future then we will.
What do you think of the parenting scene in South Bristol, is there a particular culture or attitude?
I love it here! I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I’ve made loads of parent-friends and there is so much to do. I think local parents are generally pretty chilled and friendly which is great.
Play on the Hill firstname.lastname@example.org
Every Thursday morning 10am-11.15am at Windmill Hill Community Centre, Vivian Street BS3 4LW
Just come along! All children aged 0-3y with parent/carer welcome. £2 for one child, £2.50 if you bring more than one. Tea, coffee and biscuits included.