Sometimes you visit a place and you wonder why you’ve never heard about it. We were recommended the Riverside Hub in Northampton by school parents a somewhere that was great for children of any age including older ones which is unusual for somewhere that’s mainly soft play. So we decided to go and check it out on an inset day.
As it’s in the next county they didn’t have the same inset day so it was mostly preschoolers and younger with only a handful of older children. It meant N could enjoy himself and do what he wanted without worrying that other children would be taking over or him needing to wait to do different activities. Instead he just loved going round and doing his own thing whenever he wanted.
What is the Riverside Hub?
Think softplay on a bigger and better scale. Behind a huge car retail park, the Hub is in a big industrial unit (aren’t they all?), but once inside you’re transformed into a magical place. We’ve been to a few soft play locations in our time, but Riverside Hub takes it to the next level. The first thing I spotted was the climbing oak and the bright colourful ‘tree’ of balloons. Then all the colourful chairs and tables. Then the soft play. Children can’t fail to be excited and want to whip off their shoes.
Is it pricy?
Like most soft play places, it’s cheaper on school days and also you’re not restricted to the 2.5 hour limit you have at weekends and school holidays from October to March. They do have offers – there’s annual or monthly membership, plus you can car share with 2 adults and kids from different families and the adults get a free hot drink and cake each .
Prices are based on children’s ages – we paid £8,50 on a ‘school day’ for N, and it was £3.50 for me. This is my one gripe with the place. For that £3.50 I get to spend money on drinks and snacks (because you can’t take in your own (well, I saw someone sitting down having brought her children’s lunch with them), use the wifi (I mostly just used my mobile data because the wifi was a struggle to connect), and have a table to sit at while I watched N. It would have been nice for that high a cost to have had a free drink included, like at Bounce.
You do have to register to become a member on your first time, which is £5 a family.
As you leave children can get a slapband. Each time they return and show the band they get a voucher to spend on a £1.50 toy in the little shop, or can save up 4 tokens for a better toy. I like that idea, and it’s a great way to get children to pester their parents to return. It’s like a loyalty card as well as encouraging return visits. Win win for families and the Hub.
It’s probably easier to ask what isn’t included. Because it was a school day and a lot of the staff are students, not all of the activities that are aimed at older children are opened as standard. They explained this when we arrived and said they’d be opening the go karts and carousel in rotation through the day, and would try and open up the climbing tree and laser invasion later in the day. The climbing tree did open but the laser game didn’t – they were doing work in the area next to it so I’m not sure they’d have been able to. But it’s the kind of game you’d want to go in with friends anyway, so I’m not sure N would have wanted to go in.
All of those plus the soft play which is huge, the largest frame in the UK at 4 storeys high. They also have a crafting area which we didn’t see. And there’s a todder area, as well as sensory areas for babies, as well as catering for SEN.
I also spotted a book case and fancy dress area, so there’s something for every child.
Food and drink
The usual hot and cold drinks were for sale at the cafe, along with the usual snacks like crisps and homemade cakes and cookies. I also noticed some raw cakes for sale as well.
We both ordered hot food for lunch – unsual for N as he usually chooses a kids lunchbox pick and mix. The Riverside Hub offers these, but N decided on a hot meal of sausages with beans and chips. Children get a choice of potato and veg, and meals come with vegetable crudites as well. Adults choices include paninis, jacket potatoes and various other hot options. I was torn between several meals but decided on mac and cheese with a salad. It was very tasty and the wait wasn’t too long considering how many people ahead of us had ordered hot food as well.
For the adults
I was amazed by how much seating there was compared with other softplay we’ve been to. The wifi is free if a little inconsistent on my phone. There’s magazines for reading material, and parents can also go on with their children and it’s generally easy to see where your child has gone. When it gets busy there’s also an upstairs which leads off the soft play as well.
The car park (plus a couple of small overflow places ) is small. They do offers for car-sharers, and it’s reachable by public transport in the area.
N loved the Riverside Hub and so did I. He was in his element. Running from place to place. go karts are basic electronic ones, and parents can go on with younger children but N does enjoy those and he was chuffed he overtook a dad taking his toddler round.
N was straight over to the climbing tree as soon as it opened, got strapped up and had a go on a climbing ‘wall’ for his first time ever. He didn’t get up far, struggling to know where to put his feet, and ending up with aching arms, but he had a few goes and wasn’t worried at all about how high he might have gone. Give him a couple of goes and I think he’ll be at the top.
He spent most of his time in the soft play frame. It’s set up like different icons in the US, with the Empire State building and a rocket. There’s also:
- 2 big slides (one wavy and one going outside the frame),
- an area for football and basketball which N enjoyed – managing to get a couple of goals
- ball pit – including a ball cannon
Given the time of year there were also plenty of halloween touches for children to enjoy like the cauldron they could get in.
The play options are numerous. Usually N gets bored at softplay after an hour, but he spent 2 hours playing, popping back occasionally for a drink and chat with me. We didn’t go and check out the crafting area but I could see him potentially spending a bit of time there too.
N has decided he wants his next birthday party there. It’s certainly something I would look into – for a minimum of 10 children it could be an option although it’s a bit of a trek from us, so maybe doing it taking a handful of friends rather than the formal party options which they run. I’d have to look into it more.
We’ll definitely be back sometime soon. N wants to get his slapband voucher/toy and it could be a great place to take him with a friend.
Do you have any softplay places near you that offer lots of different activities?