Adventures: Barney's Play in Uckfield, East Sussex

October 14, 2020


Brilliant indoor soft play with a beautiful imaginative play village. Affordable entry prices and decent range of child and grown up friendly food. Covid considerations, safety, and cleanliness are excellent. Car park off of main road with plenty of spaces; two spotless toilets inside, with baby change facilities and toddler toilet seat and step in the larger accessible one. Soft play climbing area and imaginative play themed rooms for children, and a padded, enclosed play area with mini black lit sensory rooms for babies and toddlers.

Softplay. Both a blessing and curse to parents of small children. While they are a savior to those of us living on this soggy British island, they are more often than not sweaty vinyl padded altars to D&V.

If you have more than one small (but mobile) charge to wrangle, then size matters. You want the place not so small as to be boring, but also not so cavernous that you spend the entire time with your heart in your mouth, scanning the room for your missing child whilst faux-cheerfully screaming: 'stay together, STAY TOGETHER'. 

Of course with Covid, there's also now another level of consideration needing to be given to any indoor activities. With the warmer months a distant memory and the forecast promising rain most days (usually around school pick up time... obviously) finding good safe options for staying indoors without reliving lockdown is on a lot of parents and carers' minds. 

Barney's on the Bell Lane Estate in Uckfield, has provided a good solid answer to my under-the-breath-mumble of 'FFS what now?!' every time the forecast for the week is a full house of sogginess.

They are operating at a limited capacity to allow for distancing so you do need to book in advance on their website. The capacity for bookings is 35 (which includes all adults, children, AND babies in your party). At 3.95 per child and per adult quite honestly it's a god damn bargain. Having forked out an average of $15 per person for the soft plays we went to in the USA (one of which was so gross I'm not entirely sure the Covid outbreak didn't start in their bounce house) I'm considering whether to start sending the boys to Barney's instead of nursery school, and look forward to their future careers in the circus.

Upon entry to the building everyone must wash their hands, there's a long low sink to make it easier for the little ones, plus anti-bac gel stations here and throughout the center. Temperatures are taken, you're asked to log in using the NHS track and trace app QR code which is posted here and inside the cafe area, and you're given a run down of the way that things are working. All rules and requirements are made clear and are based on government guidelines and common sense- they have obviously gone to A LOT of effort to make things safe and comfortable for everyone, while keeping things fun for the children. 

Your booking secures you a table- which is like your base for your visit- during the morning (9.30a-12.30p) or afternoon (2p-5p) session. When not at your table, adults and children 11 or older must wear a face mask. It's a shoes off affair in the whole space but as the carpets are steam cleaned every day (which we found out after a spectacular milk drenching of said carpet in a four year old vs. Pringles lid peeling incident) it's probably cleaner than any carpet under my ownership has ever been. There are high chairs for babies (the king of elevated baby seating: the IKEA Antilop) which are cleaned and tagged after each use. 

The warehouse space is dived into the main seating area for the cafe with good visuals to the soft play climbing frame, and a further imaginative play village called 'Barnington' which can only be accessed by an adult operated lock switch above the entry gate. It's enclosed which makes for great fun in the different themed 'shop' rooms, but does mean that adults must accompany children- which is noted as a condition of the center's insurance. 

The village has a post office and shop, hairdressers, cafe, and fire station. While some of the play pieces have been removed to allow for Covid minded cleaning, lots of toys remain in place plus personal 'imaginative play packs' can be checked out from the main counter for your visit, then returned for cleaning when you leave. All the play pieces are really beautiful, with embroidered lettering on all the packages and letters in the post office, fabric food items in the shop, wooden appliances in the cafe and hairdressers, and a real metal post box in the wall of the post office- everything is in really beautiful, well looked after condition.

The climbing frame has a padded staircase, inverted slide with foot holds for climbing up, platform climbing tower, spiral slide, rope bridge, hexagonal stepping 'stones', tunnel, mini 'rock' wall, and lots of spaces to run and jump around. Adults are welcome to play in the structure which is actually adult height in most areas which saved the rest of attendees the sight of my motherhood ravaged cleavage when trying to squeeze into a climbing frame designed for a body much smaller than mine.

The baby area has a padded floor and some smaller soft play modular climbing blocks, slides, and platforms. There's a large static sensory wall with things like artificial grass and lumpy bumpy textures; as well as busy boards on the opposite wall. There's a mini mobile, double sided busy board and a selection of baby toys (which once used should be placed in the 'dirty' bucket by the main counter). 

There are two mini 'barns' which are darker spaces lit with a black lights and decorated with UV shapes and sensory lights. The space is only for babies and toddlers; it is fenced but does not have a gate- though there are plenty of modular cubes to make a little barrier to slow down run/crawl-aways, especially if you're herding more than one!

The cafe serves hot and cold drinks, snacks, and sweets, while the kitchen serves and all day breakfast, child friendly favourite meals, and adulty type items as well- not going to pretend I'm above ordering a grown up portion of chicken nuggs, chips, and beans for myself.

Barney's is hands down: BRILLIANT, and talking to a few parents on our visits I'm not alone in thinking that. Most I spoke to had come from across Sussex including Burgess Hill, Brighton and Wadhurst, eschewing other centers that may be closer to them in favor of Barney's because it's so clean, well run, and fun for all ages and varied interests. 

Bell Ln, Bellbrook Industrial Estate, Uckfield 
TN22 1QL 01825 764575

This post has not been paid for, requested, endorsed or approved by the subject- it is an honest review and description of our experience. If you find it helpful please let me know, and if it encourages you to visit let them know too!

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