This time last week excitement levels were pretty high in our house as we looked forward to a weekend that involved our first baby rave at Big Fish Little Fish in Exeter. A concept fresh from London, we were promised great music – none of this nursery rhyme nonsense – fun crafting activities, a baby chill out area, licenced bar and LOADS of fun. So when Sunday afternoon came around and it was hot and sunny, we weren’t bothered about skipping the beach in favour of Exeter Pheonix, the venue for the event. Unfortunately, the afternoon didn’t live to up our (possibly too high) expectations.
We found the venue with ease thanks to the brilliant directions on the email sent to us by the BFLF team ahead of the event. Parking was just over the road in a nearby shopping centre, so it was just a short stroll to Exeter Phenox, a multi-artform venue in the heart of the city. As we queued up outside we soaked in the pre-party atmosphere with the other mums, dads and kids. Lots of people had embraced the “rumble in the jungle” theme and it was lovely to see the parents as excited as the kids, something you don’t always get at a family-friendly event.
Once we were inside the venue we were given free glowsticks and greeted by the friendly and enthusiastic BFLF team who made us feel really welcome. So far, so good.
It wasn’t until we got inside the rave room that things started to go wrong. The music was brilliant – a proper DJ was on stage playing tunes that had the parents just as hyped as the kids. It was just as you’d expect the main room of a nightclub to be – quite dark, loud and full of people dancing. Frog was excited by the atmosphere and Baby Girl kicked her legs with enthusiasm. This didn’t last though.
We initially headed over to the crafting table (run by The Creation Station) at the back of the main dance room, as we thought this could be a fun way to start the afternoon. But the table wasn’t really big enough for all the kids who wanted to get involved, so we ended up waiting a while for a space. Once we did get a space, the materials needed to make anything weren’t easy to reach, as they were spaced out all along the table. I guess in my head I’d imagined more crafting materials (there were feathers, some sparkly paint sticks, paper plates, some coloured paper and party blowers) with a few small tables set out so kids could sit down and really get stuck in. As it was, once Frog had decorated a paper plate there wasn’t much left to do in the form of crafting.
Next on our list of things to do was the play dough area. The play dough table was next to the crafting table in the corner of the room, but it became pretty clear this wasn’t going to be much of a success either. It was only the size of a small side table or coffee table with a couple of lumps of mixed-up play dough on it and a few cutters. There was one toddler already at the table and not really room for much more.
Undeterred, we soaked in the music for a bit and watched a fun glitter cannon go off into the crowd, before both girls started getting a bit bored (“Will they play Taylor Swift Mum?!” – my child doesn’t have any musical credibility yet) and hot. Frog was desperate for a transfer tattoo which we’d been told about in the pre-event email so we queued up for this. The lady doing them was at the end of the crafting table, meaning it was a bit of a scrum and pretty confusing to work out where you were meant to wait.
Once Frog had her tattoo in place we decided to leave the rave room and find somewhere to chill out for a bit. Baby Girl is desperate to be on the floor crawling and climbing these days, so she’d had enough of being jiggled about in our arms. Plus, the room was quite hot and neither girls seemed to be “feeling” the music any more.
We found the baby chill out area right outside the main dance room, on the other side of the bar area. It was busy, with lots of parents and kids milling around, wandering through to the bar for drinks and waiting to go into the rave room. Again, my expectations were possibly too high, but I’d expected some play mats on the floor, a few cushions, some baby-friendly toys or soft-play things to crawl on. What we were met with was three sofas pushed up quite far against the wall, with a play tunnel on the floor and an indoor play tent next to the sofas. There were no mats and, by this time, the floor was pretty dirty with bits of litter and empty sugar sachets strewn about.
There was an inviting outdoor area where lots of families were sitting in the sunshine having a cold drink, but we couldn’t find a seat, so we ended up perching on some seats on a raised platform by the door to go outside, wondering what to do next.
In the end we left after about 50 minutes, feeling a bit dejected and like we’d wasted a precious sunny Sunday afternoon. Turns out the beach might have been a better option after all.
I mentioned before that perhaps my expectations were a bit high. I’d heard such great things about BFLF events from friends in London that I’d thought we’d get to experience something similar. The event has GREAT potential and it should be said this was the first one in Exeter, so it’s perhaps not surprising some things didn’t work. It’s a brilliant concept for an event – put on something the parents will enjoy as much as the kids – but, as it was, we ended up leaving because the kids weren’t enjoying themselves. The balance wasn’t quite right for any of us, unfortunately.
I contacted the BFLF team after the event with my feedback and they were really great about replying promptly. They told me they have lots of ideas for developing the event and they’ve asked for feedback from those who bought tickets on the day. They also told me they worked extrememly closely with the team from BFLF in London in the months leading up to the Exeter event, who advised on things like the pre-walkers area, play dough table size and crafting area. Ultimately the team hope to grow the budget for the event so they can purchase more play equipment and supplies and offer a wide range of families as full an experience as possible.
I look forward to seeing how BFLF Exeter develops in the future, because I do think it could be a huge success.
Tickets for the event cost £6 per adult and £6 per child, with pre-walkers going free. We were invited along for the purpose of this review.