Fears soft play centre Kidzmania could be at threat due to flats plan

Kidzmania owners and supports gather outside the Hackney soft play centre.

Anthony Kingsley, the business manager, with Jocelyn Crome, owner, and Roozbeh Elias-Azar, an architect and urban researcher. - Credit: William Mata

Much-loved Lower Clapton soft play centre Kidzmania is under threat once again after housing plans were changed. 

Having thought its future was safe, the centre is now urging some of the thousands who have used it over the past 30 years to sign a petition to protect it. 

Jocelyn Crome, owner and manager, said: “It’s not just your ordinary shoe shop, it has been established for 30 years. It’s like an anchor in Hackney and it’s something that needs to stay - and I am going to fight tooth and nail to keep it.”

Kidzmania was told in 2015 that its Powell Road building, which is rented, had been sold to a developer, which had a proposal to demolish it in favour of flats. After some back-and-forth, the developer redesigned the plans to accommodate the soft play centre. 

“We felt our future was secure,” said business manager Anthony Kingsley. “We were going to have our own space, custom built to what we needed with someone who wanted us to be there.”

The site changed hands to be taken on by Family Mosaic and plans progressed to Kidzmania’s satisfaction. But things soured when the housing association was taken over by larger group Peabody – which seemed intent on pressing through plans for 21 flats. 

“There couldn’t have been a more marked change in approach,” said Mr Kingsley, “We were summoned to a meeting and confronted with new plans, which were significantly different.

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“What the developer has done is put a non-material amendment in 2018 to make some minor changes, and then in February of this year has put in another non-material amendment.

“And if you look at the changes, they may not be enormous (each time) but if you take it from 2016 to now, it is completely different.” 

Under the new plans, Kidzmania is set to see its capacity halve from 120 to 60 children, hurting its takings, and have to pay more rent. It will lose natural light, see its party room put into a "cramped" and "dark" basement, and surrender the ability to have older children, who cannot share space with youngsters. 

“We were told there was nothing that could be done to influence the changes because they had been approved by the council,” Mr Kingsley said. 

“We’re not property people and we were not aware these changes were happening until it was too late.” 

More than 800 have signed the new petition, which will be put to Hackney Council – with the authority asked to lobby on behalf of the soft play centre. 

Child in Kidzmania.

The amount of space offered has not changed from the 2016 plans. - Credit: Kidzmania

Roozbeh Elias-Azar, an architect and urban researcher, is assisting Kidzmania’s efforts and added: “I think Hackney Council should have elevated our position to someone who is party to these decisions. They failed to do that and for that reason did not need to consult us on the stages of the work because we were considered to be a nobody.”

A Peabody spokesperson said: “We have planning permission at Powell Road to create 21 much-needed homes which are 100 per cent affordable and include a new commercial space for the Hackney community. 

“The original planning consent, secured by the previous owner of the site, had several design challenges with fire safety being one of the most significant ones that we needed to overcome to ensure the safety of our future residents and occupants of the commercial space. 

“We have worked exclusively and collaboratively with Kidzmania for the past five years to address these issues. The commercial space being provided is earmarked for commercial operators such as Kidzmania. 

“We will be seeking a suitable occupier soon, for which Kidzmania will be very welcome to apply and we have made them aware of this.”

Hackney Council declined to comment. 

To see the petition, visit: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-kidzmania-again?fbclid=IwAR2cF7cAVVoIB2PPvFrJLd-DNlhaaQvE06il-aR3ZOEhHAAm3P-gLw_29lo