A Five Star Bouncy Castle has arrived at the Pumphouse Gallery. And it’s art.

If you gave your kids £7000 to spend on whatever they wanted, how do you think they would spend it? Adopt a range of wild animals to keep in the garden? A trip to Disneyworld? Maybe deck out their bedroom with every piece of technology imaginable?

Well artist Pilvi Takala did exactly that with the members of one London youth centre, as part of her project The Committee. The result was a custom-made bouncy castle called “Five Star Bouncy House”, created for their own enjoyment as well as providing the opportunity to be hired out to raise much-needed funds for their club.

More than three years later, in an exhibition for the Pumphouse Gallery, Takala revisits the group to hear their thoughts and feelings following the centre’s closure due to funding cuts. She also reflects on what that piece now means for the children, and for society, in the wake of its demise.

The artist’s documentary forms the main part of the exhibition, but more exciting perhaps for visiting families, is the bouncy castle itself, which is free (yes free!) to explore (yes! bounce around on!) every weekend until 26th March.

There is no age restriction in relation to who can get involved in the inflatable fun, but every visitor will be assessed by attendants, and poor weather conditions might also scupper plans.

That said, every other Sunday from 15th January there will be a series of interactive family workshops with artist-cum-anthropologist Emma McGarry. These are free to drop in to and explore a range of themes from safety, the power of words, freedom and play. It also goes without saying that the grounds of Battersea Park where the gallery is housed, is fabulous all year round, with a recently refurbished children’s playground, a peace pagoda, its own zoo and close proximity to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Pilvi Takala is exhibiting until 26th March
Pumphouse Gallery, Battersea Park, London, SW11 4NJ
Weds to Sun 11am – 5pm, closed Mon and Tues and when no exhibition is on
Five Star Bouncy House is weekends only, weather permitting
Admission Free

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5 Essential family arts activities for January

This festive season was absolutely jam-packed with things to see and do, and having had so many hands on deck to get out and about, the New Year can feel like a bit of a let down. But fear not. This January is an exceptional time in the arts, with so much on offer for parents and carers with younger children. Here are my top picks for the month ahead:

1. Lumiere London
Having got the kids used to so many late nights over Christmas, leading creative company Artichoke (working in partnership with the Mayor of London) are just about to give us a very good reason to keep them up late once again! For 4 days (well, nights) this January, some of London’s best known locations and most iconic architecture will be transformed by 3D projections, interactive installations and a host of extraordinary light works as part of Lumiere London. Visitors are invited to walk the dazzling night time gallery on foot, using their map to navigate the concentration of work in and around the West End and Kings Cross. The entire programme looks awe-inspiring but specific highlights for families look set to be Neon Dogs, Circus of Light and the life-like elephant Elephantastic, which will emerge from a cloud of dust before making a slow journey into Central London to the sounds of the jungle.
Lumiere London, Various locations, 14th – 17th January, 6.30pm-10.30pm, admission free

2. London International Mime Festival
Aside from aspects of theatre that we have seen at The Unicorn, The Polka and The Albany, my visit to Hackney Children’s Theatre last year was one of the first times I have ever seen the more traditional art of mime tailored to a family audience, and it went down a storm. The kids were mesmerised whilst proud parents looked on, realising how unnecessary it was for them to narrate every turn of events. With this in mind, I really hope that future incarnations of this festival bring a bit more for younger viewers, but for those keen to explore the art of mime with little ones, there are a couple of highlights on offer. Kite at the Soho Theatre (Age guidance 7+) tells a poignant story of freedom and the joy of play, whilst the Barbican is offering a rare opportunity to enjoy vintage Charlie Chaplain in a weekend of classic circus films (certificate U)
London International Mime Festival, Various venues, 9th January to 6th February, purchase tickets via the event website

3. Mini Vault Festival
Having visited many times in the past for productions by theatre companies such as Punchdrunk, as well as the incredible Adventures in Wonderland last summer, The Vaults is fast becoming London’s premiere venue for immersive and interactive theatre. It therefore seems fitting that this curious maze of tunnels under Waterloo Station should play host to a family-friendly spectacular of underground shows and events to compliment their grown up festival which starts this month. Promising circus, puppetry, live music and even comedy sets suitable for younger ears, Mini Vault goes a long way to prove that this top-secret location isn’t just the domain of big kids.
Mini Vault Festival, Leake Street, SE1 7NN, 30th & 31st January, 13th & 14th February and 27th & 28th February, admission free (although some workshops and specific events have admission charges).

4. Southbank Centre: Winter Festival
Proving it really is for Winter and not just for Christmas, even after Slava’s Snow Show has packed up and gone home, the Southbank Centre’s popular Winter Festival is still going strong. Head to Bump Roller-Disco under Hungerford Bridge, for a less chilly alternative to ice skating. Promising dazzling lights and a pumping sound system from 11am to 11pm every day, it’s a fun way to eek out the last of the festive season (skates start at child’s size 9 through to adults size 14). Whilst you’re there, remaining conveniently located in Hungerford Car Park is also the Rekorderlig Cider Lodge where you can enjoy winter drinks (of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety) and Scandinavian street food in a cosy pop-up bar resembling a quintessential Scandinavian house. Aside from the festival, there’s usual draw of the Clore Ballroom as well as Gamelan workshops for pre-schoolers (Dragon Babies, Monday 11am) and some fantastic free lunchtime music with Friday’s Lunch and Tonic.
Southbank Centre Winter Festival, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX, until 17th January, admission free (although some activities and events have admission charges).

5. Tickets for Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt are available again!
January is definitely a time to give thanks that the wonderful interactive exhibitions at Discover Story Centre don’t just run for half term but for half of the year! After a sell out run over the Christmas holidays, tickets are now available again for Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake & Bad Things at Discover Story Centre, and it is proving one not to miss! Younger visitors have the chance to go in search of the bear, to stumble and trip in the dark forest or swishy swash in the long wavy grass, whilst older visitors can embark on a fun fact-finding mission and create their own ‘Rosen-inspired’ poems to take away. Read more about our visit at the end of last year.
Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things, Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, London E15 4QZ until 10th April, admission £5 per visitor plus free day admission with £1 admin fee (under 2s free).
Note that the exhibition is only open Tuesday to Friday, 3pm-5pm in term time, but returns to daily pre-bookable all-day sessions come school holiday time (i.e. February half term).

Discover’s new Rosen exhibition delivers the bear necessities and so much more

Guest post by Lindsey Heaven

I started my journey to the preview of Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake & Bad Things, a brand new exhibition at Discover Children’s Story Centre, feeling guilty that I couldn’t bring along my five-year-old. A massive fan of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, he’s the same age that I was when our primary school teacher first began to read us Michael Rosen’s ‘Eddie Poems’. For me this was the moment that I fell utterly in love with poetry, books and reading. Poems read from Quick Let’s Get Out of Here and also You Wait Till I’m Older Than You (collections first published in the early 80s when poetry was a celebrated part of the curriculum) are hilarious observations of Michael Rosen’s son, and are one step on in little people’s appreciation of the satisfying rhythms and magical adventure of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

The journey to Stratford is always a relief to parents of a buggy-aged child with lifts aplenty and limited gaps between the train and the platform on both the Overground and the Jubilee Line. With neighbouring Stratford Circus and nearby Olympic Park, these days Stratford has so much more than Discover for the family visitor. If you are limited for time, the big red cranes of the building site at Stratford station, Robert the 1940s steam train and Malcolm Robertson’s Railway Tree sculpture are enough to delight on the briefest of strolls from the station to the story centre.

This visit to Discover had a lot to live up to, having visited before as a family for the brilliant Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers. Discover’s whole raison d’être is for children to experience ‘story’ in whatever form it may take through art, literature or music and for it to be a completely unrestrained, immersive and entertaining experience. This philosophy runs through everything they do and was most apparent (and appreciated) when my youngest insisted on yelling ‘What man saaaaay, Mummy?’’Who big maaan?’ as the director of Discover and Michael Rosen addressed the assembled journalist and publishers.

So what’s there? Just about everything you can think of from Michael’s picture books and poetry collections. The attention to the most minutiae of detail is incredible and massively appealing to children who (no pun intended) feel like they’re discovering it for the first time all for themselves. The first thing you see when you enter the darkened floor is the giant chocolate cake with its secret larder where kids can role play serving up desserts. Around this, and winding throughout the exhibition space, is the ‘deep cold’ river from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Everywhere you look is the ‘swishy swashy grass’ of the same book – incredibly simple but somehow very attractive to all the little people there, not least because of the tiny bear dens nestled amongst some of the tufts at ground level.

There’s the old fashioned school room from Michael Rosen’s childhood, taking inspiration from the hilarious and illustrated first readers book No Breathing in Class – fascinating for slightly older children and with an old fashioned blackboard, great for creative and chalk-happy toddlers too. Also for older children and parents is the recreated living room of Michael’s grandparents with photos and poems telling the story of his life and inspirations. But each room isn’t exclusive to a certain age group and my toddler loved the living room, in particular the TV that you stick your head into and pretend to be on screen!

Appealing to children’s darker and grubbier sides is the Dread Shed, inspired by both the story Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed and also his poetry collection The Big Book of Bad Things it’s full of grim things like creepy crawlies and (what I think was) fake bug poo on the floor. But by far our favourite part was the ‘big dark forest’ and ‘gloomy’ cave of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt which I thought was more atmospheric than The Gruffalo animation.  The wood chips covering the floor of the forest are so deep you sink deliciously into them and Discover have cleverly tapped into that primal digging instinct that all little people seem to have (and that keeps them happy on the beach for hours), by providing mini shovels to dig holes amongst the roots of the dark overhanging trees. Venture even further into the forest, crouching down low and you’ll discover the cave where you might even come across a bear or three!

I cannot recommend this exhibition or the Discover Story Centre more. Outside of the featured exhibitions, the centre has a permanent indoor story trail secret cave, a musical dance floor, a creative table (by donation), a slide, and an outdoor story garden complete with a space craft and a pirate ship. Negatives are almost impossible to find. It was a little hectic with a toddler, which wasn’t helped by a full class of six-year-olds going round at the same time, but Discover usually sets aside separate times for school trips so that shouldn’t ever normally be a problem.

If you enjoyed The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers, then dare I say it, like us, you might love this more due to the diversity of Rosen’s written work, along with the profile of his career and his life – from his Jewish roots to his opinions on education and politics, making this a much richer experience whatever your age.

It really was a big magical, immersive, success.  But probably one of the most special things that came from our visit, was being inspired to read poems to both my boys last night which they were thrilled and delighted by. So it turns out, we all got to have our (chocolate) cake and eat it.

Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things is on until 10th April 2016.

Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London, E15 4QZ (Mon-Fri 3-5pm – term time, 10am-5pm school holidays, Sat & Sun 11am-5pm, Admission for Adults and Children £5, Family Ticket £18, Under 2’s free).