I think I’m a fair person. If I find something good I will always write positively but I’m also prepared to say when I find something bad. I do a lot of reviews on my blog and I don’t consider myself to be fair weather with any of them. I don’t cherry pick either, if something needs addressing then I will definitely highlight the points that need improvement.
I am really saddened though, that I have to mention about our day out yesterday, when I had an absolutely AWFUL experience at a place we otherwise love, write about often and also wrote about just last week in what can only be described as a bit of a gushing way actually!
Yesterday my best friend came all the way from Guildford to visit ‘Discover’ in Stratford, the children’s story centre which is usually awesome! Last week I attended the launch party of their new exhibition and thought it was super, fantastic and amazing. But… When Eve and her little ones came with us yesterday I couldn’t have been more embarrassed of this place I have raved and raved about. First of all they were charging loads extra to enter as it is ‘The Big Write Festival’. The information is on their website but you would have to be reading every little word and click on the link to find out how much and why. It is not prominent at all. I also, as an annual member, didn’t receive an email telling me so but the extremely rude woman, a supervisor we shall call T, told me I did. Sorry T, I didn’t realise you were so privvy to my personal emails…
This woman was just awful, barking at the poor lovely girls behind the tills, shouting at me and my best friend and worse of all shouting at a little girl with special needs telling her to ‘back away from the door’ and telling her carer to ‘get her away’. The little girl’s friends had all gone in and there was such a kerfuffle at the till, no one really knowing how much to pay and customers all being a little ‘hit’ by the price hike and taking that in and the carer was just trying to calm the little girl down who was screaming, properly screaming because she could see her friend’s through the glass and couldn’t get to them. The carer asked T if she could just take the little girl in and then come back and sort out payment. The answer T gave was ‘NO, get her away from the door, she can’t be unaccompanied, get her away from the door’. The poor carer was desperately trying to calm the little girl down who just wanted to be with her friend’s and the adults they were with but T was unrelenting and the carer couldn’t get into her bag or have a moment of calm to sort out paying because she was looking after her distressed little girl.
I said ‘Let them have our tickets, we have ours and they can go in on ours and we shall do the waiting and sort out new tickets’. T said ‘This is nothing to do with you’. I said ‘I’m just trying to help the little girl’. My friend, a teacher, then told T that the little girl had special needs (it was obvious but if she knew surely she wouldn’t be so angry?) but T wouldn’t budge and told us to move on through. I said I was sorting things in my bag and she told me I couldn’t be in this area, the cafe which was serving food and drinks (although you couldn’t sit down and had to be herded to the tiny room upstairs to do that) and entrance where you had to come through to enter because ‘it wasn’t safe’ – bit worrying!. I then asked the lovely girls behind the counter, who were as visibly distressed about the little girl as I felt, ‘can’t you do something, if you let her in she will calm down then her carer can sort out payment, I don’t see the problem?’ They all looked really sympathetic and one said ‘I wish we could but she’s the supervisor and we have to do what she says’.
At this point T was saying loudly how the little girl couldn’t go in because she would SCARE the other children!!!!!!!! She just wanted to be with her friend’s inside the centre…
Well, when everyone eventually got in I complained. Loudly! One man, the manager was very sympathetic. I remember he was very understanding once before when the nursery next door, who they allow to share their garden, had been letting their children run wild and I had mentioned it. He is, like most of the staff it has to be said, very good with people and exactly the sort of chap you need at a place where children, all children, able bodied, disabled or with special needs, should be welcome. Because everything was ticketed for this so called ‘special day’ for ‘The Big Write Festival’ he went off and got Eve and I a load of tickets for things which was really kind as we hadn’t been able to do this at the till due to T having her tantrum. Perhaps she’s not used to dealing with children? Perhaps she doesn’t know how to deal with children with special needs? She certainly doesn’t know how to be a polite human being!
Well, after that I am sorry to say the day only got worse…
There was a dead bird in the garden with feathers all over the place. They said: It’s a garden, it happens. Feathers were everywhere and it had been there some time! We saw it at lunch time then saw them cleaning it up a couple of hours later…
The events (which is the reason for the extra charge) weren’t running on time and one in the tent outside didn’t seem to run at all. We needed a wee at the start of our ‘Space’ time (the reason we’d come) so we couldn’t go as by the time the 6 of us got out of the very limited toilets on offer (usually there is more) our session was practically ended.
There was only one baby changing station but tons of people, more than usual being a Saturday. I got in the queue and asked was there another as Jimmy had had a bit of an explosion. ‘No. They’re all being used for the author events downstairs and you can’t go in’ I was told. ‘But I’m not even next in the queue’ I said. ‘Sorry, that’s just the way it is’ was the reply. I said I would have to change him on the floor in that case and was told I was absolutely NOT allowed to do that. So they wouldn’t give me somewhere suitable unless I queued behind 3 other families with more than one child all going into the one changing loo on offer and I couldn’t change on the floor. Poo was leaking so I did what I had to do and changed him on the floor.
I apologised after and said I had no option. I asked another supervisor why it was like this and she repeated, as if on recorded message ‘I’m sorry you’re not having a good time’. I was trying to find the real person in her and said ‘look, I’m not trying to blame you or make YOU feel bad, I’m just saying that this is rubbish today and asking for a human response. Her reaction was to go bright red, shake and have tears well up in her eyes. This told me I was not the first person to ask these questions today…
I remember going to another ‘event’ at ‘Discover’, a long time ago so I had put it out of my mind but it was just as bad. We had booked for a snow party Christmas 2011. We were told to book as there were limited numbers but when we got there the queue was out the door and once inside an hour and a half later the process was just the same, tickets for everything and nothing running smoothly. Staff were running round like headless chickens being rude to customers (not the story tellers, mainly the staff in charge) just like yesterday and it generally was just a bit of a wash out… (and I haven’t even got started on the snow machine which was laughable)!
Ordinarily ‘Discover’ is exactly as I say it is, super, wonderful, fantastic, value for money, worth travelling to… But from my experience I would have to say AVOID THEM when on a ‘special event’ as they DO NOT DO THEM WELL! Such a shame to be able to get so many things so right and then fail so spectacularly when under pressure! Almost as if they are a ship with two very different and arguing captains, a good guy and a bad, Mr Jekyll and his not so friendly friend mr Hyde…
My points for ‘Discover’ to take note of would be:
Ticketing certain events and having specific times for certain things for children is useless. Perhaps older ones can do it but under 5’s need the loo, need to eat, need a change of clothes, need a break, need a cuddle, need a cry, need… Well, they’re unpredictable. We had all these tickets and ended up not doing many things at all because we weren’t ready at exact times. We wanted to see a particular story-teller, our favourite, so I asked him when he was on and we changed our tickets to accommodate but then he swapped with another story teller so we still didn’t see him. We also went to meet the author and illustrator of Qpootle 5 which I found interesting but it went completely over the little ones heads. We paid the extra for this so we went but at 3 and 10 months they just wanted to do regular stuff and not have lectures… Little ones don’t care about having the actual author there, Florence and Jimmy’s Grusi (step Grandma) has a very famous children’s author cousin, they do not understand that so why would they understand this? They said the extra charge was also for the story telling sessions but they do these anyway and we’d have been happy not to go to any, we just wanted to play… My advice would be, don’t charge extra for entry, charge for each session then you won’t have people buying tickets they don’t want and it won’t be such a herd at the door as everyone tries to get their moneys worth. Also, it wont penalise those of us with children not old enough to take advantage. Yesterday we would have gone somewhere else if we’d have known but by the time we found out we were already there so perhaps your attempts at advanced warning need to be stepped up and certainly made more prominent on your website!
Make sure you have adequate toilet facilities. If you have to close off toilets because you have authors downstairs and yet you have more visitors as a result of said authors then it just doesn’t make sense?! With a load of potty training toddlers and 3 toilets (one with the seat missing and wee all over the floor) then expect way worse than just a nappy being changed on the floor!
Make sure people are monitoring the space for cleanliness. Feathers and dead bird bits were hanging around for ages and if, as you say, it’s a garden, it happens, perhaps a garden monitor wouldn’t go amiss? This would also help with problems when you share your garden with your neighbours.
If someone buys a drink in the cafe but can’t sit in the cafe because you’ve moved the sitting area to another floor, don’t chuck their drinks in the bin while they carry the food up as they only have two hands and need to come back for them.
And most importantly… Please, please, please only have customer facing staff with customer service skills and make sure they know how to interact with children who have special needs. The line T said over and over, to us, the child in question and in front of all the other shocked guests ‘SHE WILL SCARE ALL THE OTHER CHILDREN’ sticks with me and makes me feel sick. All day this awful woman was giving me the evil eye and whispering about me… I think she must have known how horrendous her behaviour was and had got on the defensive.
I couldn’t afford the extra money yesterday and my best friend couldn’t either but we would have GLADLY given our tickets to that little girl and wanted to only T told us she couldn’t discuss another customer with us (we were all in the same room) and to stay out of it. It was almost as if she wanted this little girls day ruined. She certainly made our experience unpleasant.
We will of course still go to ‘Discover’. Yesterday is not indicative of their behaviour, I just think they need some event management training and some better ideas about how to do it. It seems obvious to me that you charge for individual author events rather than at the door where not everyone wants to go but as they’ve paid they will rugby scrum into it anyway… perhaps they’ll take that on board and put T on a customer service course. I don’t want to be mean about her but when a little girl has been shouted at like that it’s unforgivable and she should feel very ashamed of herself!
I would always say go to ‘Discover’ but I felt very embarrassed yesterday when someone said they were there on my blog recommendation and I winced. Ordinarily however and it is THE BEST place to go with children… Just avoid these sort of events would be my additional advice! Until they sort themselves out anyway! I fully expect to have peed off ‘Discover’ now and don’t expect them to invite me to their openings anymore and that’s fine with me, I have integrity and I had to tell my story… I will still write when things are good but I will absolutely write when things are bad too, just as I always have…
It’s fair to say the children had a good time regardless, we ensured they did but Florence’s face here sums up how Eve and I felt most of the day at ‘Discover’ yesterday. I don’t see my best friend often and it was a shame. Made up for at Jamie’s Italian afterwards though! Their children’s meals are AWESOME!