The soft play helping men to become great dads

The Hideaway in Partington is a crucial hub for fathers to spend time with their kids and get much-needed social interaction of their own.

soft play aimed at dads


At first glance, The Hideaway would seem like any other soft play centre with its ballpit, bouncy castle and slide accompanied by the sound of children having lots of fun. It was where we held my son’s fourth birthday party back in February and we have been regular attendees ever since. But it is from those visits that I have learned that The Hideaway is a centre with a difference, based right at the heart of the community in Partington, a socially-challenged area in South-West Manchester. Operating as a not-for-profit business with a Christian ethos, The Hideaway aims to help the community it serves, including one often forgotten group – dads. Here, Andy Lancey, the Family Team Manager at the centre, explains the reasoning and ethos behind why they were so keen to help.

“We felt like there was not much for dads out there, and I was aware of that as a dad myself. In terms of baby and toddler groups, everything was very Mum-centric and I wanted to do something. I had been helping at my local church at something called ‘Who let the dads out?’, a monthly toddlers’ playgroup event held on a Saturday, for dads and grandads. But it had almost outgrown the size of space and The Hideaway had everything set up, so it made sense to move it there.

There are two different areas that we have tried to focus on – for new dads and those with children all the way up to teenagers. In the lead-up to the arrival of a child, a lot of is focused on the actual birth and not much on what does dad do or how their life will change, because it is a huge life-changing event for them, as well.

We have run a general parenting course for dads. It’s a five-week course where we look at different issues with a different theme each week. We have had a couple of groups of five or six dads do that and they have been able to support each other and catch up in the evenings.

soft play aimed at dads

We’ve had a curry night and a games’ night and it has been a good chance for people to relax, enjoy each other’s company and open up about their experiences. Many have said how good it was to have time speaking to other dads. In Partington, there is nowhere to meet and no real pubs. Also because of the pandemic, people lost that social engagement. In that way, it feels different to mums who can meet up and chat more. We think it’s also important, too, for dads to meet other guys with children of a very similar age. You could have a best friend but if they don’t have children or their children are at a different stage then there will always be a gap in where you are and the things you might be going through.

Dads can feel isolated and they can get down. They may not cope with work, children and the expectations that are upon them. Or they may not be working and they face the pressure of that. Lots of dads go to work and come home and there is an expectation that as soon as they walk through the door, they will take over looking after the kids because Mum is worn out. But Dad may have had a busy day too, and needs a rest before he is thrown into childcare duty and then he may feel guilty if he doesn’t think he is doing his bit. So we’re trying to help people to be the type of dad they want to be.

A lot of the stuff we do is about wellbeing and how we can help. There is a lot of disengagement between fathers and sons. Often when looking after a child you go down that easy route of technology by using the TV, a tablet, a phone to keep them occupied or entertained, and then that all-important social interaction is broken. Plus, we deal with the issue of broken homes and how dads can engage with their kids if they are not there all the time. If you can increase and improve the engagement between dads and their families, hopefully that will help children’s social skills and we can also reiterate the importance of the bond between a father and his children. We want to build that relationship up.

Nowadays, we are seeing more stay-at-home dads or households where there is a split in childcare duties between mum and dad. That means there is a new work-life balance for many people and hopefully what we are offering can make a difference for dads in our area.”

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