Let’s be honest. Debenhams in Sutton is showing its age. From the grubby changing rooms to the consistently broken down escalators and smelly lift, signs of wear and tear abound. So it’s safe to say I didn’t hold much hope for the child-friendliness of the ‘restaurant’ (we’ll call it a cafe for this review).
Don’t be fooled! The cafe is a perfectly acceptable place to feed your baby / toddler and had a few surprising touches. First of all, there is SPACE! And plenty of it. No need to squeeze my postnatal belly and buggy here (yes, Starbucks Sutton, I am referring to you). Enough space for your pushchair or double buggy even. Then there are the highchairs – bassinette style for newbies and good old standard wooden seats for the toddlers. And the safety straps are intact – mostly.
So, once you have unloaded your luggage and baby and strapped them in, you can make use of the ‘At Your Own Risk’ microwave. It’s super powerful, nuking baby food (I sneak my own in but there is a limited selection of children’s food available to buy, including innocent smoothies and annabel karmel ready meals) in minutes. The food area is clean, the microwave doesn’t pong and they even provide small food cartons (with lids) for you to heat and serve food. Handy if, like me, you forget/drop/melt your Boots baby food bowl and lid.
Helpfully, there are disposable bibs, individual wet wipes in sachets and plenty of napkins.
The food might not be all that, and the cafe staff aren’t that friendly, but just have a coffee and a sandwich and be thankful that baby is fed and might just drop off in the buggy afterwards while you browse the clothes. Be warned that the shopfloor is not as accommodating as the cafe in terms of space, so mummies, drive buggies carefully to avoid the tutting staff.
So, not quite as good as it should be. No parent child parking spaces in the Ashley shopping centre at all. 4 lifts, one usually out of order and as the stairs only go to level one, all the shoppers are trying to get in the lifts with trolleys from Waitrose, buggys and shopping. If you are parked on the 1st level it’s an idea to use the customer lift in Waterstones but if you have some older children you run the gauntlet of getting past McDonalds!
The toilet & baby changing facilities are generally good and available to both gender parents. If it’s just the loo for you but you have a buggy, the disabled toilet is big enough to fit you both in easily.
I though it might be helpful to post some info for mums meeting/shopping in central Croydon. An obvious destination for baby changing facilities is Mothercare (Whitgift Centre) but be warned, its facilities are often ‘out of order’! Alternatives are, top floor of Whitgift centre (nr Auberge) which has a baby change with toilet cubicles & feeding area or, Marks & Spencer (1st flr back of Homeware dept.). There are also baby changing facilities in the Centrale shopping area.
Generally, most shops cram as much in as they can, and there’s very few which acknowledge people with buggies or wheelchairs might want to visit. However, I’m trying to stay positive, so here’s some shops which you should generally find are good to visit for various reasons.
Mothercare – a bit obvious, I’ve never been to a store yet which doesn’t have a changing/feeding area in it – comfy seats and a bit of quiet when you need it and don’t feel comfortable feeding anywhere.
Starbucks – while I’m not the biggest fan of their coffee, almost every one I’ve been to has good baby changing and facilities, plus plenty of space for buggies, child seats if you need them, plus what seems to be groups of NCT mums all doing the same as you…
Caffe Nero – much better coffee, and again really good facilities – though I’ve found quite a few of these you need to ask for a key at the counter before you can get into baby changing (apart from the one in Croydon!) – all well and good, but it’s a popular shop and there’s the conundrum of queueing or pushing in to ask for it… which is never ideal with a stinky/upset baby
I’ve only flown once with H, but if you’re going to fly, may as well make it Australia, right? Just walking, almost talking, and not as sleepy as she used to be. Sensible. If for any reason we happen to have a second child I’ve already said we’re flying when number 2 is 6 months, so they can sleep the entire time – it’s exhausting. I’ve written up a load of advice for mum friends over at various blogs, but decided it’s time I did a more coherent list, as I do like to ramble.
For the record, we went for a month, we had three large suitcases, one small cabin case with a car seat strapped to it, plus a changing bag, and one large record bag (also for cabin luggage), plus one 15 month old and a stroller. Oh, and the day we flew we missed our flight thanks to London’s evil snow at the end of November 2010 – thanks to the trains being cancelled. We didn’t end up stranded at Gatwick (thanks to friends nearby) and did fly out three days later, but it certainly was the biggest thing we’ve learnt about travelling. Hopefully it’ll be some help for you.
• Take a car seat if you can. You can’t always trust hired ones at the other side, although if you do take a seat with you, put it in a bin bag (helps protect against rainy weather), and try and strap it to hand luggage (we bought a case from M&S). We had to buy a seat for H, which meant we didn’t qualify for bassinet seats (she’d have been too tall anyway) but it meant she could be strapped in and was quite happy watching the Mr Men on the in-flight entertainment when we needed a break from entertaining her! We could only find one car seat which was lapbelt compatible, the Britax Prince – as we’d read some airlines will put the seat in the hold if it can’t be fastened that way.
• Next time we’re going to book a day room at a hotel nearby. Our flight was 8.30pm, but we couldn’t have allowed for the weather – our cab was gridlocked, so we had to resort to getting the train. At least if you’re in a room it’s not the most fun, but you’re there.
• Food-wise you’re doomed most ways. We did Baby Led Weaning with H from six months, so being offered mush (and she’s 15 months at this point too) on takeoff for her to eat was kind, but something she’d never eat. The kit with the spoon and wipes and everything was useful though, so even if you’re offered food but a meal has been booked, make sure you get one. We ordered H a toddler meal, which seemed to consist of crisps, chocolate, more chocolate, sweets, sugar, boing boing, hyper child sort of medicines. We swapped most of our food with hers and kept all crackers, cheese, savoury things, fruit and vegetables to one side for her. The tray on the back of the chair wouldn’t work on her side due to the car seat, so fortunately I got my meals first (vegetarian), and scoffed it so we could use the other two trays that we could access.
• In-flight Entertainment. Up until a month before Oz, the television was never put on at home – mind, she didn’t need too much distracting as she could crawl, and was happy sitting on the chair reading a book. However, we decided to introduce some Cbeebies into her life so that if we needed to put her in front of a screen on the flight, she’d have some familiarity. They had a handful of Cbeebies programmes, and also had some Australian ones (including several Wiggles episodes from ‘Wiggle And Learn’) which she watched on the way back (after having seen it on tv there almost every day). The Mr Men was the big surprise hit – the bright colours and simplicity worked a treat.
• Stroller – we got a battered old stroller from Freecycle, as I didn’t want to take our nice one on the plane – which was a sensible move. We had it up to the gate at Gatwick when it was put in the hold, and fortunately Dubai had some complimentary Emirates ones (all MacLaren’s), so we got to see the stroller again on arrival in Oz. On our return they had complimentary strollers at Perth, so it had to be checked in straight away – so it’s worth knowing what the policy is at each airport before you travel, depending on how you get there.
• Nappies & changing – the airplane apparently had some nappies, but we had plenty in the changing bag, so never needed to ask. The changing area in the loos on the plane were surprisingly good too – no space, but it’s do-able – though there’s no belt to fasten baby to (thank god she’ll lie still anyway). We got a large plastic bag to put any used nappies in, though didn’t realise until we’d landed – in London. Oops. Although one bag for a 12 hour flight is a bit hopeful, I think. (we had our own nappy sacks)
• That old “the attendants will take your child for a walk” thing… it happened once on four flights. We got about five minutes of child-free time and it was good to do things like reorganise our seating area, and stop, and breathe, and relax. Then back comes our crying toddler unhappy as she’s not with mummy or daddy…
• Child amusement packs – Emirates are pretty good – they had some notepads and pencils, a quiz book (H loved this, she pointed out all the animals she knew), as well as some odd looking hand puppets. We brought some sticker books and some Cbeebies magazines which also helped pass the time.
I’ve set up this page as many of us mums are sick of walking up and down the steps at Carshalton Station to change platforms – there’s no limited access available for people with buggies, or indeed disabled people.
We’ve had some discussions up at the Carshalton Mums Facebook group, and several great ideas have come of this – one was to set up a petition to try and gauge the kind of support we’d get for this – after all, Carshalton seems to have tons of mums – so it can’t just be the few of us having this problem.
If you take the train to Sutton, then you’re fine – and currently the option as far as London goes (or anywhere between Carshalton and Victoria) is to either go under the tracks via two flights of stairs, to get to the other side. It’s do-able, but not ideal – or alternatively you go to Sutton, change (as they have functioning lifts most of the time) and come back.
Heather commented that she’d called Southern a while ago, as it’s possible to go into town from Hackbridge via a step-free route, and back via Carshalton – although you gain a zone – and she wanted to avoid paying the extra due to their lack of facilities. Their solution was for her to phone the assistance line 24 hours beforehand to book someone to help her over the stairs – a waste of taxpayers money!
Tash backed this up, pointing out that if any of us want any kind of change then we have to regularly ring the number, and as overall requests increase then a change is likely to happen quicker. Without regular useage (and they have to provide the help), then it’s not going to happen.
Alison suggested a petition to send to Tom Brake, the local MP to try and get something done. A company has to show it’s unreasonable/unfeasable to make any changes for people – so there’s every chance we can do something – unless it costs millions. When the Disability Discrimination Act came into effect in 2004 and updated in 2010 this is mentioned – http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/MotoringAndTransport/DG_4001077
Today I saw Tom Brake was campaigning at the Beddington Park Fayre for the AV. I asked him whether many people had come to him about accessibility to and from Carshalton Station (and indeed Carshalton Beeches), he confirmed that it had come up a few times in the past.
Basically, the problem lies with Network Rail. They don’t have the funds to do it at the moment, though it is on the list of things to do. However, we’re so far down the list that it could be several years before we see anything. Tom reckoned it would cost around 220k to get two lifts installed, and pointed out that Carshalton Beeches did a similar campaign (and they’re far worse off than us) and were told to find private sponsorship to make it happen.
Tom did point out there is an exit from the London bound platform which goes alongside the school, however it’s steps all the way – but it could potentially mean there’s only one flight of stairs to go down. I had a look today (Tuesday 3rd May) and took some photos, but really it’s all overgrown land with some streetlights, and a bricked in entrance. I do wonder if something could be done to make that entrance operational again, and indeed why it was closed in the first place? Maybe getting this opened again would be cheaper, so would mean the problem would be solved?
I’ve started an online petition, as it would be good to spread the word and get some idea of numbers of people who might be interested in helping – plus of course it’s good to let people know we want to change things!
If anyone has any comments or wants to help try and get some kind of campaign together, please email me at email@example.com – thanks.
Carshalton Station is great, I mean, you’ve a huge hill to walk up to get to it (all exercise counts, right?), but once you get there and if you’re ‘with buggy’ then it all changes. Travel in a Sutton-bound direction and you’re fine, you can pretty much step on the train, and if you sit to the left of the entrance you should be perfectly placed for the disabled/buggy carriage too (if you’re lucky). Need to get to London? That’s where the fun starts.
You’ve two flights of stairs to navigate and they’re not great. Last time I took H out of the buggy and dragged it along behind me which then meant my shopping came out of the bottom of the buggy.
There’s a whole page about this, as I’d love to try and get some kind of campaign going to do with access to the station – so please email if you’d like to help.
The Sun in Carshalton is a fantastic family pub. Nothing else compares – the pub has great food, plenty of highchairs (though it is popular, so if you have your own portable kind it’s always worth bringing it) and at the back there’s even Baby Changing (sharing the toilet area with disabled facilities).
There are also games, crayons, books – basically it’s the sort of place run by people who have children and who know that occasionally children need extra entertainment.
Outside there’s a play area with more activities, though unfortunately it’s a bit too close to where the smokers are – but go there on a quiet day and it’s great.
I’ve been to other pubs in the area, and none provide any kind of baby changing – so have had to change my baby on a table in the dining room! (their suggestion – not mine) Also, the majority of the pub is accessible by buggy – there are steps to the sandpit area, though there’s a gate from Mill Lane which means you can get to the lower level.
The pub is part of the Victoria Battersea pub group, and was refurbished in 2009 – since then it’s definitely the most family-friendly pub I’ve ever encountered.