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My family and I decided to go to Center Parcs' Woburn Forest resort over New Year, paying around £2,000 for the weekend.
The weather was terrible and the only free activity for my 21-month-old grandson apart from the tropical swimming centre was the various soft plays dotted around the place.
I took my grandson into the soft play at the sports cafe, and within a few minutes of us entering, a large 12-year-old child threw themselves backwards onto him. My grandson was absolutely distraught and wouldn't stop crying, so myself and my daughter took him to the medical centre on site.
When we got there, there were no qualified medical staff, just someone who was trained in first aid. They assessed my grandson and told us to monitor his condition for a few days.
We decided to ignore this advice and follow our gut instinct, and so we took him to Milton Keynes University Hospital that same day to be assessed. There, doctors ordered an X-ray, which revealed he had broken his collarbone.
It was horrible to see him in so much pain and it goes without saying that the rest of the weekend was completely ruined.
When we got home I complained to Center Parcs. I said I felt this particular soft play was unsafe because, although there was a safety notice outside, the toddler and older children's area were connected but not signposted, meaning children of very different sizes could run between the two.
It was mayhem inside and no-one was supervising the older children, which meant you had 12-year-olds playing roughly around babies.
I also said I felt the advice given at the medical centre was inappropriate and I felt disappointed that my grandson wasn't in safer hands, especially given we were in a family resort where safety is supposed to be top priority.
Center Parcs replied offering my family free day passes for the resort, which are useless as we live three hours' drive away.
When I rejected this I was offered £60 as a “gesture of goodwill” instead, which seems pitiful given the large amount we paid to stay for the weekend.
Center Parcs is not interested in my feedback about the safety of this soft play area, and has not admitted any fault whatsoever.
Frankly, its attitude completely stinks.
CS, via email
You sent me a picture of the wall signage which was visible upon entering the softplay.
It advised that the area was not supervised by members of staff and asked parents to watch their children carefully while they play.
I asked if you had been by your grandson's side at all times, to which you said yes, you had. But due to the large size of this child who fell backwards, you were unable to stop him crushing your tiny grandson.
The sign also said children must be under 95cm tall to use the “toddler play equipment” and under 140cm to use the “main play area”. These are average heights for three and ten year-olds respectively, though as I suspect would be the case for most parents, I had to Google how these heights translated into ages.
I agreed with you that it would have been much clearer to simply impose state age restrictions.
You were in the toddler area when this incident occurred, and quite simply, this larger child who had been playing in the main area shouldn't have been anywhere near it.
His parents were nowhere to be seen, you said, probably because he was old enough for them not to worry he might himself get hurt. It would be easy for someone who hasn't visited this place to dismiss your complaint as just another injury in the soft play, and hold the parents of the 12-year-old responsible. And they are, at least in part.
However on this occasion I think there's more going on here than just a couple of parents who would rather neck pints in the sports café than supervise their child playing.
It just so happens that a few weeks after this incident, and before you wrote to me with this problem, I accompanied my own toddler into this very soft play area in Woburn Forest Centre Parcs.
Based on my personal experience of this setup I honestly believe this was an accident waiting to happen. The two areas, which are clearly designed for children of very different ages and stages, are interconnected with no barriers in between, meaning children can run (or fall) freely in between them.
It's downright dangerous, and during our visit, there were moments where my heart was in my mouth as children twice my boy's size jumped and played around him.
Dear reader, I know you have beaten yourself up a thousand times over what happened, but from what I can see you were powerless to prevent this accident. Just as the parents of the larger boy may have been, had they been standing there watching.
Unfortunately these sorts of accidents do tend to happen in the blink of an eye.
To my mind, the bottom line is that although Center Parcs acknowledged in their signage that toddlers and bigger children should be separated, it didn't do enough to split the two areas.
Had it done so this accident may never have occurred.
When I put this to the press office it responded with cold factual information and refused to discuss the matter over the phone, or comment on your very sensible suggestions for better separating the two areas.
I agreed with you that a height barrier or a separate entrance for toddlers might improve overall safety, but Center Parcs declined to comment. It also declined to offer you any further compensation or “gestures of goodwill”, which I felt was rather mean given the fact you paid £2,000 for a short weekend there which you never got to enjoy.
Center Parcs has since clarified that the day passes are for any UK resort, meaning you may be able to find one closer to home.
When I relayed all this back to you it reignited the anger you had felt upon receiving such an uncaring response from Center Parcs.
I said I wondered if the resort was remaining tight lipped due to fears you might bring a personal injury claim against it. You said you hadn't considered legal action previously, but that you were now looking into it as you felt it was the only way you could get it to sit up and listen.
Center Parcs has done itself no favours over the handling of this case, but based on its dreadful handling of the Queen's funeral day (expecting customers to leave the resort and then return to their lodges the next day), perhaps we shouldn't have expected more. But at the end of the day, you paid £2,000 for a weekend's stay only for your grandson to sustain a serious injury, which arguably could have been prevented with better soft play design.
Had it profusely apologised, listened to your feedback and offered some decent compensation, you'd have walked away without a fuss. But here I am writing this story while you're busy phoning up “no win no fee” lawyers.
There's more than one lesson to be learned by Center Parcs in all this, if only management can bring itself to start taking seriously the legitimate safety concerns of mothers and grandmothers. I won't hold my breath.
A Center Parcs spokesman said: “We have signage in our play area to inform guests of the height requirements for both play areas and ask that children are supervised at all times whilst using these areas. Whilst the areas are not supervised by staff, we do ask guests to raise any concerns over boisterous or inappropriate behaviour to our team, so they can manage this accordingly.
“Our First Aid team saw the family shortly after the incident occurred and could not see any obvious injury – however, in line with our standard advice to guests receiving first aid, they advised the family to monitor the child and, if concerned, to attend A & E. On their return to the village, we offered further support if required.”