Learning tops the menu for mother and daughter at new Little Lane Adventures play cafe in Easington Lane
Suzanne Morton, 49, has owned Little Jems Nursery in Hetton for seven years but decided to team up with her daughter Jess to open Little Lane Adventures in Easington Lane.
Parents can enjoy a cuppa and snack from the extensive menu coupled with a chat with other mams and dads while their toddlers enjoy playing and developing their communication and co-ordination skills at the various learning areas around the cafe.
The mother and daughter team took over the lease of the former takeaway in November and spent two months renovating the property.
After fitting a new kitchen and boiler and overcoming some unforeseen problems including a collapsed ceiling, the duo saw their dream come true when the cafe opened on January 19.
Suzanne, who lives in Hetton, said: “There is a void of play cafes in the area with parents having to get two buses and travel several miles to get to one. I wanted to ensure parents have a safe space they can go to with their children, particularly those who may be disadvantaged or vulnerable.
“I was a mum at 18 and it can be incredibly isolating and you do doubt yourself as a mother. This is somewhere that mums and dads can come, make friends and chat with people in a similar situation while knowing their children are able to play in a safe environment.
"Thinking back to my situation, I certainly wish there had been a facility like this when I had my children.”
As a nursery practitioner and owner, learning is very much on the menu as Suzanne and Jess have designed the cafe to fit with the learning experiences and curriculum of the Early Years Foundation Stage.
Suzanne said: “At this age children very much learn through play and we have open ended activities for children to investigate. The cafe is divided into different areas of learning covering communication and language, knowledge and understanding of the world, personal social and emotional development, Maths, literacy and the creative arts.
"In the nursery my area of expertise is supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Parents can sometimes feel there is a stigma attached to having a child with additional needs but this is somewhere they can come and feel comfortable.
"Each week I run a session to support children and parents with SEND.”
Suzanne and Jess also run messy play and normal play sessions and have hired outside providers to run Diddi Dance and Bumble Bee Beatz music and arts activities with the children.
Tuesday sees the Mamas Social Group use the cafe for their knit and natter session where mothers and their children enjoy a walk before returning to the cafe for a chat and some knitting while their children explore the games, role play and activities on offer.
Part time teacher Louise Ridley, 39, from Peterlee, said: “I come to the cafe with my son Jonah and I think it’s a brilliant facility. It provides an opportunity to chat with other women who are going through the same experience.
"It’s also a safe space for the children to play and so for once, you can enjoy your cup-of-tea before it goes cold.”
Fellow mum Brogan Bewick, 26, from Sunderland, attends with her son Albie, aged two.
She said: “Being a mum can be a really lonely time and so it’s good to meet with other parents and Albie absolutely loves it. The coffee and snacks are also unreal and incredibly good value.”
The cafe has been given a five star food hygiene rating with the menu offering an extensive range of children’s dishes as well as breakfast baps, toasties, paninis and delicious desserts.
Suzanne and Jess source a lot of their produce and ingredients from local providers and the duo are determined to keep their prices affordable.
Suzanne said: “We charge £3.50 for a two hour session, which is much cheaper than other play cafes. There are high levels of social deprivation in this area and many people are struggling with the cost of living, and so it’s important parents aren’t priced out of accessing this type of resource.
"We’ve also teamed up with the Council’s Children’s Services and the Blue Card Scheme which enables foster parents to enjoy sessions at the cafe for free.”
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The management of the cafe will eventually be taken on by Suzanne’s daughter Jess, who is currently studying for a degree in Criminology at Durham University.
Jess, 20, said: “I’m really excited abut the prospect of running the cafe. I worked in the nursery from the age of 16 and I’ve always wanted to do something where I get to lead a team of people and the chance for me to manage the cafe and still to be able to work with children in this setting is amazing.”
The cafe is divided into three sessions, running from 9.30am to 11.30am, midday to 2pm and 2.30pm to 4.30pm. People can either book in advance or arrive at the cafe on the day.
More details are available on the Little Lane Adventures Facebook page.
Suzanne said: “In a year’s time I would like to see people in every session we run and hopefully we’ve been able to engage and support more vulnerable people and hard to reach groups.”