We have always loved spending time at The Lookout. It’s a local forest with The Lookout Discovery Centre, cafe and playground as well as a Go Ape site. It’s somewhere the children have had birthday parties and where we’ve been going for walks since the children were tiny.
It felt only right that we should go back to The Lookout after lockdown and see whether we could enjoy it just as much with all the extra measures in place.
Since lockdown The Lookout has changed massively. The Discovery Centre isn’t open – as it’s a very hand on, indoor attraction – but the play area and cafe are open for Short Stay and Play sessions. To use the play area you have to book a ticket to a 90 minutes play session which costs £5 in total for up to 6 people plus an 82p booking fee.
The £5 is then given back as credit for the cafe. On top of this, if you drive you also have to pay the car parking charges – £2.60 for up to 4 hours.
I did feel more than a little irked at having to pay to visit what was previously a fantastic free play area but I wanted to give the Lookout the benefit of the doubt and experience it for myself. So we booked a lunchtime slot on a Saturday and the children were excited to go back to the Lookout after a few months away.
When we arrived we had a designated parking area to park in and joined a queue to go into the play area. There was hand sanitiser available at the start and dotted around the play area too and we were given wrist bands to wear for the duration of the visit.
We were told our table number and were given a picnic bench for the duration of our play session. This was a great perk as I know how hard it is to get a picnic bench at times!
The children went off to play and it was immediately obvious how limited the numbers in the park were. Not all the picnic benches were used – I think this may be because they alternate which benches are used on each session so they have time to clean – and the play areas were a lot quieter than we are used to.
Dave went to the cafe and told them our table number and used the £5 credit to buy hot drinks and muffins. Typically we would take a picnic with us and not actually use the play area so I did feel like I was being forced to spend money that I wouldn’t usually spend.
The children had a great time though. Swings, slides, roundabouts, climbing structures and even a castle to explore. The Lookout playground is great and, being in the heart of the forest it’s a really lovely place to spend time.
Since lockdown we have preferred ticketed attractions as we can almost guarantee we will be able to socially distance and numbers will be limited. Having said that, no other free attractions that I know of have implemented a fee to book a time slot like The Lookout has.
Although you get the £5 fee back in cafe credit, this will make it unaffordable for many families who used to use the playground for free. I know that to a lot of people £5 isn’t much money but to some it’s the difference between being able to take their children to the park and not being able to. And that doesn’t sit right with me.
I really don’t understand why The Lookout couldn’t offer a booking system without a fee. Many people would still use the cafe and would probably spend more because they don’t feel like they’ve been pressured into spending in the first place.
The children had such a nice time at The Lookout but, would we go back? No. Not whilst the £5 fee is in place, out of principle if nothing else. It’s not fair that a community amenity like this has been turned into a thing of privilege and I don’t feel right using that park when others can’t afford to. That isn’t right.
So instead I will be going to other local, free parks like Frimley Lodge Park where there is no parking charge, no fee to use the play area and where we can spend as long as we like.
I look forward to going back to The Lookout in the future when the charge has been removed. Until then we’ll be going elsewhere.