“It was basically the best thing in my life.”
High praise indeed from a six year-old boy (my son’s friend, to be precise). But I could see the appeal of Si5 Spy Missions, who invited us at the weekend to the opening of their new base in Croydon. Any child who enjoys puzzles, physical activity and who isn’t phased by darkness, would be in their element there.
Si5 Spy Missions were dreamt up by Bob Richardson, who enjoyed setting ‘missions’ for his own kids and was frustrated by the lack of imagination shown in some physical action geared towards youngsters: Laserquest, for instance, is mainly just about shooting people in dark tunnels. He took a gamble on setting up the first Si5 in Cambridge; but the idea became so successful that centres have also been opened in Northampton, Nottingham, with a super-centre in Milton Keynes.
Our own mission was geared specifically for children aged 6-7 (the youngest age group allowed into the centre). The activities are all set in a large converted warehouse and are a cross between immersive theatre, a TV challenge show like CBBC’s Airmageddon, and a dark soft play centre, without the padding and where you don’t know which obstacles lie round the corner.
And what a set of obstacles there were. The boys were in their element, but for me as a reasonably fit 40-something there were enough low tunnels and steep ladders to make me feel as though I’d done a workout. There was even a trolley on which you had to lie flat on your back, and pull yourself along an ultra-low tunnel, pot-hole style. We were never given too long to think about any of it, though. Our guide, Louie, did a terrific job of setting the pace, and drawing us into the action. We were tasked with the mission of foiling Agent Malice in his plan to blow up London. To begin with, we had to steal aboard the hijacked warship Steadfast; then we were led through a series of rooms, through tunnels and trapdoors, solving clues and performing challenges as we went.
Louie quickly worked out that my son and his friend were able to tackle some of the challenges set for the older age groups (Si5 runs missions for children all the way up to adulthood), so he adjusted the action to match their level. And he was patient when they went off-piste and didn’t quite follow his instructions to the letter – for instance, in his excitement my son ran into a forbidden section of one room. The guides are all well-trained, and Bob Richardson said that he realises good guides are the most important element of the centres’ success.
Si5 run birthday party packages, with food served after the missions. It was pretty standard kids’ party fare, with about seven different choices for a main course: pizza, chicken nuggets, fish fingers etc. For an exra charge (£2) you can order ‘For Your Eyes Only’ spy party bags, with puzzles, a notebook and pen, a toy and sweets inside.
I would encourage anyone with a child similar to my son and his friend, to consider Si5 as a party venue. There were a few imperfections (for instance, I couldn’t see how the mission would work for anyone with a disability), but my son has been talking with great enthusisam about Si5 since we went. For him, it was an ideal adventure.
Need to know:
Parties for 6-7 year olds cost from £8.50 per person.
Disabled children, or those of a more sensitive nature, might not enjoy it as much as my son and his friend. For disabled people, Si5’s website encourages potential customers to contact them to talk through their needs.
Wear old clothes. Mine got rather dusty after crawling through all the tunnels. It’s also not a place for heels or fancy party gear!
Ditto with the amount of stuff you take. I carried a large bag containing the children’s coats, plus a big camera, and these hampered me in some of the tunnels.
We were invited to try out an Si5 mission on the Croydon centre’s launch day. All views are my own.