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Nick Cope

The Baberoo has owned one of the CDs by Nick Cope, the Oxford-based children’s singer-songwriter, for quite a while now, and we have always enjoyed listening to his music. But we had never been to see one of his concerts (£3 per child, £1 per adult) until last month. We accompanied some friends who are regular attendees to a performance at the St Albans Church Hall in East Oxford (corner of Charles and Catherine Streets), and as soon as he started playing I kicked myself for not attending a live show before.

There’s a reason Nick Cope has such a strong following. He is beloved by both children and parents because his songs are delightful and catchy. We’ve all had the irritating ‘Wheels on the Bus’ earworm follow us around for days at a time, but Nick Cope’s songs are so funny and tuneful that it’s actually a pleasure to catch yourself humming, oh, say, a song about a witch that lived in a forest with a pet dragon named Keith.

It’s his unusual and inventive songwriting that’ll charm you first, and if you’ve got his CDs (he’s got three so far and a fourth to be released for Christmas 2014) then it’s fun to sing along to his indie-pop-sounding songs with your little one at home. But when you see him performing live, you’ll realize what you’ve been missing. It is brilliant live entertainment. He’s got an incredible talent for relating to both children and adults at the same time. He gets the audience clapping, stomping, making faces, and jumping up and down with gusto. His act is a perfect balance of over-the-top gurning and deadpan patter. And his impressions are spot-on; when he does one of his animal songs you actually believe that what you are seeing in front of you is a meerkat.

Nick Cope plays weekly family music sessions at several locations in Oxford and Abingdon, and also performs at festivals and events in and around Oxfordshire. The session we have attended most frequently runs from 10:45-11:45 on Fridays at St Albans Church Hall in East Oxford (although it’s a bit of a trek for us; I wish there was a concert location in Headington!). We’ve also been to see him in Wantage at the Beacon, and he’s a regular at the Story Museum during school holidays. Check Nick’s site for details of locations and times for upcoming sessions. The following details about space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (as per my usual ratings system) refer specifically to the St Albans Church Hall location.

Space: The space at St Albans Church Hall isn’t huge, but it’s got enough room for about 30-40 families, including enough space for everyone’s baby carriage to be parked at the back. A half-circle of about 30 chairs provides a seating space, and there’s plenty more space to sit on the floor. Many children love to go right up to the front to watch Nick play, all the better to watch his hilarious facial expressions.

Ambiance: The feeling when you walk into a Nick Cope concert couldn’t be more wonderful. The music puts you in such a good mood that you feel like you’re friends with everyone in the room. To watch the gyrating toddlers throwing themselves around in gleeful abandon takes you back to your own childhood, lifting your spirits and temporarily banishing all your worries. There’s a reason I’ve never seen a kid cry at a Nick Cope concert (unless they’ve fallen and bonked themselves, in which case the crying only lasts a couple of seconds). It’s like magic. Yes, it’s that good.

Facilities: St Albans Church Hall, unfortunately, does not have any baby-changing facilities. However, there would be ample space on the floor (not in the bathroom itself, but in the concert area) if you needed to change a diaper. But I’m guessing most people who attend live close enough to be able to get home fairly quickly (perhaps while even humming Nick’s song ‘The Baby’s Done a Poo’) in the event of a diaper emergency. I can’t speak for the facilities at the other locations where Nick does concerts, but again, it may be that many attendees live close by and can get home for diaper changes.

Feeding: I’ve seen mothers happily breastfeeding their younger babies as their toddler joins the ranks of dancing children. And although food is not available to buy, eating in the hall is permitted and there are plenty of rice cakes, raisins, and other snacks strewn on the floor by the time the concert is over.

In total, the Nick Cope concerts at St Albans Church Hall get a 6 out of 8 on my baby- and toddler-friendliness scale, the mark lowered only because there is no baby-changing facility available at that location (not his fault, of course!). But Nick Cope himself gets a 10 out of 10 in my book. Go and see his concerts; you and your young children will love them.

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Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Parks Road, OX1 3PW) re-opened in February 2014 after 14 months of closure, with a restored glass roof and a new café in the upper gallery. The Baberoo and I have visited a couple of times since then, once with friends during a quiet term-time lunch hour and once during the height of the school holidays.


There are some fabulous touch-and-feel areas in the museum that babies and toddlers can enjoy, including tiny Mandy the Shetland Pony (an example of taxidermy so adorable that I wanted to stroke her as much as all the kids did; I’m surprised her coat isn’t worn down by all the petting she gets) and two huge tables of touchable specimens. The Baberoo especially enjoyed the stuffed fox, owl, and wallaby. The tables are at adult height, so you will have to hold your baby or sit them right on the table to touch the specimens.

OUMNH touch and feel table

If your little one is toddling around, they’ll have fun running around the museum spaces; just be careful around some of the dinosaurs and other skeletons, which are very easy to reach out and grab for despite the signs warning that they are delicate and not to be touched.

Baberoo and bones

For some reason, every toddler I know who has visited the museum is obsessed by the Victorian iron grates on the floor (although I expect that their obsession will shift to dinosaurs by the time they’re preschoolers). The Baberoo spent a lot of the time running from grate to grate, although she did pause to point out some eggs and animals in some of the glass cases.

Baberoo and grates

One way in which the museum could do better is by improving the signs around the building’s exterior directing you towards the stroller entrance. Signs in different places give conflicting information and the entrance for buggies and wheelchairs is not obvious at all. You could walk from one door to another several times without finding the way in. The picture below shows you where to enter – it’s to the right of the main building, at the first rounded archway. You go in through a door on the left when you enter the archway (you can’t see the door in the picture, but the red arrow points in the correct direction). You then need to turn to the right, go down a corridor, turn left, and take a lift up to the main level or the upper galleries.

OUMNH stroller entrance

We have enjoyed our visits to the museum and we’ll continue to go back in the future. The experience is limited at the moment to the touch-and-feel specimens and the intriguing floor grates, but as the Baberoo gets older she’ll begin to be interested in more of the gallery content. The museum is geared more towards families with school-aged children, but babies and toddlers will still have fun.

So how would I rate the OUMNH for baby- and toddler-friendliness? I usually rate an attraction on an 8-point scale rather than a 10-point scale, since there may not be any scope for the ‘menu’ criteria to be evaluated. However, since the OUMNH has a café and I’ve eaten there, I’ll use my regular 10-point scale instead, with the five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities and feeding (see more about these criteria on my About page).

Menu: The café – run by Mortons, one of Oxford’s independent sandwich bars – serves mainly sandwiches, wraps, cakes, and other lunch/tea fare. Most of the items are easy enough to eat with one hand if you need to hold your baby with the other. The hummus wrap I had on our first visit was good and fresh; the coffee and walnut cake was a little dry. If your baby is on solid food there are some choices in the café that may work; there are special kids’ meal boxes (although some of the contents may be too ‘grown-up’ for some babies and toddlers). Signs in the café ask visitors to please not bring their own food to eat, but on our first visit I ignored this rule, having brought some snacks for the Baberoo. I was pleased I had, because she didn’t want the porridge that I bought her from the café. I think you can probably safely bring things for young babies and toddlers without the museum minding too much. There is an abundance of high chairs for little ones.


Space: The aisles and spaces within the museum are wide and roomy enough for any stroller, even a double buggy. (Amusingly, they were built this way to accommodate Victorian ladies’ crinolines!) You’ll have no problem manoeuvring your buggy anywhere within the gallery spaces. The café might present more of a spatial challenge; it’s in the upper galleries so it’s narrow and long. When it’s full people tend to station their buggies, high chairs, or an extra regular seat at the side of their table, using part of the aisle.  The lift, which you will need to use in order to get from the stroller entrance to any of the gallery spaces, is quite small and narrow.

Ambiance: This is a really family-friendly museum; they understand that families are one of their primary audiences. There’s a welcoming feeling, and the wide-open spaces and great lighting from the high glass roof make it feel a little less crowded even when it’s chock-full of people. Babies and strollers are made to feel welcome.

Facilities: There is a huge baby-changing toilet near the stroller entrance; it has masses of space and a very large pull-down changing table. The room is clean and fresh-smelling. Since this bathroom is located on the lower ground level you will need to use the lift to get to it (unless you’re using it when entering or leaving the building via the stroller entrance). According to the museum’s website there are also disabled toilets with baby-changing facilities near the main museum entrance.

OUMNH baby changing facilities

Feeding: There are chairs scattered around the museum; if you’re breastfeeding you may be able to find a chair in one of the quieter gallery spaces. They are padded and don’t have arms so they will probably work well for comfort. Little ones who are eating regular food can partake of the café’s offerings; since it’s a museum obviously no food is allowed in any other area.

For baby- and toddler-friendliness the Oxford University Museum of Natural History rates an 8 out of 10. Little ones will have fun exploring the museum’s touch-and-feel activities, and when they’re older they’ll get even more out of it. My advice is to start them young!

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Oxford Mommy’s Guide to Baby-Changing Facilities in Downtown Oxford

Oh boy, I’ve been waiting to do this post for ages. It’s taken me a while to visit all these bathrooms, but I’ve finally done it – and I got photographs of all of them! I don’t think the Baberoo enjoyed being wheeled from toilet to toilet all through town just so I could take photos of the loos, but I did it so that other babies (and parents) can benefit.

In this guide I’ve only included baby-changing bathrooms located in shops, department stores, or shopping centres, as well as public conveniences. Anything that’s in a restaurant or café has NOT been included in this list, since I will eventually review those individually when I go to that café or restaurant (that’s to keep you reading my blog!). Same goes for museums and attractions – those loos will be included in my write-up of that attraction.

So here it is: a guide to eight baby-changing facilities (good and bad) in the Oxford city centre. A photo follows each description.

Debenhams (Magdalen Street, OX1 3AA): The Debenhams baby-changing room is well-known by many a parent, as evidenced by the constant queue of prams waiting to get in. Even when you’re waiting to cross the street to get to Debenhams you can tell which parents are desperate: they’re the ones white-knuckling their strollers, ready to race across as soon as the light changes so they can be first in the queue for the lift. I don’t blame them; I’ve done it myself. The baby-changing room is on the third floor along with the rest of the loos. It’s a fair size and has a reasonable amount of counter space next to the built-in changing table, and it also has a toilet for parents to use. It’s usually clean, although the low lighting makes it seem dingy. Unfortunately, Debenhams has a constant stream of very loud music and advertisements playing in the loo, which is fine (and may be useful as a distraction) when your kid needs to be changed, but very, very annoying when it’s you who has to use the toilet and your baby is sleeping, because the noise is certain to wake them up. The very narrow corridor leading to the room is somewhat awkward to manoeuvre through, and since the signage is terrible, you will usually meet at least one confused woman who is just trying to find the ladies’ loos (they’re a bit further down the main corridor and to the right). Debenhams also has a room opposite the baby-changing room where you can breastfeed your baby in private, although its plastic bucket seats would not be my first choice for a comfortable feed. Still, this facility is a tried-and-true one for most parents.

Debenhams baby-changing

Marks & Spencer (13-18 Queen Street, OX1 1AB): The Marks & Spencer bathrooms are located on the first floor, nearly all the way at the back of the store. The baby-changing facility is large, well-lit, clean, and has prettier-than-usual décor. It has a built-in changing table with a small amount of counter space for a bag. It also has a comfy chair for breastfeeding or for another child to sit in while you change the baby. There’s no toilet for parents, though – you’ll have to use the regular ladies’ or gents’ loos, which is hard to do when you have a stroller with you. The baby-changing room is also very hard to access – the door opens in the wrong direction and it’s also in an awkward position relative to the ladies’ loo entrance, which is very highly-travelled. Usually you need to rely on others holding doors open for you or staying out of your way as you try to wheel your pram into the facility. (Getting out is easier.)

M&S baby-changing

BHS (22 Queen Street, OX1 1EP): You can tell when a shop has experienced bathroom vandalism by how many signs they post warning you that the bathroom is only for customers of that shop. BHS has those signs. The store also keeps its bathrooms private for the use of customers by requiring you to use an entry code (found on the receipt for your purchase, or you can get one from a staff member). However, on the occasion I visited the door was unlocked. The baby-changing room is on the first floor at the back of the shop. It’s a fine size and it has a built-in changing table with reasonable counter space. There’s no toilet for parents. The wall is decorated with a rainbow, I guess to make it more interesting for babies. Strangely, the attendant’s office is located behind a door within the baby-changing room. The attendant was in there when I visited; she closed the door so we could have some privacy but it still felt weird that someone was right in there with us.

BHS baby-changing facilities

Blackwell’s Bookshop (48-51 Broad Street, OX1 3BQ): Blackwell’s changed their loos not too long ago, so the ladies’ and gents’ are now on the third floor but their disabled/baby-changing facilities remain on the first floor, conveniently close to the lift. There is a short corridor leading to the facility, which – holy of holies – has a door that is not on self-closing hinges, so you don’t have to hold it open while you manoeuvre your stroller into the bathroom.  There’s a pull-down baby-changing table of the very narrow kind that a toddler might not fit on. It also means there’s no counter space for your bag, but on the plus side the room is very bright and clean, and it has a toilet that parents can use too. It seems to me that hardly anyone knows about this baby-changing facility; use it while you can before the secret gets out.

Blackwells baby-changing

Boots (6-8 Cornmarket Street, OX1 3HL): The big Boots on Cornmarket Street has a Baby Room with an entry code you’ll need to get from a member of staff – although on the occasion that I visited, the door was open. The room is generously sized, with a built-in changing table and good counter space for a changing bag, but no toilet for parents. There are two padded chairs to use for breastfeeding or for other children to sit on while waiting. There’s also a modesty curtain, although since only one family at a time would be using the facility I’m not sure of its usefulness. It’s a bright, clean bathroom and it seems less well-travelled than some of the other baby-changing facilities downtown.

Boots baby-changing

Market Street Public Conveniences (Market Street, behind the Covered Market): I was very pleasantly surprised by the disabled/baby-changing facility in this public convenience. It’s quite large and spacious (so large, in fact, that I had to do a composite photo because I couldn’t fit everything in one shot), clean, and has some natural light via some high windows. It’s only open from 9 am to 5 pm, so you can’t use it in the evening if you’re out with your baby. The changing table is a pull-down one of the very narrow variety that would be too small for toddlers. There’s also no counter space for your changing bag; however, there is a toilet that parents can use. The Market Street Public Conveniences got a 4-star rating in the ‘Loo of the Year Awards’ in 2011, which is saying something about their cleanliness and presentableness; kudos to Oxford City Council for keeping them up so well.

Market Street baby-changing

Waterstones (William Baker House, Broad Street, OX1 3AF): Oh, Waterstones, I hate to have to say this, but your toilets stink, both literally and figuratively. The disabled/baby-changing room, as well as the regular toilet, are both behind doors with codes, all the way up on the third floor. They are not very pleasant; on the occasion I visited there was rubbish on the floor and the loo smelled like sewer (admittedly, this sometimes happens in a basement and there’s very little that can be done about it, but this is the third floor so I don’t know what’s going on here). There is also very little space to manoeuvre a pram; mine nearly didn’t fit into the room. There is a pull-down changing table but no counter space for your changing bag, although there’s a loo that parents can use. These bathrooms detract from the general wonderfulness of Waterstones and I hope they’ll consider upgrading their loos.

Waterstones composite

Westgate Car Park (at the back entrance of Westgate Shopping Centre, Castle Street, OX1 1NZ): I lied at the beginning of this post when I said I had pictures of all the toilets in the guide. I don’t have a photo of this one because it was locked. And it took me 15 minutes to find it due to appalling signage – which I took several pictures of. The composite photo below will attest to the fact that the signs are confusing in the extreme; some point you in one direction while others point you in the exact opposite direction. I must have gone back and forth several times before I realized that the baby-changing facility was in a corridor that had been marked as the ‘Gents’ (handwritten on paper and taped over another sign). I knocked and hallooed and am pretty sure that the room was vacant, especially since it said ‘Vacant’ on the lock. There was no one to ask about unlocking it, so I went away again. To be fair to Westgate Shopping Centre, these loos are not managed by them but by Oxford City Council. These, I’m fairly sure, have never been awarded any stars by ‘Loo of the Year’. Go somewhere else instead, like the much better Market Street public conveniences.

Westgate Centre signs

So, there you have it. Eight baby-changing facilities in the Oxford city centre, ranging from pretty good to woefully bad. I hope this guide has been useful. Please let me know if I’ve missed out any facilities I should know about and I’ll put them in a future post.

Finally, a shout-out here for the NCT’s Babychange App, which lets you search by town, city, or postcode for baby-changing facilities. The rating system is fairly simple and there are no photos, but it’s really useful if you’re somewhere unfamiliar or just need to know where your closest baby-changing station is in case of emergency!

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