INVERNESS has been chosen to pilot a pioneering soft play community cafe aimed at families with young children.
If successful, it could lead to a chain of similar cafes opening in other communities across the north of Scotland.
The venture is a partnership between the children’s charity ARCHIE Foundation and Drumnadrochit-based catering company, Cobbs, and will also incorporate ideas of a leading UK psychologist renowned for her research into early years’ brain development.
The announcement follows the recent news that the £1 million Raigmore Children’s Ward Appeal — launched by the ARCHIE Foundation in conjunction with The Inverness Courier — reached its initial £1 million target six months ahead of schedule and has now set its sights on raising another £1 million to build a new extension, enabling most children’s services to be delivered in a self-contained department.
Given the overwhelming support for the appeal, the ARCHIE Foundation is now hoping to find a suitable location within an Inverness community for its first cafe.
David Cunningham, the foundation’s chief executive, explained they were looking for small units rather than large out-of-town places to provide a high-quality facility with soft play designed for small children.
The cafes will also be a place where good public health information for young families can be provided.
"It will be nothing too heavy," Mr Cunningham said. "It’s just providing a hub for families with young children in their own communities where quality healthcare information can also be picked up when it is wanted.
"As we move towards identifying our first unit, I am absolutely delighted to confirm we are putting the finishing touches to an agreement with highly-respected firm, Cobbs, which will see our two organisations enter into a partnership to deliver these local soft play cafes."
The development will reflect research by Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, honorary senior lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of Dundee, who has worked closely with organisations across the UK to increase awareness about the impact of decisions regarding the care of children.
Dr Zeedyk, who has carried out research into babies’ capacity for communication, addressed Highland councillors on Wednesday about the economic benefits of early years interventions.
The Cobbs group has given its support to the children’s unit appeal at its cafes across the region including the Inverness Floral Hall, Highland Industrial Supplies on the Longman Industrial Estate in Inverness and the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel.
As well as having free cake days in return for a donation, it ran an ARCHIE sandwich competition with some of the proceeds from the winning entry going to the appeal.
Fraser Campbell, managing director of Cobbs, described the ARCHIE cafe project as "exciting". "Both organisations are totally focused on finding the first of many family cafes and doubly delighted this first unit is to be the Inverness area," he said.