FOR many years, parents in Malaysia were crying out for breastfeeding rooms in shopping malls so they could feed their babies peacefully far from the gawking eyes and in private.
Today, we see many malls with nursing rooms, however not all malls have it. And, of those that do have it, some have just the basic necessities.
One mall has decided to be more forward thinking by taking into account all the facilities that parents need before even calling the interior designers in.
The School at Jaya One, which opened in Petaling Jaya in January 2014, boasts not just a Mum’s Room, where mums can breastfeed in private and change baby’s nappy. There is also a wash basin, hot water, filtered water and a microwave to heat up food for the children.
Plus, there is a Dad’s Room with the same facilities, plus a TV, Wifi , a kids play area and nappy changing stations.
This means, while mum breastfeeds the baby, dad and the kids can sit comfortably in the Dad’s Room.
Or if dad is out alone with the kids, he can change the baby’s nappy in the Dad’s Room.
What a far cry from the scenario in other malls where dads are given strange looks if they even try to enter a parents’ area to change his baby’s nappy. Or, try to find a place to change baby!
In the beginning
Charles Wong, executive director at Tetap Tiara, developer of Jaya One and The School, explains that the concept for The School was developed prior to the designers even coming onboard.
“To be honest, the timing of The School was just right. I had my first daughter around the same time as my shareholders were saying we have to start planning the mall. This was the final phase of Jaya One. They wanted a mall and I was the guy who used to say ‘another mall here, another mall there … I think we have enough malls’.
“Being a new father and going through parenthood gave me a new perspective. Looking at the Klang Valley, I wondered what were some of the options for families,” says Wong.
Being in the business of real estate and building spaces, Wong was aware that spaces are only meaningful if they are relevant and filled with meaningful content.
That’s when he had the idea of creating a space dedicated to young growing families.
“I thought this could be one space that people could gather at on a regular basis. Children have so many activities these days that I think what parents need is time and sometimes time out, and we thought The School could provide that. It’s not luxury time out, but even if it means half an hour or 40 minutes, that’s good, particularly if you’re a full-time mum,” says Wong.
Convincing his business partners was not so easy because the idea for The School is not easy to understand until you see it and experience it for yourself.
However, after seeing a mall in Singapore with the same concept, the partners were sold on the idea.
They then started to construct the content and the policies that would ensure the concept would be followed through by all tenants.
“We even knew what type of designers we wanted. One designer was a British interior designer who happened to be in Malaysia. She was a mother and had worked in Hong Kong. The other designer was a Malaysian who had worked in the UK for a long time, designing schools for the local councils. We thought that partnering them would give us the best results. So, we sat down and looked at what sort of things we would need for a children-friendly or family-friendly mall,” explains Wong.
The management even looked into which cleaner to pick, what sort of chemicals the cleaners would use and which flooring would be the best in terms of anti-slip, while not compromising on ease to clean.
What dads and mums need
According to him, while most malls now provide quite decent nursing rooms, as a dad it’s sometimes uncomfortable to be in that room.
He explains that dads also need to feed the baby or change the baby’s nappies.
“We can’t go to a room when mothers are inside nursing and being outside is inconvenient and uncomfortable for the child so we built the Dad’s Room for the dads,” says Wong.
He believes that when more restaurants open at the mall and more people and families visit The School, utilisation of the facilities will be a lot higher. He informs that the parking lots for families and single women are very well utilised right now.
Sundays and weekends is when you would see parents using the Dad’s Room and the Mum’s Room.
Weekends is naturally when lots of families with children are at The School. This family-friendly mall certainly has done a good job placing itself as the place for families to be and meet.
Rather than doing what the other malls do, which is to plan events and activities around the festivals and holidays in a calendar year, The School has decided to promote platforms for communities. These platforms are hoped to develop and grow to the point where they have an identity of their own.
These platforms include:
Sun Day Out – It’s one day in the week when kids are allowed to bring anything they have on wheels and cycle indoors. The food trucks come on Sunday as well. These include OMFJ!, SpagMe, Wheeloaf, Big Hug Burger, Qgastrotruck, dr. Mak Rony Grilled Burger, Crazy Potato, Little Fat Duck and Cowboys Food Truck. Sun Day Out is held every Sunday from 10am-3pm on the ground floor.
The Markets – This is about entrepreneurship and bazaars and has been running for a long time. It is not held every week. Watch out for notices about it on The School’s webpage or Facebook page.
The School Holiday Programme – This was run on a trial basis during the recent March school holidays. Parents came in, paid a one-off fee through The School’s customer service department, and the kids could access all the programmes. It was a 3.5 day programme. The kids could sign up for the half day or full day programme. The fee was RM600 for a half day and RM1,200 for a full day, for the whole 3.5-day programme. The School is reviewing the package as some parents found it a bit pricey. Watch out for it during the next school holidays.
The idea behind these platforms is that they are not one-off events and activities.
“The idea is to build these platforms to become popular in themselves so that they almost become a product of their own and take on a life of their own.
“We find that if we create platforms like these, we tend to build partnerships along the way and these partnerships will come back in and will create more content for us, either by participation or by sponsorship,” says Wong.
In fact, that is what The School is all about – building communities and relationships. The mall has been forging relationships with children’s rights groups and even Unicef (the United Nations Children’s Fund).
This month, The School is adding arts and crafts learning to its offerings.
“A lot of people are doing this on a part-time basis and using different centres and spaces. So, we have talked to them to have counters for arts and crafts casual learning.
“The casual learning sessions give parents a 30-40 minute break. When the kids are doing arts and crafts, the parents can get some groceries or grab a cup of coffee.
“Or sometimes parents bring their kids and the older one goes for class and the younger one may not have anything to do and they don’t know what to do with them. They can go for crafts,” explains Wong.
The next thing that Wong wants to add is a tuition centre that focuses on the national school curriculum.
“As a mall, we cannot ignore the fact that parents also need those type of services. While learning is enriching and fun, I think the national curriculum is still important and I think we need to bring one of those tuition centres in,” he explains.
Most of the feedback from families has been good. In fact, their only request is for more learning, shops and restaurants.
Currently, The School even has people coming from as far as Ampang and Cheras on weekends. They come for the classes and stay on for Sun Day Out. It is really a day out, so they come as far as that, which is what Wong, his partners and the team set out to achieve.
As The School’s management keeps building communities and forming relationships, more and more parents will learn about the family-friendly mall and welcome it.
“I think the hardest part was forming that ecosystem for us. By the third and fourth quarter last year, we knew what worked. The strategy – to have this ecosystem and partnerships – where we see each platform as a very individual platform though very much a part of The School’s long-term positioning should take on a life of their own after a while. We need to keep pushing these initiatives,” says Wong.
He encourages parents to Like the Facebook page, so they can follow The School’s activities.
“They will find there are a lot of activities that we keep developing throughout the year for them. If they come in, they will find there’s a lot of fun for them. We want parents to know that we are thoughtful of the fact that taking a child out, if you have two or three, for three hours, is tiring so our events are designed so that they get time out and can have a cup of coffee with their spouse knowing that their child is in a safe place,” he adds.