"It could get to 100 decibels in here… but it’s all laughter and fun.”
To an outsider (particularly one not used to young children), Billy Lids could seem like complete chaos – but Leesah Prowse, manager of Glenferrie’s only indoor playcentre, says that not only is the commotion controlled, it’s encouraged.
Now a Hawthorn institution, Billy Lids has been here for 17 years, and has gone through a few changes of ownerships since the beloved founders, the Grey family, departed a few years ago. Leesah started at Billy Lids four years ago, and has been manager for most of that time.
Leesah grew up in the outer eastern suburbs, and currently lives in Noble Park. Her experience comes from hospitality, but she originally began training as a teacher, which she soon left after doing teaching rounds and realising it wasn’t for her.
Instead, she went to work in a café, and by the time she finished, was the regional manager of several cafés and had earned a great deal of experience in hospitality. It was this experience that brought her to Billy Lids. Now, she still makes plenty of coffees, but it’s mixed in with other things – cooking fries, booking parties and maintaining the play equipment are all in a day’s work. Most importantly of all, she chats to everyone that comes in, building that familiar atmosphere one enthusiastic conversation at a time. It’s busy, she says, but that’s what she loves.
“I love getting things done... I work best when I’m doing ten things at once," says Leesah.
The playcentre has a café, playground, arcade games and, of course, the Billy Bug Ride. The Bug Ride has been a favourite of smaller visitors to Billy Lids for almost fifteen years. Every hour, one of the staff will ring a bell, and kids from all throughout the play area come running to ride. The story goes that the original owners found the ride in The Trading Post, and although it needs maintenance from time to time, the ride is still powered by a lawn mower motor, just like it always was.
Recently, Billy Lids have shifted their focus from appealing just to young kids and have been looking to appeal to a greater age range of children and teens by bringing in arcade games and a virtual reality machine. Going forward, Leesah can envisage setting up Billy Lids to be a playground during the day while also running some regular evening events where teenagers and students can come and enjoy the attractions with friends.
Sitting beside the Immaculate Conception Church, the heritage-listed art-deco building that holds Billy Lids has had a storied 94-year history. Built by the church as Manresa Hall, it was home to dances, concerts and meetings. In the 30s the building was converted to an independent cinema and named the Apollo Theatre. The theatre closed after six years, and reverted back to Manresa Hall, again offering a multi-purpose venue for the community. The history is still seen in its design today, and the playcentre’s main playground and famous Bug Ride resides in what was the main seating section of the theatre.
When she’s not working, Leesah likes to shop and eat along Glenferrie Road. She had a three-year long tradition with the previous owners of meeting up for dinner once a month and working their way down the street restaurant by restaurant, month by month. She still loves popping into Viet Star or Dumpling King.