Couple plan to bring 'fun factor' back to town after taking on storm-hit play centre
PUBLISHED: 16:03 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:53 13 March 2019
A husband and wife team have snapped up a popular Suffolk play centre which was devastated by a winter storm and plan to reopen it soon.
The Carlton Fun Factory in Saxmundham, which employed about 20 staff, lost a quarter of its roof when Storm David hit in January 2018.
It had only been open for 10 months, and the owners had invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in it.
As 85mph winds hit, the roof fell in, crushing the play centre’s reception area, play apparatus and go-karting equipment, with further damage caused after the interior was exposed to the elements.
MORE – Saxmundham Fun Factory looking to the future after storm damage
After the 85mph winds died down, further devastation was caused by winter weather entering the building through the now exposed areas.
While the roof was repaired and some works carried out after the storm, the business owners decided not to continue with their project, and the building, which includes rooms for clubs and organisations to meet, stayed empty.
Building owner Roger Skinner sought a new management team to take it on, and now, more than a year on, Layden-Grant and Frances Seymour, who are based at Aldeburgh, have decided to take up the challenge.
The couple, who have nine children of their own and have been together for 30 years, are currently investing around £200k in the centre and hope to have it open in time for the Easter holidays.
Layden estimates that the previous owners put the best part of £1m in the project before disaster struck, and believes the 20,000sq ft centre has a bright future ahead of it.
The entrepreneurial couple, originally from east London and Essex, used to own various property and business interests, establishing a successful chain of coffee shops and an “extremely large” bouncy castle business.
“We decided to retire early to enjoy our family. So we sold off our business interests and property. We moved to a very large 800-year-old Essex manor house and enjoyed country life. We had land, a lake, tennis courts, pool, woodland, a river and much much more,” said Layden. But with the demands of a growing family coupled with a shrinking bank account, they decided it was time to go back into business.
They downsized, moved to Aldeburgh, and discovered the Fun Factory “by accident”, he explained
“We were considering many options – a coffee shop, sandwich bar, patisserie – but we got talking to a local resident who told us about the Carlton Fun Factory. She thought we would be the ideal family to run it.
“We made some enquiries and hooked up with Roger Skinner who owned the building. We discovered the history of how it was established by two local guys with a vision of giving Saxmundham a centre for families to use.
“It was running really well and it was very successful, all their hard work was paying off not to mention their investment of nearly a million pound, but it was all brought to an abrupt halt by storm damage in January 2018. It has stood empty ever since, like an abandoned ship.”
On visiting the building, they discovered food still in the freezers, cups and plates, and items covered in dust.
“We saw the potential. We had the right background. We wanted a new business, a new challenge – it was meant to be. Almost like it was waiting for us,” said Layden.
There are challenges, as while the storm damage was largely repaired, the large playframe had been dismantled and the centre is “a bit of a mess”.
“We knew we had our work cut out. Last week (Friday, March 8) we agreed terms with Roger Skinner and became the new owners. Now the clock is ticking. We would like to be open for the Easter holidays but we have a hell of a lot to do.”
The centre is being rebrand as ‘4FUN’, and the couple’s aim is to keep the essential elements as they are. Frances will oversee the daily running of the centre and they will be look for ‘good local staff’. Meanwhile, Layden says he is the ‘fixed and negotiator’ and will be involved in problem-solving and deal-making.
“We work well together, I am extremely optimistic and full on and Frances is always cautious and more reserved. We complement each other perfectly,” said Layden.
The next few months will involve “long days, hard work and the odd sleepless night”, he said.
Their hope is to return the centre to a hub for the local community - the numerous function rooms were home to dance and fitness classes, and sporting groups. They hope to expand the centre and are considering a trampoline park or possibly a bowling alley as they feel the town needs more facilities, especially for older children.
“With our background in coffee shops we are confident we can offer a great menu selection for the cafe,” said Layden.
He added: “Our children are everything to us and our family values give us a great head start to running this family play centre. We have high standards and we will ensure 4 FUN is exactly the kind of place we would be happy to take our children.”