Southwold Maize Maze prepares to open up fully as public makes cautious return
- Credit: Archant
A farm attraction is expecting to take a 50% hit to its turnover as it gradually reopens following lockdown.
Bella Hall, founder of Old Hall Farm Café & Walks and Southwold Maize Maze, admitted she was devastated when she had to close the business due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the café has now reopened on slightly reduced hours and with various new hygiene and distancing measures in place, and the maze and play park will end its lockdown period on Saturday, July 25.
It was a “positive” start, but people are still cautious, Bella admitted.
“We have definitely not been what we would term busy – probably at about 60% of previous custom but perhaps not helped by the weather.”
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Luckily, there was plenty of outdoor space but indoors the café is only accommodating half its usual numbers to allow for social distancing.
“Since we opened the café on Saturday we have had a steady stream of customers,” she said. It had been “lovely” to see many of their regulars.
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“For lots of people it was their first venture out and we have had lots of positive feedback on all our new measures and how we are doing things now and how clean everything is and many have commented that they felt safe while with us.”
The attraction, which started out in 2005 with its Maize Maze has grown over the year and now hosts 30,000 visitors a year. It was originally mean to supplement the income from the farm’s dairy herd, which the family eventually sold off because it was financially unviable.
The family has invested in an adventure play park with three jumping pillows, zip wires and climbing frame as well as the two mazes, which are set on an eight acre field.
Bella and husband David – whose family farm business is based at Metfield – launched a new, all-year-round café selling fresh, local ingredients, last year.
It employs a workforce of seven, boosted by 20 seasonal staff in the summer.
“We were devastated to close particularly as it was approaching our first birthday at the café and we had worked so hard to build a growing reputation becoming a popular destination for locals and visitors,” said Bella.
“We were able to furlough our main permanent café staff using the Job Retention Scheme which has been brilliant as we are now able to start gradually bringing them back to work.
“Keeping the same team was important as we had been very lucky to have found such an amazing group of people.”
During lockdown Bella kept busy posting recipes on social media and trying to keep an audience going for the café. But like all tourism businesses, she will face an uphill struggle to get her takings back to where they were before the crisis.
“I worry that at the moment people are still being cautious and we have had to reduce tables inside dramatically and also will be reducing numbers at the maze,” she admitted. “This doesn’t allow us to have the busy summer that we need to make up for being quiet during the winter months. How will we manage to get through the winter without drastic changes taking place?
“We hope that we will gradually get busier over the next few weeks and months and that people will support the maze and still come for a good family day out.”
There are plans for a Halloween and a Christmas event – with social distancing measures if they are still in place then.
“We have created wider paths within the maze to accommodate social distancing too, and an overflow covered barn area with amazing views,” she said.
The temporary cut in VAT to 5% for hospitality and tourism – announced by the government this week – is “very welcome”, she added, and would be “a great help”.
“We will also look carefully into how we can take part in the new Eat Out to Help Out Scheme to see if this is going to be a manageable initiative for us to take part in. We will need to look carefully at the details before committing to it.”