‘When can we reopen?’ - Soft play centres plea as fears grow of closures nationally
- Credit: GO BANANAS
Soft play centre owners in Suffolk and Essex have told of their frustration at having no date for reopening – and say they feel “forgotten”.
Their calls come as the industry has warned centres are closing at an “alarming” rate. The British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions (BalppaA) said nationally dozens of sites have already shut, just a month after it warned almost two-thirds could close by October.
In Ipswich, the parent companies of Billy Beez soft play area and Bounce trampoline park at Anglia Retail Parkcalled in liquidators in June – saying coronavirus was the “final nail in the coffin.”
The BalppaA survey, which included more than 60 indoor play businesses, found 18% would have to close by the end of August, 24% by the end of September and another 22% by the end of October.
Daisy Bailey, who owns Go Bananas soft play centre in Colchester together with her husband Frankie, has written to the prime minister pleading for him to take a look at soft play centres and allow them to reopen.
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She said: “I wrote to Boris and invited him to come and see what we are doing. I think a lot of people need to see how soft play has changed over the years – everything is completely cleaned and sanitised, and that was the case before the virus.”
Mrs Bailey said her centre had new, state-of-the-art ventilation and sanitising equipment, but was still unable to open.
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“At outdoor parks, children are going down slides and there is no cleaning in between. I know it’s outdoors, but they are still touching the surfaces.”
She added: “It’s frustrating for us because we have got two young kids, and we are taking them out to places that are open, but we can’t open ourselves.”
Rupert Marlowe, area manager for Play 2Day, which has a large soft play centre in Martlesham, said: “It’s a hard, hard problem for us. We have a 20,000 sq ft building, and three quarters of it is soft play, so it is not being used for anything at all.”
He said Play 2Day’s centre at Martlesham, together with its other centre near Wisbech, were receiving around 250 requests a week from parents asking when they would reopen.
“Soft play is so important for children. People really miss it and want it to open - I have two girls myself and they want to come and run around.”
Mr Marlowe said Play 2Day had extensive cleaning and social distancing measures in place, and wanted to be able to offer two-hour sessions with breaks for deep cleaning in between. These would be for a maximum of about 100 people, not 500 as in the days before lockdown, though in practice numbers would be much lower at first,
“Everybody is struggling. The most frustrating thing is that we are asked to put measures in place, then everybody seems happy with the measures, but we still can’t open.
“I feel that on a local level we have been well supported by East Suffolk, but on a national level soft play has been forgotten about.”
The centre has been able to open its laser tag and inflatable park and small day nursery. Mr Marlowe said they would be able to keep going, but have had to reduce staff. “At the start of lockdown, across our two centres, we had 50 staff on furlough and we will only have 10 remaining on furlough by the end of August.”
Karen Hyland, owner of Tumbledown soft play at Stonham Barns, called for centres to be given a date to work towards. “Dates have been announced in Scotland and Wales, but not in England. I am worried that we will lose all of the summer, which is very important because the children are on holiday.
“We definitely need a bit of August to start making a bit of headway.
She said because her centre is very small, she wants to be allowed to reopen for single families or small “bubbles” - which would mean numbers that were much smaller than at outdoor parks.
Gordon Forster of Balppa, said: “The latest closures are a huge kick in the teeth in the fight against obesity. Indoor play centres are a hidden gem in keeping children active over the summer holidays, when venues would be at their busiest.
“You can see from the outcry of parents on social media after every closure just how much these centres mean for communities. Our warning last month has come certainly true, the rate of closures has already been alarming and is so quick that by October even more than we predicted could close.”
The government guidelines have not yet set out a date for when soft play areas will be allowed to reopen.