Doncaster soft play centres reveal their re-opening plans

There is finally light at the end of the colourful plastic tube tunnel for Doncaster’s soft play centres.
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The Government has now given the facilities the green light to get back to work, providing somewhere for parents to take their children to burn off some energy.

Ministers say they can re-open from Saturday August 15 – but those running the centres in the borough say they will need time to get things ready before they can be up and running again.

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Last month, there were concerns that centres could close if they were not given a date when they could re-open. But the frowns were replaced by smiles after the announcement today.

Junglemazeia staff next to the screen they have put up at the main deskJunglemazeia staff next to the screen they have put up at the main desk
Junglemazeia staff next to the screen they have put up at the main desk

Jeff Ainsley, director of Astrabound, one of the borough’s biggest soft play centres, on Crompton Road Business Park, was delighted to hear they would be able to re-open – and hopes to be able to start taking customers by the end of next week, hopefully re-opening by Friday August 21, but possibly as soon as Wednesday August 19.

He said: “We are very pleased. We need to start trying to get some normality for the sake of the staff so they can get back to their jobs, and I’m sure there are lots of mums and dads waiting for us to reopen.

"We are going through the process to gear everything up. We have to study in some detail the regulations that we have to abide by, but I think we will be in a position to open by the end of next week. For a start, we have to give five days notice to unfurlough the staff.

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"We also need to set up an online booking booking system. I think we will have three sessions a day of two hours, with half an hour’s down time in between for cleaning. The booking system should be sorted in the next 24 hours. People won’t be able to just turn up. Capacity will be reduced, but this is a big place so we can deal with that.

Astrabound, DoncasterAstrabound, Doncaster
Astrabound, Doncaster

“We don’t know what the take-up will be, but hopefully people will have missed this. It is a shame we’ve missed out on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme so far, but we may get a week of it.”

Mr Ainsley is also hoping the announcement on soft play will boost House of Play – a Carcroft based business which manufactures equipment used by soft play centres up and down the country – which his firm also runs.

The factory has remained open during lockdown, having found new markets to serve.

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Its seamstresses have been manufacturing seat covers for trains. But inquiries are now starting to come through for new play equipment again.

Junglemazeia in ThorneJunglemazeia in Thorne
Junglemazeia in Thorne

News of the permission to re-open has also been welcomed at Junglemazeia, at Capitol Business Park in Thorne.

Last month, Tracey Ebbage, who runs the venue, was concerned centres could close permanently if there was no announcement on a re-opening date soon.

Today, she was back at her premises getting on with the work that is needed to get it ready to welcome families back in.

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But she is not expecting a quick re-opening. She estimates the most likely re-opening for Junglemazeia will be late August or early September, in around two weeks time.

PLAY TIME: Alexei Burke-Lejeune, two, tries out the facilities at Astrabound. Picture: Chris Bull D7206CB.PLAY TIME: Alexei Burke-Lejeune, two, tries out the facilities at Astrabound. Picture: Chris Bull D7206CB.
PLAY TIME: Alexei Burke-Lejeune, two, tries out the facilities at Astrabound. Picture: Chris Bull D7206CB.

Changes have already been made to the venue. Transparent screens have been put up to separate staff and customers at the main desk. These are now decorated with pictures of leaves and jungle animals to make them look part of the theme.

The ball pool has been emptied, because owner Tracey Ebbage feels it would be difficult to keep the balls clean.

She said: “It was a shock to be told we could open tomorrow. It’s not as simple as that, and it will take a bit of time, as there is a lot that we have to put in place. We have to stock up on things like food.

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"I am chuffed that we can open back up again. But I’m a stickler with cleanliness and safety, so until I know we’re safe, I'm not sure when we’re opening the doors."

She said she had already had an encouraging response from customers, with messages from people saying they could not wait for re-opening.

"I had been worried that we’d not be able to open this year,” she said. “It is a big relief. I was nervous when we first opened the centre, and I feel that way a bit again, because keeping things safe is a big responsibility. I think it will be two weeks until we’re ready to open, with a booking system in place. It will be in sessions, with limited numbers.”

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Michael Hart, chief executive of Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust, which runs a number of soft play facilities at its leisure centres in the borough said his organisation was also not yet ready to open its soft play facilities.

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He said: “We are not reopening our soft play areas yet but will let all customers know when we plan to do this in a safe and measured way.”

Mr Ainsley and Ms Ebbage agreed that they now needed the support of the public, and both urged customers to return when they re-open.