Doncaster soft play centre bosses call for re-opening date as fears raised some could go out of business
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Soft play centres have been in lockdown since March, and while many types of business are now back up and running, the indoor play areas are still having to tell parents who are now ringing to ask about bookings that they cannot accommodate their children’s parties.
Jeff Ainsley, director of Astrabound, one of the borough’s biggest soft play centres, on Crompton Road Business Park, said his firm had already been allowed to open its Go Bounce trampoline centre on Shaw Lane Industrial Estate, but was still unable to open Astrabound.
And the lockdown is having a double impact on his business, as his company also runs House of Play – a Carcroft based business which manufactures equipment used by soft play centres up and down the country.
Mr Ainsley said: “I don’t know why we don’t have date, or at least a month – I know the Government has been asked, but we don’t have a date or even a month. I’ve heard rumours that it might not be until next year.
"But whenever it is, to have a date would help us with planning. We will be required to make furlough contributions in August or September without an opening date to work to. The one thing that would help us is a date, even it was January 1, so we had some clarity.
"Go Bounce could re-open from July 25 – but we’ve decided to re-open on August 1.
"When they said we could open Go Bouce, the feedback we got on social media was when will Astrabound re-open? But we can’t give any answers, and we’re not quite sure why one can open but not the other. There is certainly the demand for it.
"We have a 13,500 sq ft site. We could get a lot of people in and do social distancing.”
Staff have been furloughed at both Astrabound and House of Play. Between all their businesses, Mr Ainsley’s company employs around 100 people, may of those in manufacturing jobs.
The lockdown means House of Play is not getting the orders it was receiving before lockdown, and Mr Ainsley estimates it typically takes six months from an initial enquiry from a business looking to set up a soft play centre, to getting their equipment order.
"We’ve been caught both ends by this,” he said. “But we’re big enough to take it.”
Astrabound is one of a number of soft play sites across the borough. Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust run a number of such facitilies at its venues including the Dome leisure centre, but no one was available to comment at the trust.
Junglemazeia at Capitol Business Park in Thorne is also currently unable to open because of the current restrictions.
Tracey Ebbage, who runs the venue, is concerned for the future. Many of her customers have signed a petition calling for centres to given a re-opening date, and she fears many could close without assistantance if nothing is done soon.
She said: “I fought hard to open up and I’ll fight hard to get established again when we can re-open.
"We seem to be one of the few types of business that have not been told we can re-open. We closed on March 24, and four months on we’re still closed. If they were saying Sepember 1 we could work to that, but we’ve not even got that.
"If we couldn’t open until next year I don’t now what we would do. We still have overheads to pay. We inititally had grants, but if they continue to keep us closed, they need to look at more grants or soft play centres will close.”
She said many of her customers had been a big help by not asking for refunds of deposits, instead pledging to have a party there when the venue re-opens. She said she hoped customers would return quickly when soft play centres return.
BALPPA, the British Association of Leisure, Parks, Piers and Attractions, has started an emergency petition asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson to rescue the indoor play industry from closure.
A recent survey conducted by BALPPA found that almost two-thirds of indoor play centres in the UK are facing permanent closure if not allowed to re-open soon. The petition has more than 25,000 signatures. It is on https://www.change.org/p/boris-johnson-rescue-the-indoor-play-industry-from-closure.
Recently non-essential shops, outdoor play areas and theme parks have been given the green light to reopen and at the beginning of August it will be possible for ice rinks, bowling alleys and casinos to welcome customers back.
But indoor playcentres along with nighclubs have been left out so far.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "We recognise the frustration of businesses which have had to remain closed because of the pandemic and we are working to help them reopen as soon as it is safe.
“We are also providing businesses and their employees with an unprecedented package of support during this national emergency including £330 billion worth of government backed and guaranteed loans and the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme.”