The owner of Treetops in Golborne says last minute Government requirements mean reopening the soft play centre now seems “virtually impossible”.
Joanne says she’s been hit with a double whammy – as she must now invest in a new ventilation system for the centre, but also reduce her capacity – and therefore her income – to just 40% of what it was before the pandemic.
A few weeks ago, Joanne Fairclough was in limbo as no date had been given by Government for the reopening of the soft play sector – and no specific regulations had been set out to help businesses like Treetops get ready to welcome children and parents back safely.
There was good news at the end of last month, when Government announced that soft play centres could open up again from 15 August – but due to local lockdown measures, which were brought into force in Greater Manchester at the same time, unfortunately that did not apply to Treetops.
And when Joanne began to review the conditions which applied to reopening, she was shocked to see what would be involved. With the Government classifying soft play as ‘high intensity activity’, she is now required to install a similar ventilation system to that used in gyms. But she describes the “killer blow” as the reduction in capacity – which she says will put a “huge strain” on the finances of the business, especially as the maximum capacity must include parents and staff, as well as children.
Joanne said: “Obviously health and safety is paramount to us. We have been working non-stop behind the scenes to put measures in the place that were clearly going to be expected, especially in light of what other industries have been asked to do, like restaurants and pubs. An online booking system has been put into place, PPE has been ordered and an enhanced cleaning system has already been planned and tested. Tables have been re-arranged or removed to allow social distancing and ball pools have been removed.
“We weren’t expecting to have to invest in extra ventilation but the killer blow is the huge reduction on capacity – to at least 40%, making covering the cost of rent, rates, staff and bills virtually impossible.”
Following the news that the Greater Manchester ‘local lockdown’ will no longer apply to Wigan borough from Wednesday, 26 August, soft play centres in our area will be permitted to open their doors again – but only if the new requirements are met. It means no reopening date can yet be set for Treetops.
Joanne says she feels angry that Government advice and guidance has been “confusing and unfair”. The restrictions in capacity have not been applied to trampoline parks, for example, as they have not been classified as “high intensity activity”. A lack of complete clarity on what can and cannot be allowed means that Joanne also has no idea whether birthday parties will be permitted at the centre – another important source of income for any soft play centre.
“We feel we are disappointing people all over again by being unable to open our doors until these unexpected guidelines are met. We had so many excited messages of support and so many party booking requests and we still don’t know what the Government’s thoughts are on those! Parties are a mainstay of our industry – it’s like they have whipped the rug out from under our feet,” she says.
Despite everything, Joanne says she is still aiming to reopen the centre, and with her team is now doing everything she can to welcome children and families back as soon as possible.
As soon as a reopening date is confirmed, we will share it with you here on Lowton & Golborne News.
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