With almost all sectors now beginning to reopen following the Covid-19 lockdown, there are still some local businesses left in limbo with no firm idea of what the future holds.
With no indication yet of when or how indoor soft play centres can reopen, Golborne’s Treetops is facing a very uncertain future.
Since opening in 2015, the centre has allowed thousands of local children to let off steam, get some exercise, meet friends and celebrate birthdays. It has given mums, dads, grandparents and carers the chance for a cuppa, a chat with friends and respite from the bad weather. It has also hosted numerous meetings of parenting and community groups and hosted more than 3,000 birthday parties.
But the doors have now been closed at Treetops since March – and as yet, the Government have given no indication as to when they will be allowed to open again.
Treetops is an independent play centre, run by Joanne Fairclough and her family. The business has invested some £90,000 in play equipment designed to challenge and develop children’s physical strength, cognitive and problem-solving abilities and co-ordination. Despite the lack of information, Joanne has been making preparations to reopen but says she is increasingly worried as the weeks go by with no definite date given.
Left in limbo
Joanne said: “I totally agree that we should only open when it is safe to do so. But unlike any other sector (except nightclubs) we are in limbo and unable to benefit from all of the extraordinary assistance rightly being given to the rest of the hospitality industry.
“The VAT cut, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, the flexible furlough have been wonderful initiatives to help businesses bounce back but they can not help us if we are not open.”
Prior to lockdown, Treetops employed 23 staff, all of whom have been furloughed since March. Sadly, Joanne has now had to let 12 of them go as the furlough scheme starts to come to an end. “Our staff are our biggest asset,” says Joanne, “it breaks my heart to split up the team. As soon as we can re-open, we want to get the team back together.”
Joanne added: “It has been a very worrying time. Treetops was a successful business that was going from strength to strength before lockdown.
“We are doing everything we can to be ready for the moment the Government says our sector can re-open. We believe we provide a much-needed resource for local families. Obesity is a nationally recognised issue and play centres provide a valuable opportunity for hidden exercise through play, crucial for children who don’t do organised sport or can’t ‘play out’ as children used to.
“We are just asking for discretionary support as a sector to help us bounce back.”
Soft play means so much to local families
Joanne knows first-hand what a play centre like Treetops can mean to parents of young children – in fact, this was her motivation for setting up the business in the first place.
“As a new mum 18 years ago, an indoor play centre kept me sane,” she explains. “I looked forward to quality time with my little girl where we could both play together.
“I loved the toddler groups we went to but I appreciated the freedom and lack of structure of a play centre. I enjoyed a few minutes of enjoying a hot cup of coffee while my daughter developed her social skills meeting other children. I was always glad to have the chance to chat to other adults at a time when I didn’t know anyone else on maternity leave. I was glad of the opportunity for her have fun exercising – running, climbing, swinging, building her cognitive, co-ordination and problem solving skills. All in a safe environment whatever the weather.”
We’re sure that many parents have felt the same over the years!
How can I support Treetops?
If you think that Government should provide play centres like treetops with additional funding to help them survive this prolonged shut down, you can sign the petition.
To lend your support to Treetops specifically, Joanne would love to hear from you about what the centre means to you – why you think it is important that the centre stays open in the long term – and what would be lost if it were to close. She is then collating all your comments to use to lobby our local MP and Government. You can help out by taking a few minutes to add your thoughts in the comments below, or emailing your message of support direct to Treetops: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Treetops has the backing of our local MPs and councillors
MP James Grundy has visited Treetops recently and promised to do all he can to help.
Councillors in the Golborne and Lowton West ward, Susan Gambles, Yvonne Klieve and Gena Merrett are also all lending their support to Joanne and Treetops.
Cllr Merrett, who regularly takes her grandchildren to Treetops, said: “The three Golborne and Lowton West councillors are in regular contact with Joanne from Treetops. We are doing all we can to support her and this business that is popular and highly valued by our local families.
“Soft play centres need additional Government support to survive their extended closures. We have shared the petition on our Facebook page asking for support and we have emailed the MP, James Grundy and the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, for help.
“It would be a great pity and such a loss if this facility closed.”
Tell us what Treetops means to you
Add your thoughts in the comments below.