Green light for reopening but family heading up Ramsgate role play centre say covid guidance is full of hurdles

The hurdles to reopening soft play and role play centres

Celebration over the announcement that soft play centres would be able to reopen was short-lived for a Ramsgate family working to launch a new role play venture.

Sisters Jade and Leonie Harris and their parents Tracy and Tony have been working flat out to create the amazing miniature world in the former High Street pound shop premises.

On Friday, August 14 government gave the green light for a number of business reopenings, including play centres. But there was less than 24 hours notice – giving businesses little time to prepare – and the stringent guidelines which followed have proved a stumbling block.

Tracy, Leoni, Jade and little ones Delilah and Hallie

Little Seaside Town features a child sized world that even includes an ice cream van, a construction site, museum, hairdressers, cafe and a tree outside nan’s house. The fantastic creations are a family effort with Tracy, Jade and Leonie running the business and talented dad Tony creating all the sets.

Jade’s children Delilah and Hallie at the site when it was an empty shell

Construction of the sets is mostly complete and the clean up operation is taking place.

But mum-of-two Jade, from Minster, said the nature of the centre means some guidelines present real hurdles.

She said: “We celebrated that we could get moving and get open but since the release of the guidelines it is going to be more difficult than we thought.

“Props have got to be single use, they can’t be shared, which is difficult because our whole business premise is kids playing together and sharing.

Tony with Leonie’s fiancé Dave who helped with the sets

“The sets, like the café, have props and if the children have to have their own props that is quite a big responsibility.”

Leonie added: “They might find it quite confusing and it is also a lot of responsibility for the parents as we can’t follow each, individual child. We want it to be fun but this could make children anxious. Even the  governing body for children’s play says the rules are unrealistic.”

Dad Tony says the rules are a ‘cop out; adding: “They say we can open but then put in measures that stop that.”

Creating Grandma’s house

The family say there are measures in place from the fogging machine for cleaning and plans for a rotation system so each group leaves before the next arrives – giving cleansing time and stopping contact on entry and exit. There are hand sanitising stations using aloe vera, but retaining the 75% alcohol levels , which is gentler for small hands.

There has now been extra cost for a ventilation machine which is one of the requirements of the government guidelines.

Leoni said: “We want it to be fun and laid back but safe as well.”

Theatre dressing room but sadly no props

Possibilities could include exclusive group parties and splitting opening to three sessions a day – morning, midday and after school – to give plenty of deep clean time. Arrangements for nursery school visits could also be made. However, covid-safe rules will reduce the numbers allowed to use the centre at any one time – which will impact on income needed for overheads.

Jade said: “We are not sure exactly what we will be doing yet, our priority is for it to be safe. But we also have to think about things like stocking the cafe – will there be enough demand for it – and  having income for bills.”

The family are using a combination of personal savings and start up loans to get the venture up and ready but say they will have lost the valuable summer holidays.

Tony said: “The opening announcement was sprung on us, we thought there would be maybe a fortnight’s notice, so now we are just waiting to see what happens with the guidelines and whether there will be any changes.”

A lack of solid guidance has also prevented the reopening of Club World on Margate seafront. Owner Charlotte Silver, who is due to open Silvers café, bar and events space in the High Street tonight, said: “There was no guidance. We can’t open and have lost the six weeks of Summer holidays. We can’t even apply for grants for Perspex shields like other businesses did because we were still closed, so what funding will there be to help our industry now?”

The  trade body representing British leisure parks, piers and attractions (BALPPA) says the industry is at risk with a predicted two-thirds of centres shutting by October,

Paul Kelly, BALPPA chief executive, added: “Throughout this pandemic children have been an overlooked group in decisions taken by government. The mental and physical health of children is especially important in an age group that is the least vulnerable to the virus and also the least able to comprehend the enormity of the situation.”

Keep up to date in Little Seaside Town’s progress on their facebook page here

Little Seaside Town is based at 21-23 High Street, Ramsgate.