Children's Play sacrificed for High Street Shopping

18 December 2020 ‐ For immediate release - Indoor Play, an industry that welcomes 60 million children visits annually across the country, is COVID’s worst commercial victim and on the brink of annihilation. While more than 70% of operators have been forced to close their doors yet again under the current Tier system and the rest operate at 40% capacity during their most important trading period of the year, neighbouring gyms and shops remain open. 

Indoor play centres have previously been recognised as a cornerstone to children’s social, and physical development by both Government and Parents and they are broadly seen as a key element in a child’s social and physical development. Yet, those wet, windy, winter weekends, when parents head to their local soft play centre, could soon be a thing of the past as the sector has become a sacrificial lamb, not considered essential enough to open in Tier 3.

Since the start of the pandemic, they have been singled out for particularly harsh treatment in the local and national guidelines and 20% have gone into liquidation. In the last 10 months, operators have been able to trade for just 12 weeks and then at only 40% capacity. On top of that, they have been prohibited from hosting birthday parties, which account for two-fifths of the industry’s total revenue. As a consequence, more than 3,000 jobs have been lost and families have been shocked and upset to find their local indoor play facilities closed down due to COVID restrictions – often permanently.

The industry believes grants that have been made available are nowhere near sufficient (and unfairly distributed) to sustain the remaining operators who are calling for a sector-specific scheme, plus further business support grants from local Councils, another 12 months at 5% VAT, business rates holiday for a further 12 months, furlough beyond April if closures continue.

Indoor play businesses are primarily family-run operations, and many operators have taken on significant financial commitments themselves to meet the COVID operational guidelines. Once staff costs, rent, utilities, etc… are included, the average centre has incurred costs of £1 per square foot for each month it has been closed, a recent study by AIP discovered.

Janice Dunphy, Chair of the Association of Indoor Play, said: “More than 70% of our Members are in Tier 3, but even in the other Tiers, they face greater restrictions than any other sector. And if you’re in a Tier 2 area and surrounded by Tier 3 areas, it’s no less difficult to get customers through your doors. “The closure figures to date are the tip of a very large iceberg - many centres are teetering on the edge and the true impact will come in the next few weeks and months. Many operators are talking to insolvency practitioners in preparation for their closure. We anticipate that this is truly the end of your local play centre in many cities. Unless some help comes quickly, as many as 30,000 jobs will go over the course of weeks. We are asking our AIP Members to appeal to their Councils for urgent financial support now that funding has been released to the local authorities.”

Indoor play encompasses play cafes, indoor play centres, role play, baby sensory and Farm Parks. The AIP Committee is calling on government for a sector specific support scheme, to allow socially distanced children’s parties and, most importantly, to not shut them down. Operators provide a host of activities: baby sensory, adventure play, role play, essential parent/carer, child time, pre-school and Baby classes. community hub activities such as NCT, cafes.  

About AIP

The Association of Indoor Play (AIP) is a not for profit organisation set up to be the voice of the Indoor Play Sector. It was formed in August 2020 by a group of seasoned national indoor softplay providers. The committee spun off from BALPPA (The British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers & Attractions) with the aim of creating a more specific and targeted vehicle to represent the smaller operators in this specialised sector. The overriding aims of the association are to raise the profile of the benefits of indoor play with the public and the Government, to rase the standards and reward excellence within the industry and to have a community where operators can discuss issues and access core industry information.

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For Press Enquiries:

Andrew Newton - Email: Relations@associationofindoorplay.org - Tel: 07799 888 941

Maria Cantarella – Email: admin@associationofindoorplay.org Tel: 07785 258150