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Soft play centres hope to reopen in June – but without the ball pits

Soft play centres including Frosty's in Forfar hope to reopen on June 7.

For more than a year children have been denied the rough and tumble of soft play, while their parents have missed the respite of a cuppa while they burn off some energy.

But in just under three weeks, soft play centres may open their doors for the first time since March last year.

The venues will be allowed to reopen in level one of Scotland’s tier system, for which June 7 is the target date for most of the country.

They are getting ready to meet strict Scottish Government requirements for the industry, likely to mean breaks between sessions for enhanced cleaning regimes, removal or closure of hard-to-clean features such as ball pits, and separate entrances and exits to play frames.

Face coverings will not be required once inside, even for older children, as use of soft play is exempt as physical activity, and seating areas are governed by the same rules as cafes and restaurants.

For those in the industry, the wait to reopen has been frustrating as they watched other venues get back to business.

After previous reopening dates were scrapped last September and October, they remain cautious in their optimism.

Mike Ferguson, owner of Frosty’s Soft Play Centre, in Forfar, said: “It’s been really tough but we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”

Mike Ferguson is delighted to be reopening Frosty’s Soft Play Centre – but without Piper the Penguin for now.

From June 7, Frosty’s will have set play sessions with half hour breaks in between to allow tables, seating and play apparatus to be cleaned.

Numbers admitted will be limited and although not mandatory online booking will be advised.

Sadly, the centre’s mascot Piper the Penguin will have to remain in hibernation for now as it would be impossible to clean the character’s ‘feathers’ after every appearance.

Piper the Penguin demonstrates a hand sanitiser at Frosty’s Soft Play Centre.

Mike expects parents and children will be delighted to be back.

He said: “We have had mums on the phone almost in tears, just desperate to get a break and get the kids in.

“From a mental health and wellbeing perspective, soft play should have been open. Parents really needed it, especially when the bad weather meant kids couldn’t play outside.”

He has lost staff while the centre has been closed, both due to redundancy in the early days and employees having to take other jobs, and claimed the sector has had less government support than others.

At The Fun Factory in Dundee staff are about to embark on training to ensure they are up-to-speed with new ways of working.

soft play reopen
The Fun Factory in Dundee will start to take bookings next week. Pictured is CEO Mark Selvey.

Michelle Robb, senior duty manager, said there will be hand sanitising stations around the arena, cleaning between each 90-minute session and fewer people in at one time.

Since the intended opening date was advertised, the centre has been “inundated” with enquiries about bookings, which will be taken from May 24.

She said: “There are some younger children that will never even have been in a soft play centre so it will be good to see all our old customers and some new ones.

“The kids just want to get back – fingers crossed we do get to open.”

Tables, chairs and equipment at The Fun Factory will be cleaned between each session.

A lot of staff had to be paid off at the start of the pandemic, she said, and the Camperdown Road centre was closed.

She said: “We [soft play centres] were first to close and we still have not reopened. We have been put in the same category as nightclubs.

“It’s frustrating but it is what it is. Our time will come to open and the parents and kids will love it.”

In Dunfermline, Play Planet had only launched in December 2019 before lockdown forced it to close last March.

General manager Lauren Baillie said: “The last year and a bit has been really, really tough for us. We are a new business as well as being a soft play centre, and we only got to trade for four months before we had to close.

“We feel for the kids missing out on the exercise, the play, the socialisation.”

“We feel for the kids missing out on the exercise, the play, the socialisation.

“With hospitality reopening, a lot of people assume soft play has reopened and as of yesterday we have had a lot of calls and messages from people desperate to get back.”

Lauren said she will be “elated” to reopen as hoped on June 7 but added: “We are cautiously optimistic – we have been here before.

“If we get to open, amazing, if we don’t then the government is really going to have to step up and give us some form of support.”

Severe impact

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We do not underestimate the severe impact this pandemic has had on soft play centres across Scotland, and we expect them to reopen when Scotland enters level one.

“This is dependent on continued progress on vaccination against coronavirus (Covid-19) and suppression of the virus.

“We have always said we will keep plans under review and accelerate the lifting of restrictions if possible, and we will continue engaging with the soft play sector on this.”