Indoor Play prepares for a come back, without Ball Ponds but with exciting new features and COVID safe.
After a total of 12 months of closure parents rejoice as the indoor play industry is gearing to re-open on the 17th of May, in line with the COVID extension laws, but with the temporary removal of ball ponds.
The opening will be under social distancing requirements and indoor play centres have been forced to temporarily remove ball ponds, which have been a childhood staple for over 50 years, but are being replaced with role play areas, enrichment activities and additions to adventure play areas.
The Association of Indoor Play is awaiting acceptance and publishing of the guidance it has submitted to the Government, in association with UK Hospitality, and they are expected to include reduced capacity, online booking and enhanced staff training.
The Association is advising its members, as well as other indoor play venues, that children’s parties and should not be run until after the lifting of restrictions in June. Centres nationwide are already taking bookings online and have seen a surge in enquiries since the Government announcement.
“The industry has taken extraordinary measures including additional cleaning regimes, fogging, pre-booked play sessions, C02 monitoring and table ordering for the Cafes,” said Janice Dunphy, Chair of the AIP. “We also hope now that parents see the actual benefits of play in an indoor centre, we are not here to fill in time - we are here to enrich the lives of children and to help repair the damage caused by the pandemic.”
Indoor Play has put into force the most stringent measures of any industry and have had zero outbreaks of COVID in any venues.
The opening has been long awaited as parents struggle to balance home schooling and ensuring their children are enjoying adequate physical activity. They are also in need of respite as evidenced by popular Mummy Blogger “The Five Minute Mum” who posted a ragged photo of herself with the quote:
“IDIOT. Here’s an idiot. Taking a selfie of this face in soft play. Because I was fed up of being in soft play. I now know this person was a fool. Never again will I not be grateful for soft play. Soft play is amazing. The kids could play and someone else made me a coffee. What will you never complain about again?!”
Incorporating Role Play
A trending development in indoor play is the introduction of role play areas. During the COVID lockdown AIP Member Go Kids Go in Leicester created “Little Avenue” within their centre - a children's role play centre, based on a scaled-down version of a typical town and according to the owners, is the first attraction of its kind in the city. It is aimed at children aged three to 10 years old and incorporates 12 rooms, each filled with lots of props and activities for children to enjoy.
This will be a cafe where children can pretend to make a coffee, bake cakes, cook and serve food and cash up, and a cosy cottage with lots of dolls and doll accessories. There will also be a beauty salon with a make-up station, hair wash and nail bar, a hospital complete with an ambulance and check-up station, and a fire station with a fire truck.
Little Avenue will also include a police station with a jail, bed and a toilet for the inmates, a post office, and a supermarket with fruit and vegetables, and a mini fridge and freezer.
A live performance music theatre will be complete with a piano, guitars and drums, and there will be the chance for children to take part in sing-alongs on the centre stage.
Other features will include an ice cream van, flower boutique, ATM machine and telephone booth, plus there will be a baby park with lots of baby activities on a green grass carpet
Making Facilities COVID safe
AIP Member Riverside Hub based in Northampton routinely re-invests in new play features to keep improving its’ offering. The owners Ellis and Valentina Potter regularly invest each year to keep their offering exciting, although COVID has changed their approach slightly.
Ellis commented, “we reinvest a lot of money – usually around £200,000 a year on new play facilities, but in 2020 we spent that money on making our venue COVID-safe. Features like UV air sterilisation units and portable hand washing stations proved very reassuring to our visitors when we were open last autumn. For 2021 though, our investment in play has begun again and we aim to really push people’s expectations of what they can expect to find in an indoor play centre over the next few months.”
Sensory play facilities for the tiny ones, role-play settings for toddlers and a huge new, play feature not before seen in the UK are all coming soon to the Hub.
Ellis added “Even though it’s a huge building, we have filled all the floorspace here with fun stuff. Therefore, when we see something new we really want to add, we either have to replace something that is already here, or build upwards into the huge 10m high ceiling height. Our new play feature coming in a few months will literally be up in the air!”
Valentina commented “I get very excited when I think of new play possibilities. Most of the features we install are designed by ourselves and that can be very rewarding. The great thing is that the visitors get just as much joy from the new features as I get from designing them and seeing them come to life”.
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 2020 by a group of seasoned national indoor softplay providers with over 150 years of combined indoor play experience between them with the aim of creating a 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.
The indoor play sector, welcomes 60 million children visits for indoor play, role play and baby sensory, and has been one of industry hardest hit by the pandemic, with Centres only allowed to open for 12 weeks in total since March last year. Indoor playcentres are recognised as a cornerstone to children’s social and physical development, provides support with the mental health of parents and children and is a stepping-stone in socialisation.