Popular Hemel Hempstead play park forced to close again as Dacorum enters Tier 4

The owner of a soft play business, with centres in Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted, was left frustrated following Saturday's announcement from the Government.

Monday, 21st December 2020, 1:20 pm
Updated Monday, 21st December 2020, 1:22 pm

Helen Whittington, who owns DJ's Play Park with her husband Mark, has called on more government support after indoor play facilities were forced to close again as Hertfordshire entered Tier 4 restrictions.

The couple also run DJ’s Play Zone in Berkhamsted and DJ's Play Jungle in St Albans, which have also had to close.

She said: "Wet, windy, winter weekends, where we see parents head to activity play centres - will be no longer, as the sector is being sacrificed and children's gyms are not considered essential enough to open in Tier 3 or 4, but are not given sufficient grants for closing.

DJ's Play Park

"Indoor Play, an industry that welcomes 60 million children visits annually is COVID’s worst victim and on the brink of annihilation with over 70% of operators having been forced to close again and the rest operating at 40% capacity during its most important trading period of the year, putting children’s mental and physical wellbeing at serious risk.

"Hertfordshire was given false hope, when only other parts were moved into Tier 3 on Wednesday, December 16, - it gave DJ's Play the reason to stock up, staff up and publish their Christmas/New Year opening hours - now to close only 3 days later!

"And now in tier 4, we have the challenge to survive the peak trading period of winter, closed without due compensation."

In the last 10 months operators have been able to trade for only 12 weeks and at only 40% capacity as well as not being able to host birthday parties which account for 40% of revenue.

Helen and Mark outside DJ's Play in Hemel Hempstead

In the last 10 months 20% of children’s indoor play centres have gone into liquidation and over 3,000 jobs lost - including our local well-known Play areas of Gambado Watford and Big Space, Harpenden.

The Association of Play Industries says the current grants are not enough to sustain the remaining operators who are calling for:

- further business support grants from local councils

- another 12 months at 5% VAT

- business rate holiday for a further 12 months

- furlough beyond April if closures continue

- a sector-specific scheme.

Operators are primarily family run operations, many of whom have now taken on significant financial commitments themselves to meet the COVID operational guidelines.

Helen added: "Indoor play centres are recognised as a cornerstone to children’s social and physical development, by both Government and parents as a key element in a child’s social and physical development.

"They provide support with the mental health of parents and children and are a steppingstone in socialisation prior to a child entering structured education.

"From a study it was seen that the average centre had costs of £1 per square foot of centre. This would mean a small 6,000sqft centre had costs of around £6,000 per month of closure. This includes staff costs, rent, utilities, etc.

"Indoor play encompasses play cafes, indoor play centres, role play, baby sensory and farm parks.

"The AIP Committee is calling on the government for a sector specific support scheme, to allow socially distanced children’s parties and, most importantly, to not shut them down for half term.

"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 and Birthday parties."