Published: 14:29, 17 May 2021
| Updated: 20:17, 17 May 2021
If ever an image summed up the devastating effect of the pandemic on businesses, it would be that from Adventure Kidz in Aylesford.
It showed owners Andrew and Elizabeth Moody looking worried. In the background, slides and an extravaganza of soft play equipment stood gleaming – but totally empty.
KentOnline has made good use of the picture as we've followed the plight of the couple.
In the last year, Adventure Kidz has been operational for only five weeks in total and the Moodys told us theirs was always the first sector to be put into lockdown and always the last to be taken out of lockdown.
But fast forward to today and the centre now looks and sounds exactly like it should do.
The noise of screaming children dominated the place. But instead of parents gritting their teeth, rolling their eyes and putting up with it, as they may have done pre-March 2020, the screaming was welcome.
This was about owners and parents being able to breathe a sigh of relief and children who have been cooped up with only parks' play areas for company, being able to run around and let off some steam.
With all sessions fully booked, staff were on for a busy day. There is a team of 15 running the venue, down from pre-pandemic numbers of 30 - with many darting between tasks - supervision and manning reception.
But for Mr Moody, owner and managing director, the morning was dominated by a never-ending stream of phone calls in the office as people enquired about bookings. Sadly during the course of lockdown, similar venues Wear M Out in Maidstone and Tonbridge decided they would have to shut down, which means Adventure Kidz is one of the few venues of its type left standing.
One employee even had to make a last-ditch effort to prevent a child in need of the toilet from sprinting into the kitchen as things got going on. And as excited youngsters caught a glimpse of the soft play sites available, they just ditched their coats and were off running, or toddling.
With the centre fully booked today and tomorrow, and the calls flooding in this morning, employees followed the latest government guidelines, with regular announcements also being made over the tannoy system.
They are also following the Rule of Six, where any number of households can meet, but the number must not exceed six. Two households are also allowed to join together.
Mr Moody revealed some people from outside Kent are starting to enquire about bookings and that some people are trying to push the Covid rules ever so slightly.
His favourite line so far was: "We are a party of six, I just forgot about the baby." But for today, it is bringing him a smile.
“We are very excited,” said Mr Moody, who owns the centre alongside his 56-year-old wife Elizabeth.
“In the past 14 months, we have only had five weeks where we have been open.
“We have had lots of bookings coming in.
"We have had lots of very, very happy customers and, as you can see today, the children and their parents are having great fun.”
The place was certainly busy, with sessions set to continue throughout the course of the day until 8.30pm tonight.
But despite the positive steps being made on the roadmap out of lockdown, there is more to do and existing rules which have to be followed.
If there were no restrictions at all, the centre could take 480 people, but its current capacity is 140.
Tables have been spaced at four metres apart so there is no chance of anyone getting closer than two metres to each other.
Each timed session now has a dedicated entrance and exit so there is little mixing as people reach the building.
Mr Moody says Adventure Kidz cannot accept bookings for parties and occasions just yet (when people can reserve a whole session), although he hopes they will be able to from June 21 when it is hoped the limits on social contact will be lifted.
So over to those relieved parents. Tara Leaver, from Cuxton, said her son, one-year-old Ronnie, was excited to get back to playing at the centre.
The 34-year-old said: “He cannot wait. He has not done anything for months.
“I think everyone has been waiting for pubs and restaurants to re-open. But we have been waiting for this.”
After a largely miserable weekend, Maidstone resident Anna Howard, 37, was thrilled two-and-a-half year-old Brendan now has somewhere indoors he can let off some steam.
“Especially on days like yesterday when it rained, we are always looking for places to go,” said Anna.
While 50-year-old Mr Moody admits the lack of income during the pandemic “has been a huge financial burden”, he is grateful his business is still open.
Mr Moody said: "We have had some government grants which, obviously, we are very grateful for.
"But we have had our ongoing standard bills that we are having to pay. That has put pressure on us. But we have survived.
"We have negotiated with some of our suppliers and landlords to get us through these tough times."
Also from Maidstone, Ben Foskett said it had been a long time since he had been able to take two-year-old Thea out to an indoor play centre.
“I think Thea had forgotten what it’s like initially,” said the 37-year-old.
“But it’s only taken her a few minutes to get back into the swing of things.”
Parents Amie Poleykett and Scott were also having fun with 17-month-old Freya at the venue.
Mum Amie, who has muscular dystrophy and is from Lordswood, said: “I have been shielding.
“So Freya has not done a lot because she has sort of been shielding as well.”
Scott, 33, added: “This is the second time I have been here. Amie has come here three times.
“But it’s better now for Freya because she is a little bit older and can run about and do a bit more.”
Russell Mellford, 27, also from Maidstone, says he expects to come back regularly with four-year-old Ella.
Mr Mellford said: "I have a day off today but I normally work Monday to Friday, so we usually come on weekends."