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Adventure Kidz in Aylesford shows how soft play centres in Kent could reopen safely under Covid-19 guidelines

A children's soft play area invited seven families inside their currently-closed premises to prove they can operate safely under Covid-19 guidelines.

Having remained shut since the nation went into lockdown in March, bosses at Adventure Kidz in Aylesford were hoping to be able to fully open on July 25 along with businesses such as indoor water parks, trampoline parks, and climbing facilities.

The first children to experience a soft play area since lockdown began

But government guidance has left the soft play industry in the dark, leaving them off the list of businesses given the green light to welcome customers back once again.

To prove the lengths they will go to in keeping parents and children from risk of infection, co-owners Andrew and Elizabeth Moody invited the children to play on the equipment and explain to parents the extensive cleaning plans in place.

The provisional regime includes regular washing down and cleaning of all touch points across the play equipment, sanitising gel being made available across the premises, and a disinfectant fog machine which would be used every evening.

The building was able to accommodate 470 people in total before lockdown, but to keep customers safe Andrew and Elizabeth are looking to operate a booking system with a drastically reduced capacity.

Andrew and Elizabeth are concerned their business may not survive if they cannot open soon
Andrew and Elizabeth are concerned their business may not survive if they cannot open soon

This plan would only see four sections of 40 customers each inside the building at any one time, which they believe will reduce the potential chance of infection.

Andrew said: "The reaction today has been really positive - they're looking to see what we're doing as a company, we'll be following full guidelines when they're released and we're going above and beyond what we feel is needed to be done.

"The future is looking bleak for the industry, and I have to include all my competitors and friends I have in that group.

"If as a sector we do not get any financial support, to date I am aware of 30 plus businesses that will not be opening again."

The British Association of Leisure Parks Piers and Attractions (BALPPA) have warned of the extinction of the soft play industry if the government do not step in soon with either a roadmap for reopening or a significant cash injection.

Imogen enjoying the toddler area
Imogen enjoying the toddler area

The body has now shared a petition to get soft play areas open again, which has been signed by more than 16,000 people.

The petition reads: "Throughout this pandemic children have been an overlooked group in decisions taken by government.

"The mental and physical health of children is especially important in an age group that is the least vulnerable to the virus and also the least able to comprehend the enormity of the situation."

Adventure Kidz co-owner Elizabeth said she is concerned about the impact of their continued closure on toddlers and children with additional needs.

She said: "You can go to a trampoline park, you can go to a sauna, you can go to the gym.

Olivia said she loves coming to the soft play area
Olivia said she loves coming to the soft play area

"But what about the children that need to actually interact and play in a safe environment?"

Marnie Clayton, from Maidstone, brought along her son Fletcher, 8, who has special educational needs.

She said: "My son is profoundly autistic, and I think families with additional needs have really struggled in lockdown.

"Fletcher is a chronic escape artist, so whereas some families have managed to go to parks and places like that, we can't do that.

"Being able to have a secure environment where they know the children - and they're so good with children with additional needs - it's been really helpful."

Elizabeth is concerned toddlers are missing out on vital social skills and development
Elizabeth is concerned toddlers are missing out on vital social skills and development

Other parents who attended said they felt as if their children were safe, and would be happy to bring them back under the measures Andrew and Elizabeth have set out.

Andrea Waite came along with her daughters Millie and Amy, and said the cleaning routine appeared good enough to keep concerns at bay.

She said: "When I leave my table and the next group come in, they would have thoroughly cleaned everything before arriving.

"Nobody does that at the council play park, do they? Nobody is turning up and wiping down the slide, wiping over the play equipment periodically, whereas here they will."

Andrea's eldest daughter Amy, 11, said she felt positive about there being a reduce capacity once the play area is allowed to open again.

"It makes me so happy - it makes my whole day..."

She said: "It's good that there's less people so we don't have to queue up at the slide and for the high ropes."

Lisa Taylor's daughter Olivia, who is visually impaired, loves visiting Adventure Kidz.

The 3-year-old said: "It makes me so happy - it makes my whole day."

Regardless of how customers feel, the fate of the business still hangs in the balance as the industry waits for further government guidance.

A spokesm from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "We recognise the frustration of businesses which have had to remain closed because of the pandemic and we are working to help them reopen as soon as it is safe.

"We are also providing businesses and their employees with an unprecedented package of support during this national emergency including £330 billion worth of government backed and guaranteed loans and the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme."

To read more about the BALPPA petition, click here

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