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How the escape room went online during lockdown, with the Panic Room in Gravesend

The mix of puzzle-solving, teamwork and the desire to escape reality against the clock is something many have been tapping into for the last few years, as the popularity of escape rooms has grown.

Then came the coronavirus - and being shut in a room with those not from your household was no longer an option for the foreseeable future.

Monique and Alex Souter of the Panic Room in Gravesend working at home during lockdown
Monique and Alex Souter of the Panic Room in Gravesend working at home during lockdown

But for professional problem solvers Alex and Monique Souter, who started the Panic Room in Gravesend in 2016, it was a challenge that they rose to, and turned out to thrive on.

Their business of four sites in Gravesend and Essex, and 70 employees, had to close, with staff furloughed, while the pair sat down and worked out what they could do.

Alex said: “We had mobile rooms and we realised we could adapt them for online rooms. We were able to really quickly get a foot in the door and within a couple of weeks of lockdown we already had designs for a number of games.

“With four locations and 70 members of staff, we didn’t want to let anyone down. We are very thankful for everyone’s support - it has been absolutely crazy.

“We have had support from our regular customers but we also have new customers across the world. It is crazy the people that are finding us. It has been really successful - and we have been able to stay at home with our dogs, though it has meant crazy hours and no time off.”

Escape rooms have moved online during lockdown
Escape rooms have moved online during lockdown

An initial crowdfunding campaign raised more than £6,000, with supporters getting gift vouchers for once things reopen fully.

Online rooms include three CSI-themed ones, with others including a Sherlock Holmes-style game, and My Dearest Emily, based on the land rush in Oklahoma in the 1890s, plus several family-friendly games and most recently some family games in pdf format which they have been working with Singlewell Printers on. Games cost from £20 and are designed for up to six players - who could be in the same room physically, or even in different countries - and family ones from £10.

Alex added: “Most of our games are a maximum of eight players. People play on zoom, google meet, facetime. It is really good for people to have fun and family time and it is nice to bring people together. We have always gone on our gut and we are never afraid to go for it. We really thought ‘go big or go home’. If we keep on working our hardest we cannot say we haven’t tried.”

Three staff have been brought out of furlough to help with the volume of work.

However, the next stage, reopening physically, is going to be much harder, with social distancing and hygiene. For now though, business is firmly back in the room.

Find out more at thepanicroomonline.co.uk and on Facebook here.

* Other escape rooms across Kent include:

Canterbury's Escape Room. For online games visit escapekent.com

The Escapement in Margate. For details go to escapementmargate.co.uk

Prison Island in Maidstone. Find out more at prisonislandmaidstone.com

Clue Cracker in Tunbridge Wells. For details of their online games go to cluecrackergames.co.uk

The rise of escape rooms across Kent.

For more to do online and across Kent click here.

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