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Covid: Soft play industry 'on brink of collapse' trade body warns

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image captionGillian Kirk said she fears moving into tier three will force her business to permanently close

The soft play industry is on the brink of collapse, a trade body has warned, as centres in South Yorkshire face closure with the introduction of tier three restrictions.

Along with casinos and betting shops, play gyms in the region have to shut less than two months after reopening.

Gillian Kirk, director of Playmania in Barnsley, said it was devastating.

Meanwhile, new research seen by the BBC shows one in 10 play centres in the UK have permanently shut since August.

Under tier three, England's "very high" level of alert, pubs and bars which do not serve substantial meals have to close, and there are further restrictions on households mixing.

Dan Jarvis, Sheffield City Region Mayor, said it was the "responsible route" and that "inaction was not an option" after its hospital admissions doubled in 10 days.

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Ms Kirk, who set up Playmania with her sister 15 years ago, said she was "coming to the end of the line in how we can continue".

"We actually only opened 10 days ago. We lost all the stock in March, we've literally just restocked and got back up and running.

"This has come as a big blow."

image copyrightRebecca Flynn
image captionRebecca Flynn runs Playmania with her sisters and said it was constant battle to survive

Rebecca Flynn, who runs Playmania in Sheffield, said moving into tier three was particularly bad because October half term was one of the busiest times of year.

She said: "October to February is our busiest time and that sustains us through the summer but now we're potentially looking at losing all that.

"I've got lots of people's livelihoods that I'm trying to sustain too, and understandably my members of staff are worried about how they're going to pay their mortgages."

Ms Flynn said she had spent thousands of pounds in making the business Covid safe and building up customer confidence.

"So many other places are allowed to stay open, yet businesses like mine, who have invested so much money in making sure people feel safe have to close.

"It just doesn't seem fair."

image captionJanice Dunphy from the Association of Indoor Play said members' mental health was being impacted

Since being allowed to reopen in August, soft play centres have seen a drop in income because they have to operate at 40% capacity to allow for social distancing.

Latest research from the Association of Indoor Play (AIP) shows that out of 1,100 play centres in the UK and Northern Ireland, 107 have closed in the last two months, with 2,000 job losses.

Janice Dunphy, from the AIP, said they had set up a counselling advice line because members' mental health was suffering.

"One centre contacted me today to say he'd made £38 all day, and he had two staff to pay out of that."

She added: "We've got a forum on Facebook, and every night members are posting, they're desperate.

"Mental health is a big issue. They can't plan, they can't sell tickets for Halloween events because they don't know if they're going to have to close again."

The AIP said the industry was on the brink of collapse and has called on government for a sector specific support scheme.

Ms Dunphy said: "The pandemic we know was nobody's fault, but unfortunately we were closed longer than any other business. We didn't have the help out support restaurants and pubs did."

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: "Businesses have had access to a multi-billion-pound package of support from the Treasury including furlough, VAT relief, government-backed loans and the new Job Support Scheme."

A spokesperson said it continued to engage with the sector to see how it could further assist.

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  • Covid: South Yorkshire to move into tier 3 from Saturday