Petition set up by "devastated" soft play centre owner forced to close for the second time

The owner of a Lancashire soft play centre has attracted hundreds of signatures on a petition calling on the Government to reopen the venues.

By Catherine Musgrove
Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 3:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 3:48 pm

Laura Brookes, who has been running Jollies Barn in Mere Brow for two years with husband Jonathan, said she was shocked to hear on Friday that she would have to close again as Lancashire entered Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.

She only reopened the barn two months ago after the first round of lockdown closures.

Now she wants to know why the sector is being targeted when children are allowed on public playgrounds, and when gyms for adults are open.

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Jollies Barn in Mere Brow

She said: "When I found out on Friday, it was a massive shock. We've put so much effort in to get everything Covid-safe and this has hit the staff really hard - harder than the first time round.

"We're all devastated. The customers are too. On Sunday I had customers leaving with tears rolling down their faces. That's when it really hit me that this is much more than a play centre. It's educational for the children, it is also somewhere for parents. People struggle when it's bad weather and this is something they look forward to.

"It's devastating that is no-one is thinking about the impact this is going to have on mental health."

At first Laura thought soft play centres would be exempt from closure, as Playtown less than 10 miles away in Sefton had been allowed to remain open, even though the area was in Tier 3.

Laura Brookes of Jollies Barn, Mere Brow

Laura, 35, said: "We thought we would be alright, because Playtown was allowed to stay open, but then we read what it meant for Lancashire, and we had to close. It just didn't make sense.

"I got in touch with my local councillors, MP and tried the council itself, but nobody had any information because it was so new. Over the weekend nobody was working, so it was only Monday when we were able to speak to anyone."

On Monday, soft play centres in the Liverpool area were also notified that they would have to close, which affected Playtown.

Now the owners of the two venues have teamed up to create an online petition, which had attracted more than 700 supporters in less than a day.

The outside playground at Jollies Barn

>>>Sign the petition here

Laura said: "When we reopened after lockdown we had to get all these documents, but they've shut us down without any documents and very little notice.

"What I can't understand is how it's okay for children to go to public playgrounds, but it's not okay to come to us.

"In playgrounds there's no-one policing it, there's no gel. Here all the staff are wearing masks, it's table service, the parents have to wear masks if they're on the equipment, and the cleanliness is second-to-none."

Laura said she has been advised she will be eligible for financial help of £1,000 every fortnight they are closed, but said it wasn't enough to cover staff wages and overheads, such as rent.

She said: "I desperately don't want to lose any staff, they're like family. But nobody knows what's going to happen. The £1,000 every two weeks isn't enough and the furlough scheme ends at the end of October."

Lancashire County Council's public health team has been approached for comment on why soft play centres have been closed.