Wigan's soft play centres begin second closure period under Tier 3 rules
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Barely weeks after reopening for the first time since March, indoor play centres across Greater Manchester were forced to close again from Friday, under the rules which will also see pubs that do not serve meals close to the public.
It is a move which will put the future of many businesses at stake, and one which many have criticised.
Wendy Unsworth, owner of Pipsqueaks Play Cafe, had managed to keep her business going during the summer by turning the venue into a cafe, but will now close completely while she decides the best course of action for the company and her employees.
She was critical of the Government’s approach to the Tier 3 business closures, branding the decisions “inconsistent” and saying there was no evidence that places like Pipsqueaks were more susceptible to Covid outbreaks than gyms, which have been allowed to remain open.
She also felt the decision would be detrimental to the mental health of children who will now miss out on more exercise and bonding over the winter months.
“We weren’t surprised, but there is no basis for shutting us down,” said Wendy.
“I haven’t seen any evidence about any kind of breakouts in soft play centres. We certainly haven’t had any here, and all the customers say they feel so safe. We are always cleaning.
“Everybody seems to be lobbying to keep the gyms open because they’re so important for mental health, which they are. But I think it’s really important for kids too. We’ve had so many new parents come to us since we reopened, and they’ve told us they were so glad to be able to get their children out. Having somewhere to go with a newborn, when they’d been stuck in the house for so long, was huge.
“They’ve just got back into it and it’s been taken from then again. Coming up to winter as well, there aren’t many other forms of exercise for 2-3 year olds, indoors.”
She added: “I understand why they are keeping gyms open and I think that’s really important, but to me, we are like a gym for little ones. So why are we not important?
“If you’re going to promote healthy living and exercise, it should be from a very young age.”
When Pipsqueaks announced that they would be closing again on social media, they were flooded with bookings for their final two days.
“That tells me that people feel safe here,” Wendy said.
“The customers that we get follow the rules, sit where they are asked to sit, wear face coverings. They feel safe and feel happy coming. The fact that they continued to book shows they know it’s a safe place to come.”
Parents have also rallied to the aid of other soft play centres across the borough. Little Buddies, based a stone’s throw away from Wigan town centre in Great George Street, was a lifeline during Helen Starmer-Allen’s early days of motherhood. So much so that, in a bid to help the business survive its enforced closure, she launched a fund-raising campaign.
“Being able to go somewhere that’s safe, fun and inviting when you’ve got a new baby and children is essential for many families,” Helen wrote on the Just Giving page.
She added: “Especially the mental health of mothers and for the well being of children, being able to run around and let off a little steam. It is also very important for babies and children to have interaction with other children for social skills and personal development and to lose play centres would have a detrimental effect on that.”
Anyone wishing to support the Little Buddies fund-raiser can visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/savelittlebuddies