New café and soft play area unveiled following £100,000 transformation
PUBLISHED: 14:39 19 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:39 19 July 2020
A prominent town centre building that had been empty for almost four years has undergone a major £100,000 transformation.
A new café and soft play area has been unveiled at the site of the former Poundstretcher store in London Road North, Lowestoft,
And the owner of Funny Farm soft play barn café, Mark Jones, is looking forward to fully opening the new centre after receiving “really positive feedback” so far.
Featuring a farm-themed soft play centre with a café and toilets, the continuing coronavirus crisis has meant that Mr Jones has only been able to open the café thus far.
Having moved to Lowestoft from London, where he had owned a similar soft play facility, Mr Jones is encouraging people to “come along and check it out.”
He said: “I have owned the building since November, but with the lockdown in March all the construction work was put on hold for two months, so we were only able to open the café on Tuesday, July 14.
“We await the government guidelines on when we can open the soft play area.
“Lots of people have already visited us, with locals coming in and wishing us well.”
Originally from south London, Mr Jones’ family lives locally and his partner Fiona is from Lowestoft.
He said: “I own a soft play area in Surrey and my partner suggested opening a play area and running one in the local area.
“So I sold my house in Surrey and took a chance.
“We deliberately chose this building as its in the town centre.
“We hope that when people walk past with their shopping, or if they are out shopping with their children, they can pop in here, meet up and watch their children play in a safe, supervised environment.”
Pleased that the new venue is now partially open, Mr Jones, 52, said: “Its been a bit of a labour of love.
“The state of it when I took over, we had to basically strip it all out and start from scratch.
“There was no alarm system and I have put over £100,000 into this facility – the play equipment was £35,000 alone.
“I am absolutely amazed how well its turned out.
“To what I walked into in November, to now, it is very, very different.
“I am really pleased with the way its turned out.”
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With a farm theme running throughout, the café promotes healthy eating with the food, wherever possible, being locally sourced.
As well as the soft play area there is a sensory room with sensory equipment.
Mr Jones said: “I can’t believe how nice the people are - they are very, very friendly.
“We’ve had really positive feedback from people.”
Once the facility is fully up-and-running, Mr Jones is looking to employ further staff from the area.
He said: “We will be recruiting from the local area, in the region of 10 to 12 staff, although not all will be full time.
“We will start a membership scheme for guests, so people can use their membership cards when they come in.”
With security gates inside sectioning off the café and play area, the venue will also offer various party packages as well once they are fully operational with food included in the party packages.
The building has had a range of uses over the years.
For more than 20 years in the late 19th century, it used to be a popular jewellers and watchmakers.
Different families have ran at least two drapers at the building and it has also been a house furnishers.
For many years it was a popular Poundstretcher store, until it closed in October 2016 when the shop expanded and relocated along London Road North.
The building had remained vacant ever since, although last year Easterly Artists took over the building for a successful pop-up art exhibition,
In October 2018, the building was the focus of national attention after a security alarm rang for days before being turned off.
Mr Jones’ change of use plans were approved last year by East Suffolk Council and he took over the building in November.
In the future, he is hoping to potentially hold discos at the facility for children, while he also looks to turn a room upstairs into a beauty salon – so mums can get their nails done while their children play.
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