‘We had to cancel a diary of birthday parties’ - how children’s activities are preparing to reopen

Adam Goymour at Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure. Pic: Archant

Adam Goymour at Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure. Pic: Archant - Credit: Archant

Over the last few months, Norfolk’s families will have had to be inventive in how they’ve entertained their youngsters.

Church Farm offers a range of fun activities for families. Ham nationals in 2017. Picture: Ian Burt

Church Farm offers a range of fun activities for families. Ham nationals in 2017. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

With most attractions and playgrounds closed, and some only just now starting to reopen, options have been limited.

But as the prime minister begins to give businesses an idea of when they may reopen, we spoke to five children’s activities about how the future looks for them in a socially distanced world.

Rare breeds centre

Church Farm in Stow Bardolph, near Downham Market, reopened on Saturday, June 20 to season ticket holders and members.

The centre said it is part of a ‘soft reopening’ to see if it works before reopening to the public.

Farmer Fred's Play Barn, at Heacham Picture: Chris Bishop

Farmer Fred's Play Barn, at Heacham Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

Due to government guidelines on social distancing it is using a pre-booked online system, which only allows 100 people per session in the morning and afternoon.

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Debbie Benns, estate administrator, said: “We are going with government guidelines, so when the government says it’s safe to reopen the playground we will.

“We want people to come and feel safe and confident and have hand washing and sanitiser everywhere.

“We do a lot of hand washing anyway because of the nature of the farm.”

Currently, its indoor children’s play area remains closed and the centre is waiting on further government guidelines before making a decision to reopen.

A one-way system has been put in place and the animal areas have reopened, the centre is asking people to “look but not touch things”.

Lindsay and Ian James. Photo: Sonya Duncan

Lindsay and Ian James. Photo: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

Its woodland area, sand pit and football pitch have also reopened, and people are being asked to bring and use their own toys and equipment so there is no cross contamination.

The centre is taking tractor rides but with minimal numbers.

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The boss of a popular children’s attraction fears she may not be able to open this summer.

Jo Goode has run Farmer Fred’s Play Barn at Norfolk Lavender, at Heacham, for almost 10 years.

Norfolk lavender at Heacham. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk lavender at Heacham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

She said: “The effect of the pandemic on our business has been utterly catastrophic and we anticipate a significant downturn in business when we do reopen.”

Mrs Goode said precautions she would have to put in place to safeguard staff and children would mean limiting numbers below the 250 children the centre can accommodate.

“We’d be restricted by how many we could fit in,” she said. “It’s quite an expensive operation to run and the only way the numbers stack up for us is volume.”

While some venues, including pubs, are set to reopen on July 4, Mrs Goode was not as optimistic.

“We don’t anticipate reopening before September time,” she said. “Even if we are allowed to open before then if we are restricted on numbers then opening will just not be financially viable.

“Measures we may put in place will include pre-booked time slots, fogging machines, additional cleaning measures, hand sanitisers, separate entrance and exit gates.”

Norfolk Lavender. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk Lavender. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Fakenham SuperBowl

Popular bowling alley and children’s soft play area, Fakenham Superbowl, closed its doors before national lockdown was announced.

Owner Kay Kirby says she is disappointed that her family ran business, on Bridge Street, will not be able to open at the start of July.

She said: “We closed our doors before lockdown was announced. We weren’t getting any customers and those that were coming in were nervous of the virus.

“We were hoping to reopen the bowling alley at the start of July but were left disappointed after the prime minister’s announcement.

Lambs at Church Farm in Stow Bardolph. Picture: Ian Burt

Lambs at Church Farm in Stow Bardolph. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

“I don’t see how going to the cinema is much different than going bowling.”

Mrs Kirby has trained all staff on how to keep themselves and their customers safe when they eventually return to work.

She said: “We have bought Perspex screens, hand sanitiser and handheld thermometers.

“Every other bowling lane will be open and we will close it after a customer has left to clean the equipment and seats.”

The soft play area, which includes slides a ball pool and bish-bash bags, will be much harder to police, she says.

“It’s almost impossible to get children to social distance,” she said. “We think we would have to close it after every session to deep clean everything and only let a set amount in.”

Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure hopes to reopen next month. Pic: Archant

Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure hopes to reopen next month. Pic: Archant - Credit: Archant

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In Hethersett, the owners of one children’s role play centre have been forced to raid their own savings to keep their business afloat at a time when they would usually be fully booked.

Ian and Lindsay James opened Tots Town in 2016, but like other venues had to close down in March when the UK was put into lockdown.

As difficult as it was, they knew the importance of maintaining a relationship with families despite the inevitable financial impact.

“The hardest thing was having to cancel a diary full of birthday parties – it was an emotional time but we made sure everyone got a new date to look forward to, or an instant refund.

“To be honest, the leisure industry is a tough place to be in at the moment – everything had to stop instantaneously. We are grateful for government support but like many child-focused small business owners we have had to use personal savings while we await the green light to open again.”

As for when they will be able to do so, Mr James say they are still in the dark but trying to prepare nonetheless.

“In readiness for opening, whenever that might be, we have been in contact with the local council and will be making some internal changes. We will open just for private hire sessions, all the toys in use can be easily cleaned, and we have installed extra hand sanitizing stations.

“We are quite lucky that being in Norfolk, Tots Town is in a countryside location with its own car park right next to the front door so families don’t need to come close to anyone else when they come to play here. We are flooded with natural sunlight and ventilation and holding pre-booked set time play sessions means we can completely sanitise the venue after each family visit.

“We can’t wait to welcome back families, give them a sense of normality and see them enjoy their local facilities again.”

Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure

Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure Park in Lenwade said earlier this week they were hoping to reopen on July 4.

Adam Goymour, park manager and company director, said: “Guests can expect the usual Jurassic experience that we are well known for, but with the added safety measures in place.

“We are asking all of our guests to book tickets with an arrival time slot in advance. Guests will be asked to main social distancing throughout the park and will be able to spot our large dinosaur footprints at the admission area – before using our self-scanning ticket machines.

“We have hand sanitising stations at every attraction and families must follow signage and guidance throughout the park for all one way systems and exits.”

When customers return to the attraction, not all facilities will be open.

Mr Goymour said: “Unfortunately, due to government guidelines, we are unable to open our indoor play areas Dinomite and Dippy-ville and will phase our opening for Predator High Ropes, Stone Age Road Race and Raptor Racers.

“We are incredibly looking forward to opening our Jurassic park gates once again, and really hope guests can unleash their adventure with us.”