Recovering demand after COVID-19

Girl with crayons

Recovering demand after COVID-19

Daniel Weir

There is no denying that the last year has been bleak for the indoor play sector. The nature of the business means that they were amongst the last to be permitted to re-open, before the new wave of infections led to a second and then a third lockdown. While a handful of businesses, those registered as early years nurseries, had been able to stay open, the vast majority have been shut for many months.

However, as the vaccination push continues and infection rates drop nationwide, there is some chance that this lockdown may be the last. The question for those who are doing all they can to hang on until they are permitted to re-open is whether demand will recover. In some sectors, such as retail, the future looks gloomy, as peoples’ habits have been shifted ever more dramatically towards online shopping. But for indoor play centres, whose services cannot be rendered online, there is more hope.

Across the country, there are indications demand still exists. Plans for new soft play centres in Skelmersdale, Sheffield, Reading and Liskeard in Cornwall have all been recently approved. On social media, parents are united in bemoaning the lack of indoor play centres as an option for keeping children entertained. Moreover, unlike in 2020 when the risk of infection perhaps felt too high even during the period when settings could open, once the vaccination programme nears completion, there is every reason to believe this will be much less of a factor in demand.

In the longer term then, the indoor play sector does look set to bounce back higher than some areas of the economy. In Mansfield, where the closure of Debenhams, Topman and Topshop is leaving buildings standing vacant, local residents have suggested in the regional press that they would like to see the premises used for soft play centres. This continues and accelerates a long running trend in the economy.

To take advantage of the sectors’ strong fundamentals though, indoor play businesses do need to keep weathering the storm and for many this is becoming increasingly difficult. It is important for every business to be sure they are taking advantage of all the support that exists, which can be challenging in fast-changing times. The government’s Coronavirus Financial Support Finder now collects the various streams of financial support in one place, allowing businesses to confirm they are not missing out on any income streams. Voices within the sector have been very vocal too, advocating for additional funds to be made available to help preserve their highly viable businesses until demand returns.