A POPULAR children’s play centre in Newport which was forced to close just three months after it launched was finally able to reopen last week, and has reflected on a difficult few months.

Karen Roberts-Jones, director and manager at Let Loose Soft Play on Corporation Road, says while she was grateful the business was able to furlough staff, she thinks more should have been done to protect the business financially.

After numerous efforts to get lockdown loans were rejected, the venue has had to survive lockdown with a £20,000 economic resilience grant.


She says in the event of a second wave, she hopes the industry is better respected in terms of financial support.

“While I was grateful that we could keep staff through the furlough scheme, I do feel we’ve been put to the back of the queue,” she said.

“Had this gone on for a week longer the money would have run out – that’s how tight it was.”

South Wales Argus:

Jason Roberts-Jones, Ryan Jones and Karen Roberts-Jones who own Let Loose Soft Play in Newport. Picture: www.christinsleyphotography.co.uk

The challenge now, Ms Roberts-Jones says, is to make sure people are confident enough to return.

“That’s been the big thing this week,” she said. “Can we create an environment where we can make those who come here feel confident they are safe? We’re working really hard.”

Ms Roberts has leant on her background in infection prevention and control to help the business comply with the new normal, and has even had the professionals in to test the venue.

Two parents are allowed to join 90-minute sessions with a group of children, and after the session finishes, a fallow period of 30 minutes must be observed to make sure everything is spotless for the next group to come in.

The financial implications of doing that are significant – another reason why Ms Roberts feels more could have been done to help them.

She says when she sees parents returning, and the smiles on the children’s faces, it makes the struggle worthwhile and reminds her why the venue is so valued.

South Wales Argus:

Louis Dixon, two, enjoying the soft play area at Let Loose. Picture: www.christinsleyphotography.co.uk

“After a hectic and possibly very lonely lockdown for some parents, this can be a time for them to have a little like stress, and it’s so important for the children’s development to be able to socially interact and feed off each other," she added.

South Wales East Ms Laura Jones, who is also the Welsh Conservatives' shadow minister for children and young people, visited the centre earlier this month.

“It is clear that more guidance, help and support is needed from Welsh Government for Softplay Businesses," she said.

“These are important places for our children to socialise, and if all are as fantastic at using PPE, sanitising and washing everything regularly like this business, then they are to be encouraged right now.

“We need to make sure we get the financial support right, should there have to be another lockdown, so businesses like this have the right financial help that they need and are able to survive.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Our £1.7 billion business support package means companies in Wales have access to the most generous offer of help anywhere in the UK. This includes our unique £500 million Economic Resilience Fund which has already supported thousands of firms in Wales. Business Wales is also providing advice and support to all businesses affected by the coronavirus.

“We recognise the importance of play for children and were the first nation to reopen soft play centres in the UK, with guidance published to support them in reopening.”