THE owner of a soft play centre in Musselburgh is calling on the Scottish Government to provide additional cash support for the industry, which is “on its knees” due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mark Riding took over Jungle Tumble Play Cafe on High Street with his wife Nikki in February and planned to open in April but that never happened due to lockdown.

He said: “Our next opening date was September 14, which was set by the Scottish Government, but, despite soft play centres having opened across the rest of the UK, on September 10 the Government pulled the plug and forced us to stay closed. Our next opening date of October 5 was also scrapped by the Government.”

He fears that if financial support is not forthcoming, he could be forced to shut the doors of his business permanently, stressing: “It looks like we will remain closed for a while, so unless the Government want the industry to collapse, we are asking for some financial assistance.”

Mr Riding added: “Before this pandemic, there were circa 145 indoor play centres in Scotland, the majority of which are small family businesses, employing roughly 4,500 staff.

“Centres are now beginning to close because, as an industry, we have been largely ignored. We, like all other businesses, received the initial Government grant but that was supposed to cover the bills for a couple of months.

“Over six months later, we, and all other soft plays in Scotland, are still closed. Ninety-six per cent of other Scottish businesses are open and now the industry is on its knees.”

He said: “My wife and I have spent a considerable amount of money getting our business ready, from rebranding to extensive works ensuring the property is fit for purpose, as well as the additional costs associated with being Covid-ready.

“I have no doubt our property is among the cleanest in the county and, when it is open, it will continue to be so.

“We, like many others, aren’t just a soft play. We are a social hub for children and families which is being destroyed. We allow families the opportunities to mix and children to play in a safe, public, all-weather environment.

“Classes are run at our soft play, allowing children and parents to learn new skills and develop.

“The class instructors also depend on our space to run their businesses.

“My own child attended numerous classes and now there are some younger children unable to experience these, yet they are vital to their development.

“We have cancelled dozens of birthday parties, we had a calendar of around 10 classes planned weekly, numerous support groups had planned to meet at our venue and, above all, children are being denied the opportunity to play, exercise and mix with others.”

Mr Riding claimed: “The Scottish Government have had numerous opportunities to address the sector. We are one of the last industries to be allowed to open, yet we have received no correspondence or guidance.

“Data has shown that opening soft plays across the rest of the UK has made no difference to infection rates. Our target audience – typically under-sevens – don’t need to social distance, don’t need to wear masks, can mix in groups, can go to any shop, cafe, restaurant, swimming pool, even trampoline parks, but the Government won’t allow them to visit a soft play.

“The industry is in real trouble and, without any financial support, the majority of indoor play centres will close over the next three-six months, us included.

“A recent survey in a soft play owners’ private group, which we are part of, confirmed 64 per cent of centres will close permanently by Christmas.

“Other industries, such as creative arts, have received additional Government support.

“Even pubs which have been forced to close due to cluster outbreaks have received additional funding.

“If the rules made sense and we had been communicated to then I think a lot of owners would understand the position we have been forced to be in but, when other places are open, such as trampoline parks, role play cafes and general shops and cafes, it’s a difficult pill to swallow.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We do not underestimate the severe impact this pandemic has had on play centres across Scotland – but we are at a critical point, the virus is rising again and everyone must play their part in stopping its spread in Scotland.

“We have always been clear that indicative dates are conditional on making sufficient progress in suppressing the virus.

“In light of the current situation, these indicative dates have been delayed.

“We are currently working with the soft play sector and other stakeholders to develop guidance for the re-opening of soft play centres when it is safe for them to do so.

“Our absolute focus has been to help businesses survive and retain as much employment as possible – using the limited powers available to us and we have urged the UK Government to transfer to us the financial powers needed to fully respond to the pandemic.

“Throughout this unprecedented economic crisis, we have listened to businesses and business organisations and acted quickly to offer support which now exceeds £2.3 billion. Our support for businesses includes almost £900 million of non-domestic rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses including soft play centres; and the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund worth over £1 billion. We also created Hardship and Resilience Funds unique to Scotland, with a value of £185 million targeted at support for SMEs and the self-employed.”