20 Oct Can Indoor Play Venues like soft play and role play open in Tier 3 and Tier 4 Coronavirus areas?
Updated 19 Dec
The new coronavirus 3 tier system introduced by the government was meant to simplify the rules about what activities were banned in different areas of the country, but variations may still happen at the request of local councils. Do remember that rules change rapidly and you can find out what Tier you are in at gov.uk.
Are English indoor play areas allowed to be open?
Medium Risk areas (Tier 1) : Yes. The Rule of 6 applies as per normal to groups.
High Risk areas (Tier 2): Yes but you cannot visit with friends. You can only visit indoors with people who live in your household, or with people from your dedicated ‘linked household’ (see below for an explanation of Linked Households and bubbles). In outdoor settings, the rule of 6 applies. This also applies to people who live in a Tier 2 area but travel outside of that area; you have to follow the more restrictive rules whether it’s the area you are visiting or the area you live in. While there are a few exceptions to the Tier 2 rules on gatherings, such as school, work, childcare etc we don’t see any way they apply to indoor play except for Childminders taking their minded children to the play venue on behalf of other parents.
Very High Risk areas (Tier 3): No. The guidance for Tier 3 areas published on 23rd November has made it very clear that indoor play venues cannot open in areas designated as Tier 3 in England after the November lockdown. This guidance requires closure of all Indoor entertainment and tourist venues including play centres and areas, cinemas, theatres and concert halls, trampolining parks,soft play, casinos, bingo halls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, amusement arcades, adult gaming centres, laser quests and escape rooms, snooker halls. We must point out that Leisure and sports facilities may continue to stay open, but group exercise classes (including fitness and dance) cannot go ahead; in previous closure periods we have seen some soft plays attempt to stay open as a childrens indoor gym; we think this is clearly inappropriate!
Tier 4: No!!! Tier 4 has broadly the same restrictions as the National lockdown and you cannot travel except for very specific reasons.
Updated: 15 December 2020. The latest government guidelines are now very clear for England. After the November lockdown, areas in Tier 3 (in England) must see all indoor play close (soft play, role play, trampoline, ninja warrior etc). London will be in Tier 3 as of midnight 15th December. It is a general leisure industry closure with a few exceptions such as gyms.
In Scotland it is still unclear; Tiers 3 and 4 require all leisure venues to close while Tier 2 just requires some specific indoor leisure business types to close including ‘soft play’ while allowing indoor tourist attractions to open.
In Wales. Indoor play has to close. More details are here.
What is a ‘gathering’?
In simple terms, it’s planning to be in the same place at the same time as someone else you know. Or, for unplanned gatherings, it’s coming together to form a group with people who coincidentally happened to be in the same place at the same time.
Are babies included in a gathering?
In England yes. A baby, regardless of age, counts towards the number of people allowed in a gathering. In Wales, if you are meeting people you do not live with, the number of people who can gather together does not include any children aged under 11. In Scotland, children don’t count towards the total number of people in a group, but for indoor settings that do count as a ‘household’ whether they are with their adults or not.
What about temporary play venues in Village Halls etc?
They must close too in Tier 3. Before December there was some some debate, but the rules for leisure and Tier 3 after the November lockdown are now very clear. All indoor leisure must close unless there is an exemption (gyms).
What is a support bubble and what is a Linked Household?
If there is one phrase which people seem to use to justify lots of social contacts, it’s the phrase ‘it’s OK, they are in my bubble’. If you are gathering in a group more than 6 (England Tier 1 Medium) or 2 (England Tier 2 and 3 High/Very High) then in general you can only do so if the people all live with you in the same house, or you have a ‘Linked Household’. Here’s the definition:
A “linked household” means a household that is linked with another household. Where a household comprises one adult, or one adult and one or more persons who were under the age of 18 on 12th June 2020 (“the first household”), the adult may choose to be linked with one other household (“the second household”). But this applies only if—
(a)all adult members of the second household agree,
(b)neither the first household nor the second household are linked with any other household.
So while we may use the word ‘bubble’ in conversation, the main thing that matters is whether the Linked Household exemption applies.
Have an under 14 year old that needs childcare? You can also form a separate bubble with 1 other household for childcare purposes only (it’s not for general meet ups etc, it’s just for leaving your child with them for childcare!). You can have a childcare bubble as well as a Linked Household bubble, and also have a separate Christmas bubble!
Have a child under 1 years old? You can form the single ‘Linked Household’ bubble with another household regardless of how many adults live in either household. However, you cannot form any other Linked Household bubble with the exception of the separate Childcare bubble and the separate Christmas bubble. It’s explained here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/making-a-support-bubble-with-another-household
Remember, bubbles pop if they get too big! Of course, in the absence of a place to register such bubbles, it may be very difficult to enforce.
Can indoor play venues hold parties?
Tier 1 (Medium) : Yes. But only with 6 people (or more if 2 Linked households). It’s also (arguably) possible if the children are being dropped off and supervisory responsibility being handed over to another adult, but at best this will result in a party of 5 children and 1 adult. Several people have asked whether you can have groups of 6 on different tables. The truth is that if you ask different Environment Health Officers you will get different answers. The members who belong to the Association of Indoor Play have overwhelmingly said that they will not hold parties in this manner. We also take this view. If you have lots of people coming together in the same building at the same time, this is a gathering regardless of whether they sit at different tables or not. (There are exemptions when it’s employees coming together in a business but that is different to customers meeting up). Regardless, in reality we believe it’s clearly unrealistic to expect people not to have contact between groups and morally against the intent of the rules. Responsible businesses will be holding parties just for 6 people in Tier 1 areas.
Tier 2 (High) and 3 (Very High) : Basically, No! Gatherings are not permitted indoors except for ‘Linked households’ so it would only ever be a very small party!
Should indoor play even be closed in Tier 3 areas?
Indoor play has been undergoing a silent revolution. The days of dark smelly soft plays with tatty sofas and deep fat fryers are becoming distant memories in many places. Today’s indoor play venues are likely to be run by passionate owners who have moved away from a professional career to offer their communities a play experience that is a perfect companion to nurseries and primary schools in the way they develop children’s cognitive and physical development. Our own play venue sits within an oak-beamed 150 year old barn adjacent to a small lake and was designed in detail by a collection of education professionals. It’s a world away from heavy industrial buildings smelling of chip fat with leaking toilets of the 1980s; we don’t even have tables because parents play alongside their children for the entire time they are in the building. For many children, indoor play provides mental stimulation that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere or a physical activity where they gain confidence and determination in a safe location away from the dangers of street play. Given the important part indoor play has in supporting child development, we previously submitted Freedom of Information requests to Public Health England (PHE), the Cabinet Office, and DCMS to request the evidence/data that the government used to assess whether or not to close indoor play venues as part of the Coronavirus response. The response was that neither DCMS nor the Cabinet Office held such data, and PHE refused to publish their own information. In all our dealings with indoor play owners, either at a personal level or as a member of the Association of Indoor Play, we have always found play venue owners refreshingly professional in wanting to support the government and local officials in the public health response. Modern day play owners tend to be heavily focused on cleaning standards, and truly proud of how they have revolutionized the cleanliness of indoor play, as well as having invested thousands of pounds in Covid-secure measures, all while operating with strict limits such as 40% of normal capacity. However, this industry support towards the government’s Coronavirus response has to be reciprocated if we want this positive relationship to continue. If particular business types continue to be the first to be closed in Tier 3 lock-downs, then the evidence supporting this policy needs to be published. The UK has always been at its strongest when united in cause and singing in harmony. However, we know from the Association of Indoor Play that there have been no reported outbreaks from any indoor play venue; we know from PHE data that indoor play centres’ are not listed as places that transmission has occurred, yet the government chose to close indoor play for 6 months of 2021 and has restricted indoor play venues to just 40% of their normal capacity. We believe that the government must either formally recognize that indoor plays are being sacrificed for the greater good (and thus provide compensation just like compulsory purchase orders are used for building critical transport infrastructure), or treat all leisure industry sector equally and close everyone during Tier 3 restrictions. You can find out more here from the Association of Indoor Play. #letchildrenplay
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Tots Town Ltd run a childrens indoor play venue and since 2016 have provided support to other indoor plays. We plan, design, build, grow, support and invest in indoor plays across the UK and are available for media comment. Ask to join our blog update list here or Follow our Owners Facebook page for updates https://www.facebook.com/TheRolePlayCompany If you have more questions, do drop us a line and we will update this blog with answers. You can read more blogs here.
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/1200 2nd National Coronavirus Lockdown restrictions published 3 Nov
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/local-restriction-tiers-what-you-need-to-know English 3 Tier restrictions from 3 Dec onwards.
https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-protection-levels/ Scottish 4 Tier restrictions