SOFT play owners have expressed frustration and disappointment after their much-loved businesses have now been closed for more than a year.

The soft play industry, along with nightclubs, were two of the very few sectors that were forced to remain shut when Covid-19 restrictions were eased last year.

Cafés and trampoline parks got given the go ahead to re-open their doors, meanwhile, soft play area owners were ordered not to welcome their customers back.

Ian Cohen, owner of Sportykids in Thornliebank, said: “Depending on how the Covid figures go, we’ve got a chance to reopen in June. We’ll be the last ones, and that’s very frustrating.

“We’re going to be re-opening in the quietest time of year for us - it’s going to be a very long, tough summer.

“The government have said that there’s not going to be any more financial support apart from furlough after April so it’s going to be really tough.

“I think a lot of us are going to struggle to make it to the good times, which is September, October onwards.”

Ian is worried about any capacity restrictions imposed by the government when soft plays are finally allowed to re-open.

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He added: “On nice days, nobody comes in, it doesn’t matter if you give it away for nothing, but on the wet days that’s when you’re busy and if you’re not allowed to be, then it’s going to make it tough.”

Meanwhile, Neil Halls, owner of i-Play in Clydebank, shares Ian’s concerns.

Neil said: “We’ve not had anything definitive in any way, shape or form that soft plays are going to be allowed to re-open. Another worry is what restrictions there will be when we do.

“If, for example, they limit us to 40 per cent capacity then it’s just not financially viable to be open. I appreciate everything we have been given by the government, but we’re still out of pocket significantly.”

Both Ian and Neil have had to take on other jobs in order to keep themselves busy and financially stable.

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Ian has opened a food business within the kitchen of the building of his soft play centre, which he has operated for 12 years.

The 51-year-old, from the South Side of the city, said: “The business is 12 years of my life, six or seven days a week. Before the pandemic, business was doing great, we didn’t have any bank borrowings, we had cash in the bank, and working hard and enjoying it.

“Now, I’ve got a big bank loan which I’ve had to take out to support the business because it’s just chewed through cash in the last year.

“It’s been incredibly stressful. When you wake up in the morning it’s the first thing you think about and all through the day it’s like a niggle in the back of your mind. You’re trying to plan your way out of it, and plan a survival route but you’ve got no real control as it’s out with your own hands.

“When you operate your own business, your destiny is in your own hands. It’s felt that the last year I’ve not been in charge or in control and that’s been emotionally very difficult to deal with.”

He added: “I actually launched a new business in January because I got so fed up of waiting and I needed to keep busy. So, with a friend whose restaurant is closed, we actually opened up a dark kitchen doing a modern take on Asian cuisine and that’s been pretty good.

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“When soft play is allowed to re-open, I will relocate Wok2Box somewhere locally which hopefully will create a few more jobs as well. ”

Despite both business owners looking forward to when they can welcome their customers back, they carry another burden of worrying whether people will feel confident enough to attend at soft play.

Neil said: “Another big unknown is customer confidence – we think it’s going to be very much chalk and cheese. There will be the ones who can’t wait for the doors to open and have already told us they’ll be there but also the ones who are not going to go anywhere near soft play.

“We want to make sure we’re offering a first-class facility but also just slightly worried that people are going to think ‘well it’s going to cost that to go there, is that the best use of our money?’

“We’re quite conscious that a lot of people have struggled financially throughout the pandemic and are not going to have as much disposable income.

“So, there’s lots of worries but the biggest interest is to get the doors open and the kids enjoying themselves, for their own wellbeing too.”

Last year, soft play owners were given an indicative date to re-open in September, but that was cancelled.

Business owners across the country had spent thousands on screens, sanitising stations, cleaning equipment, new menus, and much more.

Neil added: “As we were back in September, we’re ready to open. It will take a couple of weeks just to get stocked up and cleaned up again, but we’re certainly not going to rush into anything.

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“Last year we got everything deep cleaned, got all the staff back in and obviously all to no avail.

“I’ve never fully understood the science behind why soft plays were kept closed but trampoline parks were allowed to open – there’s always things that just cause frustrations. I absolutely understand the reason for keeping us closed, but we would love to see some scientific evidence as to why soft play couldn’t re-open.

“This is our family business and we’ve put everything into it. The situation has highlighted to us how vulnerable we are – that we’ve got all our eggs in one basket.”

On the Scottish Government website, the new indicative date for soft plays to re-open is “early June”, meaning owners could be facing at least 16 months out of business.

Ian said: “I didn’t expect that a year later we’d still be in the same position. The crazy thing is that primary and nursery kids are allowed to socialise and mix without any restrictions so surely they can come in and play here and we can separate the parents. It just feels very unfair that cafés and trampoline parks were treated differently to soft plays when we are an indoor play centre for kids that don’t have to socially distance, and a café.”

The Scottish Government could not provide comment during the pre-election period.