Popular soft play centre Neverland Funhouse opened just a couple of months before the UK went into lockdown and Birmingham families loved it, with as many as 150 customers kids and parents visiting every day.
Then, like the rest of the UK, the Erdington business closed on March 23.
However, it remained that way for much longer than pubs, restaurants and cinemas.
In fact, Penny Chalkidou, who runs the family business, was unable to re-open until August 10, meaning she had no income from her new venture for four-and-a-half months.
And, upon reopening, she had to ensure the number of customers she accepted reduced to less than half what it was before lockdown.
“We worry every day about what is going to happen,” said Penny, who is mum to Dimitra, seven, and Ionna, one, “but we are trying to stay positive.
“We were one of the last places to reopen and we were unlucky when it came to applying for grants. We got nothing from the government.
“Before we were really busy. People used to travel from all different places to visit us, coming regularly from Solihull and Cannock to bring their kids to play. We used to have around 120 to 150 children and parents every day, seven days a week from 9am to 6pm.
“Now, we run a booking system and we only put out five or six tables and only accept 15 to 20 customers per slot. This means the number of customers we can now accept has gone down to 60 to 70 per day, less than half what it was before.”
Neverland Funhouse is inspired by the Peter Pan story and features murals on the walls, trees ‘growing’ in the cafe, a large soft play area and separate baby and toddler section.
The cafe, made to look like a ship with lights and a ship’s wheel, serves Greek salads, club sandwiches, paninis and burgers plus doughnuts, ice cream sundaes, cakes and homemade cheese pies plus coffee, ‘Fredo cappuccinos’ and pots of tea.
The family invested large sums of money into creating an ‘enchanted forest’ at the soft play centre before opening, money they had hoped to recoup when it became popular with customers.
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Since re-opening, Penny and her family have worked tirelessly to make their venue as safe as possible for children and parents.
This is clearly appreciated by families, many of whom are loyal customers and return on a regular basis to play, drink coffee and eat Penny’s mum’s homemade cakes. There’s also loyalty stamp schemes. Find out more here
“We have a lot of loyal customers coming back all the time,” said Penny, “we sanitise the play area, cafe and toilets every one-and-a-half hours. We’re reduced the number of people coming in and everyone must book in advance.”
She added: “As a result, people feel safe with us. We’re busy but nothing like what we were like at the start of the year. It’s a worry financially but we’re trying to overcome our problems.
“We spent a lot of money creating Neverland, with lots of handmade fixtures. We’re not finished yet either, as we want to extend the theme outside too.
“We get a lot of cancellations, which makes it difficult, because people are worried about the virus. They want to go out with their kids but they’re thinking what will we do if someone there has the virus. I’d rather not be busy and keep everyone safe.”
She added: “Every day is a new day, you never know what is going to happen next. For everyone, it is difficult. I don’t want to think about the possibility of everything shutting down again. But whatever happens, we’ll sort it. If we have to close, we know that when we reopen our customers will come back again. We’re trying to think positive.”
There are special Halloween events planned for Neverland over October half term, with arts and crafts on offer and lots of spooky decorations for families to enjoy.