SGIA - Sporting Goods Industry Asscociation - To promote, develop & protect

Giving Birth to a Playcentre!

By Janice Dunphy (Creepy Crawlies)

At the last PPA meeting it was suggested that we applied for a seminar slot at Leisure Industry Week, and we discussed the various options of what we could offer. My suggestion was to talk about the pre-opening trauma, and the months after….then I thought about how to make it sound a little more interesting…. something I could compare it to. Then it came to me, giving birth!

When you find you are pregnant you are at first excited, then nervous, then excited again; a bit like when you decide to start your own business, a leap of faith into the unknown. But again, just like when you are pregnant, once you start there is an overwhelming desire to complete the mission, to open the baby you dream about…your play centre.

Here is where the problems start…all the anti-natal classes focus upon, and all you are really interested in, is the pregnancy and the birth. The planning and building and opening of the play centre. It starts off slowly and gets bigger day by first you manage to lead a normal life. You have a social life and can string two words together….then it starts to grow and all of a sudden you become a slide bore all you can talk about is the angle, length and lane size. The closer you get to the big day your whole life becomes absorbed in the nurturing and development of the centre. You eat, sleep and breathe it…and closer to the opening all three become more and more difficult. Can you think about the aftermath? No have enough on your plate sticking to deadlines…worrying about colour schemes, drainage, white lining in the car park…..what car park? Then you realise it is quickly approaching and you need help…any one who walks past you offer them a job…you find yourself talking to complete strangers, asking for their opinions and advice. People begin to avoid you.

The run up to the “Big Day” brings tears, tantrums, and trauma. You have the date in your head, you have told everyone and there is now no way you want to be late….you will pull out all the stops to make everything run to plan. You still have little idea about what you are going to do with it once its here…who cares you just want it out…I mean open…..

Inevitably, like all good plans, your opening day is about two weeks, thanks to a third party letting you down! Gone is the soft opening, no, you are going live on the Saturday you had hoped you would be an old hand at everything…that Saturday with ten parties already booked…that Saturday which now has even more pressure attached to it…it’s then or the worst fear…you would need to be induced….I mean you will have to cancel the birthday parties and let down ten little children on the most special day of their life!

Saturday! Chaos reigns, the clock is ticking and the queue is there. You have not slept for 48 hours, you are exhausted and you haven’t even started the work. Gas and air, drugs…tempting but all you have is a tin of red bull and nervous glances from the staff who have just changed out of their painting clothes. Hope no one notices the walls are still wet…one last push and there it is…open. The delivery was painful, long and filled with screams and cursing. But this cannot compare to the first 12 hours! This baby you have just opened is a little monster, it quickly develops into a scene from a war movie…people everywhere…it demands more than you feel capable of giving. You feel totally inadequate and unprepared, but this is tinged with a feeling of pride that you have done it…then another trauma takes away that second of smugness.

The doors close and you collapse on the floor with the team who have supported you, the scene in front of you is devastating, this beautiful clean baby is now covered with mess and someone needs to clean it up….will it never give you a rest? Sleep eventually, but disturbed with nightmares about the roof collapsing on top of people, the slide buckling under the weight…and then the cry of the alarm…once more into the breach.

This is the bit that the anti-natal classes and your tours round manufacturer’s missed out, the first six weeks! It becomes a blur of sleep deprived hell. The weight you put on beforehand…pizza takeouts at 2am…drops off you. Your baby demands and demands and demands, you feel you need to oversee or do everything yourself. You cannot trust anyone else to do it for you; they might not get it right. The thought of a manager or baby sitter in this time makes you feel faint… can anyone walk away and leave it…..just think what horrors could occur.

Eventually the mist clears; you hear the compliments that people are giving you about the site. You see it grow and develop and you begin to slow down a little, and realize that six months have past. The original panic has subdued and with it comes realization that you need help. A manager is needed and you begin to recruit with renewed confidence, a head is no longer the only criteria they need to have! You need Super Nanny!

The older it gets the more help it needs to handle, more people through the doors, the more parties booked. The original birth plan, I mean business plan, is so obviously an underestimation of the numbers through the site. It grows and you continue to spend more and more money on it. You manage to get it into some sort of a routine, things do get easier with every new operational procedure you put into practice.

You now realise just how unprepared you were for the “bit” after the big day! With the wisdom of hindsight you would have spent more time concentrating upon putting the systems and procedures in place beforehand. But just like when you give birth the bad memory fades, you begin to remember LBP….Life Before Playsite, things settle down.

18 months on, this toddler is now independent, to a certain extent, it can do a lot more for itself with a little assistance. It seems a doddle compared to how it was, when you talk to people about it you say things like, “Oh it’s the best thing we ever did, we love it!”

You offer some advice to “prospective parents” who come to visit, you can’t really dwell on that nasty bit can you? You mention that it was hard but you get through it…ha...and that it is worth it…ha…and that you just have to set yourself realistic timescales…ha! You should be sued for liable!

But then again, 18months later, well it wasn’t that bad…was it? Now there is another site that looks absolutely perfect…one more can’t be that much more hard work…surely!?

Play Providers Association, Rural Innovation Centre, Unit 169 - Avenue H, Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, CV8 2LG
Tel +44 (0)24 7641 4999 ::