'Coronavirus has forced us to close'

Barbara Boyd

Reporter:

Barbara Boyd

Email:

barbara.boyd@outlooknews.co.uk

A BANBRIDGE business owner has been left “absolutely devastated” by the economic impact of Covid-19.

Gayle McGurnaghan and her husband, Michael own Scallywags soft play centre located at the Scarva Road Industrial Estate and also have a second branch in Lurgan.

The family-owned business in Banbridge has been closed since lockdown and has now been forced to permanently shut its doors due to the effects of Covid-19.

Gayle told The Outlook that due to the lack of income with the unexpected closure and high overheads to still pay for, they had no choice but to close the Banbridge branch.

The mum-of-three said she has also been given scarce advice from the Northern Ireland Executive about social distancing guidance and reopening dates for soft play centres.

Gayle said: “We are absolutely devastated by the closure and the lack of guidance from the Executive has been a real problem for us too.

“In some ways we are categorised as a leisure facility and we can socially distance adults inside but not children and so we are still in limbo with no reopening in sight for our Lurgan branch.”

The Banbridge-based business had been opened five-and-a-half years and was thriving before Covid-19 took hold.

“Running a soft play business is very expensive and has a lot of overheads, such as insurance costs and equipment and the day-to-day running.

“Before lockdown we were doing really well and would have had maybe 20 parties a week - it was not a failing business by any stretch of the imagination.

“We have a branch in Lurgan which we have decided to keep open when we can due to a higher footfall and we have been very well supported by our landlords there,” Gayle said.

Gayle McGurnaghan and her husband, Michael own Scallywags soft play centre located at the Scarva Road Industrial Estate

Having to close the Banbridge business has also accounted for one member of staff losing their job and the closure has also been a costly experience for Gayle and her husband.

She added: “It has been heartbreaking to have to close and we have had to remove all the equipment, sell some of it on and move some and also paint over the children’s handprints inside the building.

“A lot of our staff are on zero hours contracts and one of the girls decided to focus on her studies and the other got a new job before we permanently closed.

“Unfortunately one person has lost their full-time job due to the closure and two employees from Banbridge are relocating to Lurgan now and they have part-time contracts.

“I have got to look after my staff and I am totally gutted for them - this has been devastating. I have got great staff loyalty and they can’t wait to get back to work, even though we don’t know when.”

She continued: “Collectively we have been in business for 13 years and Lurgan has been open for seven-and-a-half years.

“The good thing is that we don’t owe any debts to anyone and Covid-19 was the overriding reason that we have had to close and we work financially on a month-to-month basis and the money just wasn’t coming in for the overheads.”

Since publicly announcing the closure on social media last week, Gayle says she has been humbled by the support from local people.

“We have had so many lovely comments on our Facebook page from parents who visited us and it has been so lovely to hear.

“As a family business we always wanted Scallywags to be family orientated and our staff friendly too to be able to interact with everyone.

“It’s so sad because the people of Banbridge will now lose out on birthday parties, Christmas and Halloween parties, mummy markets, local sponsorship, attendance at local fayres and free uniform exchanges.

“It has been a fabulous, fun five years and we are so thankful to the lovely people in Banbridge.”

Gayle and her husband are now focusing their energies on being able to provide parties and food from customers’ homes with their bouncy castle for hire.

They are also looking forward and ahead to reopening their Lurgan branch of Scallywags when advised to do so by the Executive.

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