Sheffield's 'high alert' status could be the death blow for hospitality firms

A children’s play centre boss says Sheffield’s new ‘high alert’ status is worse than being ordered to close.

Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 6:06 pm

Sipra Deb of Play Arena says a ban on different households mixing indoors will cut already ‘dismal’ numbers, cost scarce extra cash and be difficult to police - although a breach could mean a fine of up to £10,000. And there is no new government support.

The ruling, which also applies to pubs and restaurants, puts the onus on bosses to ensure all groups of customers have the same address. It replaces the ‘rule of six’ which allowed mixing between people from up to six households.

Hospitality companies across Sheffield are struggling with how to implement the new rule - and work out just how damaging it will be.

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The Broadfield on Abbeydale Road is one of 12 venues in Sheffield, Barnsley and Dronfield owned by the True North Brew Co. Picture: Chris Etchells

Ms Deb, who employs 22 at the soft play centre on Little London Road, Heeley, said they were already ‘on their knees’.

The firm was closed from March to August.

When it opened, under stringent Covid safety guidelines, the maximum number allowed inside fell from 720 to just 150, including staff. And children’s parties, which were 40 per cent of turnover, are banned.

Meanwhile, the business has bills of £10,000-a-month including rent, insurance and utilities and is facing a large VAT bill, Ms Deb said. Coronavirus safety measures cost a further £9,500. And since the Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday, several families had cancelled bookings and been refunded because they are no longer allowed to mix.

Sipra Deb of Play Arena.

In Liverpool, which has ‘very high alert’ status, many hospitality firms have been forced to close, with government paying 67 per cent of wages and paying them £3,000-a-month.

Ms Deb said: “I must admit I was sure we were going to be closed, but I feel we’re now in a worse position because we will have to police people to make sure more than one household is not meeting and this will definitely impact on the already dismal numbers!

“In addition there is no support to assist following a decrease in trade.”

The firm took out a £50,000 ‘bounce back’ loan which has been spent and there are no other coronavirus financial schemes available to her, she added.

Ian Wild, chief executive of Sheffield's Showroom Cinema. Picture Scott Merrylees

“We have no money left, we can’t even pay to stand still. Eighty per cent of soft play centres have closed for good. We have a few months at best.”

To customers she added: “If you stick to the guidelines Play Arena is safe. We haven’t had a single case. Children need to play, it’s important for their well being. And local businesses need your support because once they’re gone they’re gone.”

Kane Yeardley, boss of True North Brew Co, which runs The Forum, The Broadfield, and 10 other venues across South Yorkshire, branded the new mixing ban ‘a farce’.

Although they will try to enforce it, he said they could not do the police’s job.

Safety measures at Play Arena.

He added: “It’s a farce, in what level of detail do they expect us to question people? Our job is to offer hospitality not hostility. After all we’ve been through, it’s death by a thousand cuts.”

The venues were ‘very safe’ he insisted, and said staff were obsessed with cleanliness and protection and had had months of practice.

To customers he added: “We run very safe places. If you don’t support pubs and restaurants one in five will go in the next three months.”

Ian Wild, chief executive of the Showroom Cinema and Workstation on Paternoster Row, said attendance had been rising since they reopened three weeks ago, although it was just a third of normal. But he expected this would now fall.

Customers had said they felt happy with the safety measures and social distancing which had already reduced capacity in the cinema and bar.

He added: “We were starting to recover. It’s unclear how we might enforce the new requirement. We will publicise it and let everyone know the rules. We will follow any guidance government issues. It’s a bit disappointing but if it helps keep people safe we will support it.”

Staff in masks behind screens at Play Arena.

The business, which employs 80, has bid for a grant from the British Film Institute.

Alexis Krachai, interim executive director of Sheffield Chamber, said the distancing, safety and hygiene rules were designed to keep people safe. If someone broke them they risked spreading the virus, damaging a business and bringing in even tighter restrictions.

He urged people not to be ‘scared’ and to support local businesses.

He added: “We have to follow the rules set by government and not be unreasonably scared and go and support local businesses, particularly independents.

“Remember, there are still a lot of things we can do out and about. It’s clear we are in this for the long haul, we have to do all we can to help.”

South Yorkshire politicians want a ‘local lockdown lifeline’ of Government support to avoid a ‘huge economic downturn which will impact the people and businesses of South Yorkshire for decades to come’.

In a letter to the Prime Minister they ask for an immediate injection of funding for services which protect the public, a support package for businesses in the hospitality, leisure and recreation sectors, support for jobs, additional testing capacity and an increase in support payment for people unable to work because they are self-isolating.

Nationally, 67 per cent of contacts are reached within 24 hours, but critics say this is too low. The Local Government Association says locally-run tracing services have reached 97.1 per cent of close contacts who were asked to self-isolate.

Greg Fell, director of public health for Sheffield, also says the system needs to be much faster.

There has been criticism that results are too slow and only one in five people are self isolating properly.

Last week, a technical glitch meant the close contacts of 16,000 people in England who tested positive were not traced.

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Ian Wild, chief executive of Sheffield's Showroom Cinema. Picture Scott Merrylees