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finding the right building for your soft play structure

Securing an appropriate venue is key in ensuring the development of a successful business. House of Play are the only soft play supplier in the UK to offer a service that helps identify and secure venues for operators.

Of course, size of premises matters and whilst there are no hard and fast rules on the correct size of premises, if you want to install any sort of soft play frame then the building must have a high ceiling and be an open ‘box’ of space.

So, how can the UK’s leading soft play manufacturer help. Let’s start with the planning classifications of buildings.

Relevant Planning Categories:

Classification A1

Buildings designated for general non-food retail activities.

Classification B1a/b/c/ B2 / B8

Buildings designated office, general industrial use, warehouse and distribution use.

Classification D1

Buildings designated for Place of Assembly – Church Hall, School, Gymnasium.

Classification D2

Buildings designated for Leisure – Cinema, Theatre, Snooker Club, Bowling.

Historically, almost all indoor soft play equipment in the UK has been installed in a building that was originally an industrial class property which has been subjected to a ‘Change of Use’ planning application through the LPA (local Planning Authority.

Note that from 1st September 2020 classes ‘B1a/b/c’, ‘A1/2/3’ and ‘D’ have been reclassified as class ‘E’. Thus, prima facie, subject to other considerations, perhaps parking or health and safety considerations or landlord approval or restrictive covenants, for example, these sites should be available for leisure uses meaning that you should be able to install a soft play structure as part of your project development.

However, Local Authority LPA’s (Local Planning Authorities) have been given a transition period so it is possible that some may still apply some or all of the historical policies to any formal planning application. In order to mitigate the potential for this we are recommending that potential operators apply for a ‘Certificate of Lawfulness’ rather than a ‘Change of Use’.

House of Play, as the UK’s leading Soft Play Manufacturer can help you through the process. No other soft play supplier in the UK can offer this service through their in-house team.

For more information on planning categories you can see the government guidance here: Planning Information

What Size building do i need for my soft play frame?

There is no absolute answer to this as the ideal building size range for each project is determined by a range of factors. You do need to evaluate these factors in order to determine some search criteria so that you know, for example, that you are looking for a site of say, 1000 – 3000, 6000 – 8000 square feet or 8000 – 10000 square feet or beyond.

The key factors determining scale are catchment, competition, available capital and required income. House of Play can assist you in undertaking necessary analysis.

Since the layout of your play centre will be one of the key influences on its commercial success, you must try and assess your preferred product mix. If, for example, you want to include a baby toddlers soft play structure and a junior soft play frame the 5 a-side football pitch then the proposed site must be large enough to accommodate this. Equally, if your ambition is to provide facilities for children up to a maximum age of, say, 8 years, then a 12000 square foot building will be unnecessary.

Once you have determined your required product mix, an appropriate scale, analysed your likely funding profile and ideal budget for capital expenditure, site availability, competition, required remuneration and any other factors that may influence your choice, you can agree your preferred building size range.

WHAT BUILDING CHARACTERISTICS ARE IMPORTANT FOR YOUR SOFT PLAY STRUCTURE

All multi-level soft play frames require good clear height. The size of the proposed venue together with the target age range will determine how may levels your soft play structure will require. Within the building, ideally it would be one big open space inside to ensure optimum ‘line-of-sight’ supervision and operational efficiency. (existing rooms may be able to be used if they exist), no mezzanine (although these can be incorporated).

The floor should be a flat concrete base, the venue would benefit from some natural light although this is not absolutely necessary, sufficient parking will be required which could be a mix of the parking demised to the property through the lease and local public car parking.

Ideally your site would sit in its own fenced compound (not absolutely necessary but preferable), ideally close to other leisure retail or retail outlets or if not, with a stand-alone disposition, or if not, on the perimeter of a distribution/industrial estate.

The site would benefit from being safely accessible by pedestrians and public transport. Domestic properties which are within walking distance are a great benefit both commercially and to assist in the process of proving sustainability to the LPA. If local access roads have pedestrian crossings this will be attractive to the Highways Department as will any designated cycle routes that are in close proximity to the site.

As the UK’s leading soft play manufacturer House of Play offer a premises evaluation service to customers. Simply forward the property particulars to our team and we shall revert with a schedule of pros and cons for your consideration.

Finding buildings for your soft play equipment

This is the hard bit and only perseverance will find an appropriate site. Try the local commercial estate agents. Contact the property department of your Local Authority and see if they provide a property register. Contact the Education department to see if there are any old schools available. Check to see if there are any vacant church halls available.  Talk to your local Councillor as they may have information or contacts that could help. Also, very importantly, get into the habit of looking for opportunities as you drive around. This is how House of Play found the site for Astrabound!

Dealing with commercial estate agents / landlords

Note that estate agents/landlords want the best covenant they can get from a tenant and generally this is not found in a new start business. You may well have to fight hard to get them interested in you and your project.

It is important to remember that the agents you contact have probably had many, many people enquire about a similar project during the previous year, none of whom progressed beyond the initial enquiry or who have failed further down the line on planning or raising finance or any one of the other hurdles. They may therefore have spent a lot of time on previous similar enquiries and may well be cynical regarding the quality of your enquiry. You really have to prove that you are offering a good covenant. To do this, everything that you say, write and do must be professional and forceful! Negotiating the best terms possible is important so that you can maximise the return from your investment in indoor soft play equipment. House of Play can ‘front’ your discussions/negotiations with the agent/landlord if required.

Once you have selected the site and the agent/landlord has confirmed that they would accept the proposed use, terms need to be negotiated. House of Play can send you a template ‘heads of terms’ document that you can use to submit an offer, note that most clients prefer House of Play to undertake necessary negotiations. Terms must be agreed prior to submitting your application to the LPA for a ‘Certificate of Lawfulness’ full formal planning application since once you have done this it will be clear to the estate agent/landlord that you are committed to the site and you will lose all negotiating power.