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Who is behind Riverside Hub?
Myself and my wife Valentina are the founders of the Hub. Our General Manager, Lorraine handles all the technical, HR, and back-office type stuff, whilst we concentrate on developing the fun side of it – anyone who has visited regularly knows that the Hub is always developing and improving every year.
How did Riverside Hub come about?
As local parents of two girls we felt that the existing leisure facilities for families were not very good (this was 8 years ago), and that we would like to have a go at doing it better. It was a huge financial and personal leap of faith (and not everyone believed we could do it), but it was a success pretty much straight away. Year on year we have re-invested the profits back into it, again and again, to keep on improving it. I am a strong believer that if you stand still, then you are effectively going backwards, as your competitors will catch you up. I was very flattered recently when a play industry expert with 30 years of experience suggested that we were the best play area in the UK. The sums of money we’ve thrown at it over the years are unheard of in indoor play, and it worked very well. Until 2020 anyway.
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Tell us a bit about what the Hub offers.
We have sensory facilities for babies, role-play settings, go-karts, climbing activities, laser tag, a carousel, a giant play-frame and a 9-hole golf course. It’s a lot more than just the sum of its parts though. The Hub has a special atmosphere that is very difficult to replicate. Lots of people ask us why we don’t open more Hubs, but to get this place as good as it is (and crucially, to keep it there), takes all of our time and efforts. Valentina and I live and breathe it constantly. We really enjoy it, but it is all-consuming.
Mums and carers travel quite a distance to bring their kids to the Hub, what do you think makes you stand out from other play centres?
Our best feature is the fact that we can excite people of all ages. There are very few places where a baby, a 5yr old, an 11yr old and their parents can all have a really great time. Parents enjoy their visit here, they are not coming here just for the kids, it’s actually a very nice place to be. When someone tells me they travelled for over an hour to visit (which was quite normal before covid), it makes me feel very proud of what we created.
Are there any tips you can offer for any new visitors?
Don’t just think of us when it rains. We are always much quieter when the sun shines. Remember to ask for a free I Love Hub slap band. We give away thousands of pounds worth of toys every year to kids just for showing us their slap-band when they come in. And try the pizzas, they are delicious.
There seems to be regular upgrades and improvements to the Hub, where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
Valentina is constantly coming up with new ideas, many are her own, some are inspired by all kinds of places. We love an artists project in America called Meow Wolf, for example. First, we come up with an idea, then decide if it is realistic, affordable and practical. The pro’s and cons of each idea are discussed at length and thankfully haven’t made many mistakes so far. We are always planning two or three stages away from where we currently are. When we run out of floor-space to build in, we either have to build upwards or take out something that’s past it’s best and replace it with something better.
How have the current covid lockdown restrictions affected the business?
Very badly. We were closed for more than half of 2020 and are still closed now. We have overheads of £1,000 a day and support from the government for the business is virtually nothing. The new grants just announced will pay our expenses for about ten days. It is very distressing, without savings to burn through, we would have gone bust months ago.
What does the future look like for the Hub?
I expect us to be opening again in April – May if I’m honest. Boris wants to re-open the country gradually, and we were the last type of business to be re-opened in the first lockdown. Once we do re-open we will probably be limited to just 35% of our visitor numbers, as we were before. That will probably continue for some months and then slowly increase. Long term we are fine. It’s the short and medium-term which is an absolute nightmare.
Are there any plans to open a new location?
Valentina and I have another idea that we would like to bring to life and are currently looking for the right site for it. It’s the polar opposite of Riverside Hub, but still providing great times for families. It may happen, it may not. Right now, we would be absolutely over the moon just to be able to welcome families back to Riverside Hub.