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Reopening outdoor play in the COVID-19 era

Skelf Island Castle Howard reopening play CAP.Co

As attractions around the world are reopening to the public following the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s a look at some of the measures being taken by outdoor play venues to keep guests safe.

By Johnny Lyle, CAP.Co

Many of our customers have been reopening their play areas over recent weeks. All are operating with reduced capacity post-COVID-19 and have introduced new safety measure throughout to keep families safe whilst they play. So, we caught up with a few of them to find out how things have been in these early weeks of the ‘big return to play’.

Skelf Island at Castle Howard

The ever-innovative team at Castle Howard have introduced a brilliant new Skelf and Safety video, using their key characters to embed the safety messaging into the experience.

Abbigail Ollive, Head of Marketing and Sales at Castle Howard, explained the thinking around reopening the outdoor play area, Skelf Island

“We have tried to communicate the safety messaging in a way that is appealing and fun for children, not wanting to sanitise the experience of play itself, whilst putting in all the extra necessary precautions.

“Our ‘Skelf and Safety’ messaging has been communicated using creative signage that is in keeping with the island. For example, we encourage children to have a go with the hand sanitiser as it might turn them invisible.”

Castle Howard Skelf Island

“We also worked with one of our Skelf actors to make a video to communicate the new rules. In addition to this, we have a character meeting and greeting families at the entrance to the playground. They are managing capacity and overseeing a cleaning regime. We have put in additional handwashing sinks and also made the rope bridge one way.

“The reaction has been really positive from families, with statements such as: ‘We had a lovely afternoon today. Wasn’t too busy – plenty of space. Well organised and loads and loads of sanitiser everywhere.’”

Audley End Miniature Railway

Amanda Murray of Audley End Miniature Railway also spoke about the practicalities of reopening outdoor play:

“We introduced a new sanitising system across the whole area. It’s what they use across the Transport For London (TFL) estate too, so we know it’s been thoroughly tested. We’ve also changed the way we move people around the site and simplified our food and retail offers.”

Audley End Miniature Railway reopening outdoor play

“Overall, the opening has been so positive and what we have done has been well received.”

After visiting, customers say that they appreciate the space for social distancing and the extra hand washing and hand sanitising facilities. As well as the high levels of organisation and preparation.

Fort Douglas, Dalkeith Country Park

“During the lockdown, a lot of thought went into how we would be able to re-open Fort Douglas safely,” says Content & PR Manager Nicola Campbell-Turnbull. “All safety measures were considered and re-considered.

“Reducing capacity and introducing cleaning slots into the day was paramount. The hard work has been rewarded with so many families enjoying being able to play outside, together, again.”

The Sky Maze at Fort Douglas Dalkeith Country Park by CAP.Co
credit Helen Pugh Photography

“We’re now operating two time slots during the day with one at 10-1 pm and the second from 2-5 pm. Having the hour in-between sessions to clean and sanitise the stainless steel equipment has been reassuring to the customers when they see us descend on the park with our spray bottles.

“We moved to online booking and reduced the capacity. This has worked well and creates a safer environment for customers and colleagues. Also, our picnic tables are all distanced which gives the parents a safe area to base themselves.”

What’s our take on reopening outdoor play?

The three attractions we spoke to have all gone to exceptional lengths to ensure they were able to operate safely. All attractions have introduced much increased and visible levels of additional cleaning throughout the day. They are also operating on capacities around 30-40% of their capacity.

There’s little doubt that those families who are returning to outdoor play are those that are comfortable with being outdoors together. There are still many families who are continuing to shield.

For us, this is actually good news. It ensures that the parks are able to continue to control numbers and aren’t overrun with more demand for entry than they can possibly deliver. 

The Sky Maze at Fort Douglas Dalkeith Country Park by CAP.Co reopening outdoor play
credit Helen Pugh Photography

The key was in the feedback from those first customers. Have they done enough, would people feel safe, would people even return?

The great news is that again, all of those we spoke to have had incredible feedback. This is such good news for all. Most feedback commented on the level of cleaning and how the parks’ teams were seen to be working to keep them safe.

Whilst the returning audience to these outdoor play venues is a little self-selecting, it’s clear that the measures the parks are taking are delivering safe play upon reopening. And they are still providing great fun for families.

2020 was always going to be a strange year for the entire attractions sector. But the great news is that customers are returning, parks are flourishing and the future for outdoor play is looking rosy. 

Top image – Skelf Island at Castle Howard, credit Charlotte Graham

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Johnny Lyle CAP.Co

Johnny Lyle

Johnny leads the marketing for CAP.Co and its attraction partners. After 22 years of running a brand consultancy, the lure of outdoor adventure drew him into the team. He'd previously been Marketing Director of Treehouse Company who built BeWILDerwood and where many of the team started working together.

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