Couple who opened £2m Glasgow soft play centre during pandemic ‘feared the worst’

A couple who opened a £2 million soft play centre in Glasgow during lockdown said they ‘feared the worst’.

Dr Usman Qureshi and wife Shafea were ready to open Fun Street, at Silverburn Shopping Centre, in March 2020, just as Covid struck and the nation was plunged into lockdown.

It meant the state-of-the-art family entertainment venue – which includes an interactive augmented reality zone and restaurant as well as soft play – and its staff had to wait until October before they could open even part of the facilities.

Despite the impact of restrictions, the husband-and-wife team pressed ahead with the plans, eager to repay the loyalty shown by the 40 plus staff they kept on throughout the pandemic, and crucially to maintain customer engagement that would prove vital if and when the business – and industry – began to recover.

Fun Street poured its efforts into the attractions that could open, including its interactive zone and playhouses which allow children to role play real-life jobs, and the popular Erina’s restaurant. The effort and financial pain was repaid when restrictions began to lift towards the end of last year, and again now following the gap over Christmas due to the spread of the Omicron variant as customers began to flood back.

Dr Usman Qureshi and Shafea Qureshi, co-owners of Fun Street. Pic: Kirsty Anderson.Dr Usman Qureshi and Shafea Qureshi, co-owners of Fun Street. Pic: Kirsty Anderson.
Dr Usman Qureshi and Shafea Qureshi, co-owners of Fun Street. Pic: Kirsty Anderson.

Speaking two years after the UK first went into lockdown, Usman admits he ‘feared the worst’ at times during the pandemic as regulations strangled the sector, but he says the lessons learned will help the business thrive going forward – particularly when it comes to adapting to customer demand – and is now confident of realising the ambition he set out to achieve.

He said: “The restrictions were quite unfair. There was funding from the government, but it was in no way comparable to what we needed to survive. Some businesses operating in a similar sector – such as trampoline parks – had an unfair advantage, soft play was slaughtered. We survived because things (the worst of the pandemic) ended in time. Had it gone on any longer, I don’t know what might have happened.“We were running at a loss, but we wanted to offer whatever we could to customers who had been waiting for us to open.

“We also had staff we’d just taken on, and we wanted to ensure they still had jobs. While some people did leave due to their own circumstances, we didn’t let go of a single member of staff, which is something we’re very proud of and was important to creating the culture we wanted.

“There were points when I didn’t think we’d make it through. Everything was under a lot of strain. However, through faith in ourselves and help from our business associates – including understanding from our landlord Silverburn – we made it through and the success we are having is a glimmer of light. It helps us see how worth it our perseverance has been.

“The customer confidence we saw during the periods when we could open gave us the encouragement we needed to carry on. We knew we were on to something and had to see it through when we were so close to the finish line.”Although Covid regulations affecting soft play are still limiting trade, Fun Street is now welcoming several hundred visitors per month, something Usman puts down to one of the biggest lessons he learned from the pandemic – adaptability.

Fun Street has diversified into other family entertainment areas, regularly staging shows – including a recent successful production of Cinderella – parties and party exhibitions, as well as exploring sensory play and even yoga for children. Usman says the team have essentially added ‘event management’ to its CV, but added that it is essential to what Fun Street was always meant to be.

He said: “We were never simply going to be a soft play – that was always only part of what we wanted to offer. Shafea’s vision for Fun Street was always that it should be more like a theme park, and the aim has always been to elevate our attractions and offer more than anywhere else – which was the inspiration for the extra attractions like the interactive zone and augmented reality,“The pandemic has taught us that we need to be even more adaptable, constantly adapting to what customers want and that’s why we’ve become like event managers since.

“It’s really encouraging to see people liking our offering and I’m confident now about the future. We’re getting near what we originally anticipated. There are still restrictions, and the pandemic isn’t really over, but we are feeling encouraged and optimistic.

“There’s a lesson for the whole industry from this. You can’t simply say ‘this is what we do, take it or leave it.’ You have to offer more.”

To find out more about Fun Street, visit the website or visit the centre at Silverburn Shopping Centre.

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