A Midland businessman is set to re-live his childhood after investing £600,000 of his own money into two children’s play centres.
Michael Corbett, formerly chief executive of GVA Grimley, has made the switch from the world of property into kids’ entertainment to launch two Play Farms – one in Leamington Spa and the other in Cheltenham.
Others will follow and the concept may even be exported to North America.
The move has come with help and advice from Stratford-upon-Avon law firm Lodders led by partners Steven Baker, commercial property, and Dale Williams, corporate.
Mr Corbett has invested £600,000 in the project and hopes to employ up to 24 full and part-time staff.
The Leamington Spa centre is at Berrington Road, Sydenham Industrial Estate, and opened on March 8. It involved buying an existing business and completely refurbishing it. The 6,500 sq ft complex is in a good location with plenty of parking.
The Cheltenham unit is 5,000 sq ft at The Brewery, Henrietta Street, and is a new development within a major NFU Mutual leisure and retail scheme. It is scheduled to open towards the end of April.
The ventures are intended to build a family business.
Mr Corbett is chairman of holding company Play Farm with his wife Rosemary as a director.
Son Tom, a former professional rugby player with Worcester and Coventry, will run Leamington. Daughter Hannah Brittan and her husband Matt will manage Cheltenham and the latter, a keen chef, will mastermind the catering at both locations.
The Play Farm was Hannah’s idea and Mr Corbett – whose ten year tenure at GVA Grimley saw rapid expansion, transforming it into one of the UK’s top seven professional services firms – had been looking for an opportunity after stepping down in September 2008 as president and chief executive of GVA Worldwide.
Play Farm is designed in farmyard style without the animals. The centre is aimed at children up to the age of 12.
There are different play zones for babies, toddlers and juniors with the aim of providing a safe, secure and stimulating environment. Activities will take in the likes of indoor soccer, aerobics, dressing up, music and a book library. For mum and dad there is excellent food and drink plus newspapers, and, if work comes into it, free Wi-Fi.
“The aim is it should be a destination attraction for parents as well where they can unwind and relax while the kids enjoy the play experience and run off a bit of steam,” said Mr Corbett.
“Obviously we are very hopeful of this being a success. We think there is a gap in the market for high quality children’s activity centres.
“And we have been very careful to fit into Government guidance on healthy lifestyles and fighting obesity.We understand that discretionary spend is under pressure at this time. But our research shows that the last to suffer are children – parents will cut back elsewhere. We are not recession proof but we think we will be very resilient.”
The Play Farms will be open from 10am to 6pm every day excluding Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, with a 2pm close on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Admission fees are £1.50 for under ones – free when accompanying an older sibling – £3.75 at under four and £4.95 for the 4-12 age group. Entrance fees are for unlimited stay except during peak times when playtime is restricted to two hours.
Children’s parties are catered for in particular, with Cheltenham already taking bookings to the end of next year.
Lodders have handled all the legal arrangements surrounding the property deals and lease arrangements.
Mr Baker said: “It has been a privilege to have been involved, we wish Play Farm the very best – I am sure it will prove a big success. Having young children myself, I’m looking forward to direct experience of the new centres!”
Mr Corbett is aiming eventually at perhaps another two outlets elsewhere in the UK.
He is also in discussion with Doncaster-based play structures manufacturer House of Play about taking the concept into North America.
“My wife and I lived in North America for two years and to take Play Farm transatlantic would be incredibly exciting,” said Mr Corbett.