'Proud of what we've achieved' - Karen on leaving soft play business at Stonham Barns

Karen Hyland, owner of Tumbledown in Stonham Barns, has hit out at government guidelines which are f

Tumbledown owner Karen Hyland said it feels "bitter sweet" to be stepping away from the business at Stonham Barns - Credit: Archant

When Karen Hyland, 50, took over the running of Tumbledown soft play at Stonham Barns in January 2020, she had no idea of the challenge she was about to face.

The day work was completed on the soft play centre's purpose built sensory room it was announced the UK would be going into lockdown.

In the 21 months since Mrs Hyland, who lives in Harwich, worked tirelessly to run a viable business in a pandemic and has been praised for the work she had done making children with special educational needs feel welcome. 

Karen Hyland

Karen Hyland said she was "passionate" about making Tumbledown an inclusive place for children with special educational needs - Credit: Tumbledown

But now due to the lack of visitors to Tumbledown, caused by the Omicron variant, Mrs Hyland has decided to step away from the soft play business which will now go back into the hands of Stonham Barns, who she has been renting it from. 

Mrs Hyland, whose husband built Tumbledown for its original owners, said she felt "bitter sweet" to leave the business behind but "completely proud" of everything she achieved during her time there. 

She said: "I am going to miss the regulars - they feel like my friends."

Despite the strain the pandemic put on her business Mrs Hyland said it wasn't all negative: "Lockdown meant we were able to build, we were really able to use every bit of space at Tumbledown."

Most Read

Between lockdowns Mrs Hyland said the soft play centre became increasingly busy with parents, childminders and school groups booking private sessions. 

She added: "Childminders were limited with what they were able to do with children and they were so grateful we were there.

"I get a SEND school come and see me regularly - they love it because they do not feel like they are being judged."

Inside Tumbledown soft play at Stonham Barns

Tumbledown soft play at Stonham Barns near Stowmarket - Credit: Karen Hyland

November and December 2021, have been particularly quiet at Tumbledown with Mrs Hyland saying that families are visiting soft play centres and hospitality businesses less, due to the impact of Covid. 

She said: "It has been a real challenge, there is so much competition and everyone is trying to keep people safe. People just aren't going out so much - lifestyles have changed.

"Next year I won't be able to afford my business rates, at the moment I am not earning enough to pay my house bills and the price of petrol is going up so much." 

Sensory room at Tumbledown

Work on the sensory room at Tumbledown was completed just as the country went into the first coronavirus lockdown - just one of the challenges Mrs Hyland faced during the pandemic - Credit: Karen Hyland

Mrs Hyland will leave Tumbledown on January 3, 2022 and is excited to start a new role supporting people with special educational needs. 

She said: "I hope who ever takes over can carry on with what I have started - continuing to make Tumbledown an inclusive place for SEND children."