Corby virtual reality and gaming centre needs community's help to survive
The family-run business opened just before the pandemic started
Owners of a Corby family business that was set up just before the Covid crisis hit have asked the community to support them, saying 'use it or lose it'.
Lynnette and Garry Ballantyne, who opened ViRAL Entertainment in Corporation Street, have been faced with a stark choice in order to pay their business rates - get more people through their doors or give up on their dream.
The centre offers 360-degree real-life, immersive computer-generated experiences that they brought to their home town when they opened in November 2019.Building the business took Garry, 40, and Lynnette, 41, two years make their family-friendly, drop-in entertainment centre a reality but lockdowns have knocked them back.
Lynnette said: "We set up just before the lockdown. It took us three months to build up our business and then we went back into lockdown. This August saw us have our best month ever."
Last week the couple were contacted by the North Northants Council's debt recovery service saying that because they had only paid half of the £3,000 owed, they had forfeited being allowed to pay in monthly instalments and owed £9,000 for the quarter that now needed to be paid in a lump sum.
Lynnette said: "All I'm asking is for is some breathing space. They said if you can't afford to pay your bills, close your business.
"We're number one on TripAdvisor. We have worked so hard, bloody hard. We are a small family business that opened four months just before the pandemic started.
"We are a business that is trying to help the community. It's a brand new concept and we have brought it to the town centre. We are bringing people from all over to the town centre who wouldn't normally come.
"As a leisure industry we were the last to re-open (when restrictions were eased). We have Covid policies in place and we keep everything clean and sanitised. We were a month behind the hairdressers. When they re-opened everyone needed a haircut but the leisure side struggled. People are still scared of coming out."
The firm, which employs four people and one volunteer, Jordan Hutchison, is now able to offer corporate packages with their upstairs meeting rooms, alongside team building days.
Gamers work together in virtual worlds, each standing in their own 'pod' but interacting in the same scenario.
Other guests can see what the person in the game can see on a screen showing real-time action.
Mum-of-two Lynnette said: "We have supported people in the community and we are asking for people in the community to support us. They need to use it or lose it.
"We have conference facilities for ten to 15 people for those businesses that stopped using their offices. We are in the heart of Corby town centre."
The pair are hoping that they will be able to access Covid recovery funds but are not sure that they will be eligible.
Lynnette said: "Nobody tells you what you are entitled to. The other government grants that we have received have helped us. All I am asking is for a bit of breathing space.
"All I need is the time to build up our business. I look at the jobs that we have created.
"We are open, it is safe. Before the rules changed we were restricted when we had parties, now we can have up to 25 taking part and have others.
"People are looking at it as £25 per hour but they get value for money and families make memories together."
The pair have vowed to keep their dream business open and have seen steady growth since the lockdown was lifted.
Garry said: "We are starting to get traction in the business. All we are saying is give us a couple of months."
Readers of the Northants Telegraph have been given a special 25 per cent off discount code (TELEGRAPH21) to support the business.