An Inverness soft play centre and cafe will shut its doors after 14 years as it looks towards a new chapter.
Play Zone will close its Inshes Retail Park doors for the last time on December 24.
It will then be converted into a permanent nursery for up to 109 children for operator Les Enfants Nurseries which also has a nursery in nearby Westhill.
‘Extreme pressure’ on local nurseries
Denise Barras introduced a temporary nursery room to the soft play centre in 2020.
She said strong demand for this means she is confident the new nursery will be popular.
She said: “Three years ago we made the decision to turn the cafe area into a temporary nursery room.
“There was loads of kids who were absolutely desperate for a nursery and this was our chance to help.
“As time went on we thought numbers would maybe decrease. If anything, it’s been the opposite.
“Our time as a temporary nursery is coming to an end so we had to make a decision. We believe converting it into a proper nursery space is the way forward.”
Denise said the closure of nurseries, such as Country Bumpkins Nursery in Ardersier, is mounting more pressure on the sector.
She added: “It’s been a tough time for nurseries. We’ve had a wee bit of added pressure ourselves because of local closures.
“Making this transition is the best thing we can do for the children.”
Play Zone memories
Despite the investment plans for the building Denise, who runs Play Zone with her husband Euan, said the decision to shut the soft play element was “extremely difficult”.
She said: “We thoroughly enjoy everything about running Play Zone.
“It’ll absolutely be missed by us, in truth it was still really busy and popular.
“I’m sad to see it go however it’s a move in the right direction with the nursery expansion.”
The removal of the soft play frame will allow a more “free-flow” learning space for children, according to Denise.
She said: “It will be far better for the children which attend my nursery. The frame is coming out and will create four rooms downstairs, where we’ll move the children.
“It is going to offers more outdoors learning and access to the gardens.
“There’s no plans for what we will do to upstairs, however it does offer extra options.”
Denise is hopeful the new nursery space will be up and running by April 2024.