FEATURE: Let’s get ready to tumble
Trampoline parks are one of the big success stories in leisure in recent years. Are operators doing all they can to keep the public safe – and can we learn anything from our cousins in Europe? Jon Bruford finds out…
Every town in the UK seems to have a trampoline park, with more than 170 open and counting. While injuries are reasonably low in number, some of the injuries are very serious; one park famously had to call an ambulance out once a week, while another was investigated after it was reported three people in a day broke their backs jumping four metres into a foam pit.
But with the right attention to construction and personnel, these injuries can be minimised or even eradicated, and the trampoline park can be the new centre of the leisure industry in the UK and abroad.
According to Ruud van der Ark, marketing manager for Jump XL, a Netherlands-based operator with parks in Germany, France and Denmark as well as their home country: “There is really nothing for teenagers to do. You have indoor play like Monkey Town, serves children up to about nine years old; older kids really don’t have much to do, and it’s the same in the UK. So this new business has sprung up to meet that need – kids can play inside a building, it’s safe, it’s good for the kids and it keeps them active.”
Klaas Siderius, owner of Sidijk, a Netherlands-based supplier, concurs. He says: “The concept attracts teenagers; you already had karting, and bowling, and paintball – and they are mostly activities for boys, Trampolining is also for girls, being a gymnastic activity, and it’s cool to do for freerunners.
Klass says that other sports can complement the trampoline aspect of the park too, it doesn’t have to be solely trampolines for the customers.
He adds: “You are seeing many new sports becoming mainstream now, even in the Olympics, like freestyle snowboarding, X-Games, sports are becoming more extreme. To practise these sports a trampoline park can really benefit an athlete to improve your skills and strength. A freerunner or a tricker can do this in a safe environment in a trampoline park, and then eventually take your skills outdoors and do your urban sports. Also gymnasts, ladies and boys, are comfortable jumping into a soft pit or big air bags to practise their skills. It has a cool look and feel, there is a huge potential for teenagers to express themselves on trampolines.
“All sports in a niche market – skateboarding, freestyling, that kind of thing – can add to a trampoline park. Ninja Warrior is extremely popular. Trampoline parks are becoming much more about activities, with all kinds of things for families to do. It’s not just about jumping around now – there is dodgeball, basketball, a bash beam over a foam pit, twist ladders, slacklining, cageball, aeroball… We do many things.”
Eli Play’s René van de Ven is in tune with this philosophy too, as his company has a similar approach. He tells Global Amusements & Play: “People are looking for diversity, you can see all kinds of combinations. In the Middle East you will see family entertainment centres with trampoline parks and high rope courses, in Europe it’s a smaller site but might be combined with laser games, or bowling centres so you will still see combinations in order to provide a total concept for family entertainment.”
Ruud van der Ark’s Jump XL parks abide by the same credo. He says: “[they] have a complete food and beverage offering, but it’s not just trampolines; there is a Ninja Warrior course, climbing, dodgeball, all sorts of activities. You can also play dodgeball on the trampolines which is great fun! We also have a walk wall for freerunners, so they can practise with us too.”
In Europe, it seems that customers and operators have embraced the idea of a place that’s simply for multiple kinds of activity and expending energy.
Eli Play started in the field in 2008, but it was not the same as the multi-faceted leisure proposition you see today. René adds: “We did our first park in 2008, but it wasn’t the concept you would see today; the trampoline side of the business picked up then late in 2013, and last year we worked on 40 trampoline parks so it has really grown.”
It’s a trend that apparently started in the US, was adopted by the UK, and has gradually spread from the UK into mainland Europe, with explosive growth that shows no signs of slowing. Of course, another driver of this growth, apart from bored youth, is domestic trampolining. The readily affordable home trampoline has seen incredible growth from almost nothing and is a staple in garden the length and breadth of Britain. It’s also one of the leading causes of injury in under-14s, but more on that later.
The trampolines you will find in a good park are quite different to the garden variety, with vastly superior construction, springs and safety features, says Klaas: “They are absolutely massively different, not only in the steel structure itself but in the type of spring you use, the fabric you use, the airflow though the fabric… The trampoline that you have in your backyard allows you to jump, but not very freely and with not so much ‘pop’; they’re just not the same thing!”
René van de Ven agrees, adding: “What you buy at home is basically a low durability, low impact trampoline, not for use that frequently. But our trampolines can be used constantly during the day so they have to be very durable, so we use heavy steel constructions, special connections for the springs, and we have added elements in there for safety. For example, you cannot slip under it and damage your feet on the springs. If you look at something we installed even three years ago, you would not see wear and tear on it even now.”
Addressing the issue of safety, Klaas Siderius, owner of Duth firm Sidijk, says: “It is really important that jumpers stay within their ability and in some cases, it is hard for an operator to see when somebody is going to jump or do something they do not already have the skill to do. Then accidents do happen, and it’s unfortunate. But the number of accidents is not high, while the severity could be higher than going to an indoor playground or riding a bicycle. What you see is people over-reaching, that’s when there is risk and when accidents occur. It’s not on a huge scale but it gets a lot of media coverage when it happens.
“Everything has to do with either the installation of the park or operations; if you run your park in a proper manner and your park has installed to the British Standard (PAS 5000, introduced in March 2017), you might have one injury in 6000 visitors – and it’s likely to be something trivial like a sprained ankle. Having an ambulance twice a week is not normal. That’s why the British Standard that has been introduced to the UK is really important, we can all work to it and it makes everything safer. When you have a new product or concept, there are no regulations – regulations always follow; the UK has been very successful in getting regulations up and running very quickly.
“When we finish installing a trampoline park, we hire an independent company that does approvals and they make sure what we have done it right and proper. This can actually help our clients get lower insurance costs, because they know what has been done is reliable and good quality; of course, the operations side also needs to be organised, but we make sure the operator has everything they need from us to be successful.”
There is no escaping that need for safety though. The dangers of trampoline parks have been well documented in British newspapers, both red-tops and broadsheets. But is this because the trampoline park is a new concept or are they inherently dangerous?
Eli Play’s René says that injuries are part of the package – but not serious ones, or in large numbers. He says: “You cannot avoid injuries, but you can minimise risk and that is our aim. We have a simple philosophy – we do not compromise on safety. Safety cannot be given by the structure itself, it has to come from good supervision and staff. Incidents happen as a combination of critical events in the setup – for example people might collide while jumping – and bad supervision.
“We are doing everything to avoid a combination of events where people can collide, and we give very clear instructions to our customers as to where they should have supervision and under what restrictions an element can be used.”
But it’s clear that the bulk of responsibility is with the operator, so what can they do to help themselves? Jump XL’s Ruud says the key is in both staff numbers and training. He elaborates: “We refresh our jump masters’ training every three months; we show them what can happen on a trampoline, so they learn how to observe and help our customers. For every 30 jumpers in our park, we have one jump master. So if we have 125 jumpers in the park, we have five jump masters to see what’s happening all around. Some parks in the UK I’ve seen with one jump master for 80 people or more. That’s just not right. You must have enough personnel to work the trampoline court.”
“If you do the training once a year, they can lose their sharpness; we have found that every three months works really well.
“We are also working in the European Commission for safety in our industry, and working with governing bodies in Europe to make trampoline parks safer. When we open a park we get independent assessor to confirm the park is as safe as it can be, checked completely by a company focussed on safety.”