Covid-19 Impact: Activity sector in Wales

The future of the children’s activities sector in Wales has played heavily on my mind for many months on both a personal and professional level. Our devolved nation, led by First Minister Mark Drakeford, has taken an approach unique to Wales in terms of our response to the Covid-19 crisis; lifting different restrictions at different times to the rest of the UK as well as different advice and legislation.

The Sector in Wales

There are approximately 2,000 children’s activities providers in Wales and through research conducted by the Wales Children’s Activities and Services Awards I found out that of the cross section we surveyed 40% of these businesses are under two years old. We all know that the children’s activities sector is relatively new across the U.K in comparison to some traditional sectors, but the research suggests that this is particularly true for Wales. With this said, it is crucial to note that Wales is proudly home to some National and International franchisors within the sector as well as lots of successful franchisees and inspirational independent businesses.

It’s also interesting to note that 54% of businesses surveyed were run by one person with a further 34% of businesses made up of a team up 2-5 people. This tells us the vast majority of businesses in the children’s activities sector in Wales are made up of small teams (who from my experience are bubbling with enthusiasm and love for what they do).

The Here and Now

At the time of writing this article key changes have been made in Wales to impact the children’s activity sector including the fact that children under 11 years old are no longer required to social distance from each other and other adults, in line with scientific developments about lower transmission rates in this age group. This is a milestone development for providers in the sector but most notably for those running toddler to preschool activities whereby social distancing would have been near enough impossible to manage successfully.

Wales has also recently welcomed the news allowing outdoor meetings for up to 30 people meaning providers are now able to run classes outdoors over the summer period. And whilst this activity will be dependent on our wonderful Welsh weather, it is a welcome bridging gap for both families and providers at this time.

Indoor play areas, including soft play, are now open and this is something we did not anticipate in Wales for some time. This is another notable milestone in our progression to life after the pandemic.

Business confidence in Wales rose during the month of July and has done month on month according to research by the Business Barometer at Lloyds bank. The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early economic trends and data both regionally and nationwide. Whilst businesses in Wales still unsurprisingly report to be negatively impacted by Covid-19 in July, it is very welcome to note an increase in business confidence in Wales for business owners. Although this is not specific to the children’s activities sector, this upturn in confidence seems to be evident through social media whereby I am seeing lots of Welsh providers busy and excited showing their customers their intricate plans for creating a Covid-Secure environment and opening booking systems ready for September. The last two weeks in particular I have sensed a distinct change in mood from unsettled and unsure to optimistic and excitement. This leads me to feel the future is bright, but we must not get complacent.

The Future

In light of the economic trauma we have faced not only in Wales but throughout the UK, according to experts at NatWest there is a real possibility that we will head into a recession. This is probably not surprising to you given the downturn we have all witnessed in the economy however, it is important not to panic at the R word.

What is important now is future proofing your business for all eventualities. NatWest’s research is based on previous recessions and suggests that people do not stop spending their money during a recession, but they do change their spending habits. Children’s activities will become a priority for parents after the loss of formal education and social activities for such a prolonged period. For example, several Beaming Babies classes became fully booked in record time when the booking was reopened ready for September, exemplifying my point that parents (and children) are craving our sector to reopen. Therefore, it is more important now than ever to offer parents the best value for money, as this is what people will look for during a recession. As a sector, we need to be ready for that. We must be thinking about how we can go the extra mile for our customers and pack as much value for money as possible into that weekly window with us in order to 1) attract customers and 2) retain them (this is key – according to research it costs 5 times as much to attract a new customer as it does to retain an existing one). Throughout lockdown businesses and consumers have become accustomed to an online offering and now is the time to explore how you could enhance your face to face services with a digital supplement. This could be in the form of digital downloads such as music, games or activities to do at home or even online communities. I surveyed a cross section of parents in Wales with children aged 0 – 16 years old and it was interesting to note that 50% of respondents would like online classes to continue into the future with people noting convenience rather than safety as being the main motivator for this. This is food for thought on enhancing the value of your offering in Wales.

Furthermore, having a strong business continuity plan in place will be critical to riding out the storm and coming out of the other end. Not only for the sustainability of your business but also for your wellbeing; knowing you have a secure plan will help you feel in control. This is an important part of any business but now more than ever. Although reported cases of Covid-19 are currently low in Wales, we are yet to understand the impact of the infection throughout the winter months. A business continuity plan will help you to continue your business with as little disruption as possible for both you and your customers should there be a second wave of Covid-19. Your business continuity plan should include what you and your teams’ responsibilities are if there is a second wave of Covid-19 or any other disaster type situation in order to ensure your business can continue throughout.

In terms of the practicalities of classes and groups in Wales, adults and children over 11 years old are currently still advised to social distance at 2m and there has been no indication from the First Minister that he is considering reducing this anytime soon. Whilst safety is of course of the utmost importance, the 2m social distancing rule will serve as a logistical issue for many providers, particularly for groups and classes where parents accompany children, such as baby and toddler classes. However, with this said, there are elements of legislation in Wales which are very positive for baby and toddler classes. At the time of writing this article, in Wales face coverings are only legally required on public transport. This is particularly beneficial for baby and toddler groups where there is usually an emphasis on close interaction and bonding which is often through eye contact, facial expression and verbal communication; all of which may be impacted during the class by the wearing of a face covering.

Moving on from baby and toddler classes, optimistic strides are being made for those where children (under 11 years old) attend alone and are no longer requiring to social distance from each other and other adults; no doubt these types of classes will be the first to feel and look like a glimmer of normality for both the children and providers. This gives me hope that the rest of the children’s activities sector in Wales will follow in time.

For those in Wales, we should also be mindful of the unique business support that is available to us such as the fully funded provision of Business Wales who are offering specific Covid-19 support at this time. There is also the Development Bank of Wales set up by the Welsh Government to support the economy of Wales by making it easier for businesses to get the finance they need to start up, strengthen and grow. When you get caught up in the tangles of Covid-19 it can be easy to overlook the support on our doorstep here in Wales. Use it to your advantage.

The long-term future is positive for the children’s activities sector in Wales with 70% of parents surveyed stating they would return to activities and classes as soon as they reopen. The customer appetite is certainly there. However, I believe the remainder of 2020 and even Quarter One of 2021 will be a period recovery for the children’s activities sector in Wales as we seek to rebuild businesses. Time is critical; it will allow restrictions to ease and science to gain a deeper understanding of the virus and its behaviours over the full course of a year. Future proofing your business now and preparing for every eventuality will put your business in the best possible position to come out stronger at the other end.

I wish you all the very best as you navigate your way through the rest of 2020 and beyond.

Author: Kelly Jenkins, Beaming Babies & Wales CASA

Kelly Jenkins is the founder of Beaming Babies, a story and sensory baby class franchise operating within South Wales. She is also the founder of the Wales Children’s Activities and Services Awards where she aims to place amazing businesses in this sector on a pedestal to be recognised and celebrated.

By becoming a member of ICAP you’re joining a community of like-minded professionals and business owners in the children’s activity sector working towards excellence

John Preston

Mathnasium, Managing Director (UK) & Master Franchisee

John is a former investment banker that quit the city to scratch that entrepreneurial itch and become a franchisee, whilst making a difference in children’s lives. John has successfully scaled his own network of centres as well as scaling Mathnasium and supporting it’s network of franchisees in the UK. John is passionate about franchising and improving the lives of others, whether that is helping students who struggle with mathematics or assisting franchisees to become leaders of successful businesses.

Katie Cannon

Gold Medal Business

5 x British Champion turned 7 figure entrepreneur Katie Cannon has been in the children’s activity industry for the last 20 years.Over the last 20 years, Katie has been in the trenches building classes in gyms, studios, leisure centres etc. She has owned gyms, closed gyms down, hired amazing teams and let teams go. You name it, she has done it in this industry.

Katie now teaches entrepreneurs in this industry to uplevel their business systems and teams to scale their business. One of the key attributes which makes gold medal truly unique is she not only brings her 20 years of experience, she is still in the industry today, bringing 20 years of knowledge plus whats working today.

Andy Georgiou

Andy is the Founder of ICAP and a leading UK Franchise Business Consultant. He is fiercely committed to helping children’s activity providers build successful and profitable businesses. With qualifications in Business Management, Digital Media and Marketing, he has helped build, advise and grow leading 6 and 7 fiqure children’s education, sports and activity brands in the past 17 years.

Theo Millward

Theo Millward is a graduate of Lancaster University with a BBA in Management. In 2016 Theo purchased UK swim school, Swimtime from the founders which teaches 20,000 children a week. Following a multi-award- winning digital transformation, during the global pandemic, Theo and his team founded Franscape, a saas that digitally transforms Franchise brands. FranScape won New Business of the Year at the UK Business Awards.

Pip Wilkins

Pip Wilkins is the Chief Executive of the British Franchise Association (bfa). With 25 years’ experience in the franchise sector, Pip has worked her way up within the Association, gaining insight from all areas of the business and the franchise industry. She is well-known and highly regarded in franchising for her dedication and depth of knowledge. Pip regularly speaks at conferences and seminars both domestically and internationally, as well as writing on franchising matters for national, local and franchising trade press. Pip is also a regular judge for the annual bfa HSBC Franchise Awards, the Franchise Marketing Awards and Global Franchise Awards. Pip represents the UK at both the European Franchise Federation (EFF) and World Franchise Council (WFC). The bfa has grown to be one of the largest franchise associations in Europe, and one of the most successful associations in the world.

Craig Jones

Chief Children's Experience Officer

Craig has over 30 years’ experience working with children and young people in the education, sport, health & fitness and childcare industries. Craig is a high energy professional, with a passion for providing high quality, engaging experiences that are sustainable solutions to childcare and children’s activities, with a focus on increasing physical activity levels within children and young people. Craig’s approach is nurturing, developing and supporting the best people to manage, lead and inspire children’s professionals within organisations. A results orientated individual with experience across the UK and in Europe, including mergers & acquisitions along with implementing Children/Family strategies across 5 countries, including; product development, financial/operating models, training, H&S, Compliance and full stakeholder engagement from Board level to Government.

Ackora Ansah

Marketing Manager - We Make Footballers

Having previously navigated the dynamic world of marketing with beauty industry leaders such as L’Oreal, Clarins and Unilever, I’ve gained a breadth of experience in how to acquire customers and grow brands.

Now, as Marketing Manager at We Make Footballers I support over 50 franchisees across the UK, US and UAE to scale and grow in an ever-changing landscape through strategic local marketing. Alongside this, I run 3 of my own We Make Footballers franchises and so look forward to sharing my learnings from both perspectives.

Tamara Holland

Marketing Consultant for Children's Activities Providers

Tamara is the award-winning expert behind Dot & Stripe, a marketing consultancy for children’s activities providers and family focused businesses.

Tamara works with franchisors, franchisees and independent businesses to nail down the best marketing strategies to get them results and has over 20 years’ experience across the marketing mix.

She’s also been on both sides of the children’s activities industry – as a franchisee and leading the marketing for a franchise.

She has literally got her hands dirty- so she really gets it. You want to share your amazing activities business with your perfect customers- but finding the right direction, time and resources can be tricky.

Tamara has truly got the expertise, the support, and the accountability to make sure your marketing is not just done but done in a way that’s absolutely perfect for you.

Alexis Boyett

Bippity Boppity Bankrolls / Business Coach + Speaker


No amount of positive thinking will overpower an engrained negative belief. Regardless of how hard we try, how many therapists we talk to, or how many meditations we do, nothing seems to silence the inner-critic within. So instead of trying to silence it, what would happen if we started to communicate with it? As someone who struggled with a poverty mindset, eating disorders, bullying, toxic relationships, and no support system, Alexis understands how loud and how powerful your inner-critic can be. Instead of giving into the voice, Alexis learned how to harness the power of it and use it to master her self-love, propelling her into her dream life. In the past 15 years she has been a professional model/actress in Hollywood, run a nationwide company, traveled the world full-time and become the most influential business and personal development coach in character entertainment. It all started when she learned how to communicate with her inner critic and use its voice as the compass to her dreams. In this keynote, you will walk away with: A new understanding of your story and how it affects your business How to communicate with your inner critic to support your vision How to self-soothe when the villain within is on a rampage

Bea Waterfield

Owner & Franchisor Baby College

I’ve been working in the sector for 20 years. In that time I have been a franchisee, an independent business owner and a franchisor. I have come through a few challenging times (especially the last few years) along the way but have built Baby College to an international network of 30 businesses in the last 10 years in a sustainable way with a consistent profitable self-sustaining business year on year. I don’t think there is a very clever secret to that. Looking back I think I rely on hard-work, determination, courage, indefatigable positivity and to be friendly to everyone…

Gayle Berry

Founder of global parent & baby wellness business, mentor & philanthropist

Gayle Berry-Founder of Blossom & Berry, BA, Dip. Law, PGCE, IAIM, Birthlight, Dip Hypno, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Life Coach ITEC Massage, Author, Pregnancy and Post Natal Yoga Teacher, Children’s Yoga Teacher, Doula & Sleep Consultant.)

Gayle is a love activist, community architect, the founder of Blossom & Berry, an expert on baby massage, baby yoga and nurturing care for babies and the world’s leading mentor for parent and baby businesses.

Gayle is the mother of three amazing humans who have inspired her journey to teach love to millions of babies through her connected community to create a more peaceful and joyful life for all.

Gayle has over 20 years of experience empowering others to share the power of nurture and nature for families across the globe.

Gayle is an advocate for nurturing touch for babies, a multiple publisher author, and speaker on “Nurturing The Future-1001 days to save the world’

She is also very proud to be an ambassador for a number of mother and baby wellness brands and she is Channel Mums’ Baby Massage Expert.

In more recent years Gayle has mentored the world’s leading birth and baby schools to expand and scale their impact to create even more connection. Everything she does comes from a place of love, connection and community

Contribution is also a huge part of her why. She is the co founder of the charity Love Support Unite where she has enabled a safe motherhood project for mothers and babies in poverty in Malawi impacting hundreds of vulnerable babies.

“All babies deserve to be seen, heard and express their needs. When we respond to babies with love, we teach that the world is a safe and loving place and help children reach their full potential.”

Sarah Booth

Xero - Partner Consultant

My passion has always been to help business owners understand the numbers and how a great Accountant, along with cloud software, can provide the financial data they need to make the best business decisions. Prior to joining Xero I worked as a qualified Accountant and specialised in supporting my clients to understand their business financials in real-time. Working with Xero has given me the opportunity to support Accountants across the country in adapting to the cloud, improving their processes and ability to provide insights for their clients business.

Lou Willis-Keeler

CEO of Psych-Logical (Safeguarding and Behavioural Consultancy)

An international safeguarding consultant with over twenty years experience in safeguarding and behavioural science . Working with a wide range of organisations, across sectors to ensure compliance as a minimum and outstanding practice as a reality. Lou has depth of professional expertise working with a variety of organisations and before forming Psych-logical was an area manager with the NSPCC / ChildLine. She has been commission by the Department of Education to develop best practice resources and is work on professional standards for the out of school settings. An energetic, innovative and engaging speaker who simplifies safeguarding and makes it accessible to all.

David Batch

Premier Education Group

Last academic year, Premier delivered 723,815 hours of activity in over 10% of the nations schools. In addition, as the largest supplier of School Holiday Activity days in the UK, over 20,000 parents have given a 5-star Trust Pilot rating. Premier represents the sector on several Dept. of Education steering groups and was winner of ‘Best Business Culture’, at the 2023 Business Excellence Awards. David founded Premier 25 years ago and since then, the group has grown to encompass businesses which include a mother and child fitness franchise, a school improvement business and is an Ofsted rated ‘Outstanding’ Independent Training Provider.

Natalia Shvarts

Franchise Lawyer

Natalia is an experienced franchise solicitor who is passionate about her clients and their success. Having worked with franchisors, franchisees and spent time in-house, Natalia really has seen it from both sides of the fence. Natalia is a member of the BFA and is a regular contributor to franchise publications and franchise events.

Ellie Baker


After 10 years in the UK education system, Ellie quit the classroom to set up her award-winning children’s language & music class company, BilinguaSing, which she franchised in 2014.

Today Ellie uses all of her teaching and business experience to coach educators to become business owners, writes about education and helps her network of BilinguaSing franchisees to thrive in their businesses. In 2023 she authored her first solo book, The 2 Hour Tutor; which reached the #1 spot in 3 educational categories.

She’s an ‘extroverted introvert’ who dreams of living a nomadic life, educating her 3 kids while travelling the world; but for now lives happily in sunny Maidenhead. 

Stacey Cann

Franchise Marketing Strategist

Stacey Cann is an award winning franchise marketing strategist who specialises in helping franchisors create successful franchisees and make more money in their business. Stacey has 20 years marketing experience, working with global companies, including Chelsea FC, Jellyfish, BT, Sports Direct and The Telegraph. Marketing training and empowerment is at the heart of everything Stacey does. Her work has been featured in numerous press articles, including; The Sun, The Metro and iNews. Stacey is a franchisee and Franchise Development Coach for multi-award winning Daisy First Aid. She consistently helps new franchisees with no previous business or marketing experience to start making money immediately and hit their initial goals within 6 months. Her proud moments include Daisy First Aid being awarded the British Franchise Association 2023 Continuous Improvement award and helping numerous women successfully leave their previous jobs to become profitable franchisees to fulfil their dreams of independence and work-life balance. Stacey lives in Surrey, UK, with her partner and 3 children and is also a passionate advocate of parents’ mental health following her own experiences as a self-employed mum.

Karl Fox

Franchise Support Director

I’ve worked in the franchise industry for nearly 25 years, building a successful multi-territory franchise business which deploys over 100 Activity professionals and Playworkers. Utilising my experience within my role as Director of Franchise Support for Premier Education, I support our franchisees to build successful, sustainable busineses as we continue to grow our wider network.

David Pearce

Owner / Director - Rhythm Time

Following a successful corporate career as Divisional MD of a FTSE 250 PLC, I started helping people to get into Franchising in 2008. I have been involved in many different Franchise Businesses as a Franchisee, Franchisor and as a Consultant and Coach to Franchisors. My advice has been sought by a variety of leading UK and International Franchise Brands. Finance & Numbers form a fundamental part of any successful business and I am passionate to help others to get to grips with their numbers!

Al Wadey

Book That In, CTO

Al Wadey is the CTO of Book That In, the market-leading booking system for activity providers in the UK, and is also the Vice President of Strategic Consulting at Aprimo, the international software company. Al’s extensive background in business change, digital transformation, and strategic consulting, especially his role in leveraging technology for superior customer experiences, positions him as a leading authority on innovative strategies. His blend of technical prowess and commercial insight, paired with his experience in guiding businesses through digital evolution, means he will be bringing a unique viewpoint to ICAP’s strategy panel this year.

Phillip Archer

Business Planning & Funding Manager

Phil joined d&t in 2019. Background in sales & marketing in asset finance and funding spanning more than 30 years. Responsible for growing the commercial side of d&t to include fully independent business planning, funding, asset finance and of course the full range of accountancy solutions. Recently with Franchise Finance which he joined following a career with roles in the UK and across Europe starting with Lombard/Natwest group and latterly with Renault Banque and SNCF, the French state-owned rail goliath. Phil has a wide and diverse background, grounded in pragmatism and is passionate about supporting both new and existing franchisees on their journey. For a new Franchisee the proposition can be quite daunting and Phil’s goal is to help the franchise industry demystify and simply the business start-up process into one seamless and fully integrated solution. This avoids confusion, self-interest and contradiction and ensures a rounded, more holistic approach as your advisor becomes your trusted partner for the long term. Much of this is achieved by helping franchisees align their personal and business goals and in ensuring sound business planning practices become habits and management tools. Phil contributes to a number of industry publications and forums and is a judge for both Workbuzz and Elite100.

Frank Sahlein

Frank has been active in the Children’s Activity Center industry as an athlete, coach, business owner, consultant and business broker. He is a native of San Mateo, California and graduated from San Jose State University in California (USA).
Frank was a pioneer of the Children’s Learning Opportunity Center concept from 1976 – 2016 at the Wings Center in Boise, Idaho (USA) – a blend of Sports Instruction, Arts, Education, Entertainment and Outreach programs.
As a business management innovator, Frank has delivered over 1,000 presentations for a variety of Children’s Activity Center industries such as gymnastics, swimming, cheerleading, dance, martial arts/ninja and child care/education.
3rd Level Consulting is a Business Development and Service Provider Partner for private industry companies, associations, and organizations in the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Panama.
Two-time recipient of the National Business Leader Award from USA Gymnastics, Frank is the author of “Building Your Business Potential” and “Designing Your Empowered Life”. He is the creator of the SmartEDGE™ Business Applications and Management Certification Courses. He is the co-founder of LEAP Learning and the MetaSpheres Corp, and is the founder and Executive Director of the International Association of Child Development Programs.
His passions include his beautiful wife Lourdes Gonzalez, family, friends, fitness training, transformational reading and travel.