Month: June 2022

‘Game changer’: New Teesside virtual reality attraction and its quieter sessions ‘without judgement’

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The Gaming Hideaway has increased its special events, due to popularity, to two a fortnight

Owners Kaiyn and Rachel Crooks were keen to support families who find days out challenging due to autism, so their facility started hosting special autism events.

“I love working with the children with autism.

“I go home and I’m on a high after doing those events, just from seeing the kids’ faces!

“The children know they are surrounded by other autistic kids and we limit the number of users to 18 rather than 24 so it is less overwhelming in terms of the amount of people.

“People are making friends here now and interacting with one another, which is so nice to see,” Rachel said.

Autistic people are welcome to attend the centre at any time, but during the autism events there is space for people to take a break if needed, in one of the escape rooms that is transformed into a quiet area.

The music and volume on all the simulators are turned down and the events allow parents to interact without judgement with other parents who may be facing similar challenges.

Children enjoying the Autism Sessions at The Gaming Hideaway

“We have some kids who whizz around from machine to machine and some who need to go and take a break after each machine, which is fine.

“At the very first session, most of the kids didn’t mix with anyone, now they’re mixing with each other.

“It’s lovely to see them making friends and getting comfortable here,” Rachel said.

Rachel praised her staff for how they have adapted to supporting the children and helping them have a great time.

If a child can’t tolerate a wrist band, staff give them to the parents instead, and all staff are calm and relaxed with the children.

“They are not just there to manage things, they are there to interact with our customers too and make sure they have the best time.

“They do such a great job,” Rachel said.

Article first published on the GazzetteLive website on 3rd July 2021 and was written by Anna Twizell. Images: Sarah Walker Writing Services

Thornaby’s Gaming Hideaway to open centre in Bishop Auckland

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A VIRTUAL reality gaming centre in Thornaby is celebrating its first birthday by announcing it is to open a second venue.

And owners Kaiyn and Rachel Crooks are set to take on 12 new staff – in addition to the ten they already employ on Teesside.

The centre in Thornaby opened for business on May 17th 2021, when lockdown restrictions brought in amidst the Coronavirus pandemic were lifted.

At the time, Kaiyn and Rachel revealed they had invested a six-figure sum in transforming the former council offices into a gaming paradise, complete with VR simulators and headsets.

They are now set to invest a similar figure again in their new Bishop Auckland venue.

Rachel said: “We weren’t sure what to expect when we opened and there was definitely a risk in what we were doing because there was nothing else like us.”

Kaiyn adds: “I was nervous – we put every single thing we had into it – but thankfully, it’s gone better than we expected.

“We knew we had something special – they say if you build it they will come – and we feel very blessed and so grateful for the support we have had.

“I didn’t think that just before our first birthday, we would have the keys to the second Gaming Hideaway – that speaks for itself in terms of how successful it’s been.”

Rachel and Kaiyn say that despite the effect of the pandemic on a lot of entertainment venues, their popular attraction is frequently operating at 80% capacity on weekends and during school holidays.

With such healthy figures to build on, the couple are being supported with their growth plans by Andy Briggs of IA Growth Ltd.

Game on – North East virtual reality centre is expanding and recruiting

In the future, the couple would like to replicate their Thornaby and Bishop Auckland offerings across other towns and cities – but they are taking everything one step at a time.

“It’s still new and we are not big enough to move it as fast as we would like to move it yet,” Rachel says.

“Our staff are brilliant – we have ten now and many of them have been with us since day one and like the place as much as we do. We’re really grateful to them for their part in making it as successful as it is.”

The couple’s venture has also had an impact on the local community, with Kaiyn and Rachel donating a day’s takings in December to buy gifts for underprivileged children and their regular autism events providing a welcoming space for young people who may otherwise struggle to enjoy a day out.

Rachel gets great satisfaction from interacting with the families from Autism Parents Together, as they get a rare chance to watch their child enjoying activities alongside other children.

She said: “Last time we held one, there was a little girl who doesn’t really talk very much and when we put the headset on her on the virtual reality slide, she had her hands in the air and was screaming with excitement.

“Watching her enjoy it and her parents getting so much pleasure from seeing their child enjoying herself made me fill up.”

The family specifically chose Bishop Auckland for their next venture, as Rachel used to live in the nearby village of Westerton and wants to be involved in trying to “bring some life back” into the town.

The new venue is double the size of The Gaming Hideaway in Thornaby, and there are also big plans to further improve their Thornaby offering, with developments to be revealed later in the year.

Article first published on The Northern Echo website 18th May 2022 – written by Mike Hughes, Business and Commercial Editor.

The Gaming Hideaway Recieve 6-figure investment from the North East Fund

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County Durham is set to get its first virtual reality family entertainment centre.

County Durham is set to get its first Virtual Reality family entertainment centre after the North East entrepreneurs behind the concept secured a six-figure investment from the North East Growth Capital Fund Loan Fund Supported by The European Regional Development Fund.

Rachel and Kaiyn Crooks opened their first Gaming Hideaway in Thornaby last year after spotting a gap in the market for a family-focused venue that brought a range of different VR and gaming technologies together under one roof.

Having proved and refined the concept over the last year, they are now set to open a second Gaming Hideaway on Newgate Street in Bishop Auckland town centre that’s almost twice the size of the original.

The 6,000 sq ft venue, which is set to open in July, spreads over two floors and will include virtual reality gaming and simulators, top-of-the-range gaming PCs and consoles, and racing stations with 65-inch screens.

A private party area and catering will be available, while customers will be able to hire out the whole venue for private and corporate events.

Rachel and Kaiyn worked with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to bring in the £150,000 Growth Capital Fund investment, while Andy Briggs of business growth specialists IA Growth has been supporting them with preparing and implementing their growth strategy.

Around a dozen new jobs will be created at the new Bishop Auckland premises, which will take the total number of people employed by The Gaming Hideaway up to 24.

Rachel and Kaiyn are already looking at possible North East locations for a third venue, which they hope to have open by the end of the year.

Everyone involved hails the deal as a fantastic step forward for family entertainment.

Rachel Crooks says: “The idea behind The Gaming Hideaway was to offer a cost-effective destination venue that would offer something for people of all ages and would enable families to spend quality time together.

“Bringing all these advanced gaming technologies together under one roof is something that hadn’t been done before, but the success of our Thornaby venue has shown that we’ve got the concept right and we’re excited to now be bringing it to County Durham.

“Bishop Auckland is an ideal location that will draw in customers from communities right across the region and we can’t wait to welcome everyone into the new venue in just a few weeks’ time.

“We’re developing and installing all the gaming concepts ourselves, and our ambition is to have a third Gaming Hideaway up and running in the North East before the end of the year.

“We met NEL at last year’s Start-Up Awards North East and quickly struck up a really good working relationship. Their enthusiasm for our ideas was clear and completing the investment application process was a very positive experience.”

Jane Siddle, senior investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, adds: “Rachel and Kaiyn have proved that their concept for The Gaming Hideaway appeals to every generation at their first facility, and we’re very pleased to be helping them launch it on an even bigger scale in Bishop Auckland.”

Andy Briggs of IA Growth says: “It’s been brilliant being able to help and support Rachel and Kaiyn on their journey so far, and it’s incredibly exciting to think that we’re just getting started.

“Working with the team at The Gaming Hideaway has been refreshing and they certainly have an energy and passion for creating a top-class family environment. We’ve created a bespoke business plan and are now helping with the implementation as well as supporting their funding application.”

The North East Growth Capital Fund has been designed to create around 790 jobs in more than 70 regional firms over the life of the programme and offers unsecured investments of up to £500,000 to established businesses looking to realise their growth potential.

Article first published on the North East Fund website 27th May 2022