DUNES: SOUTH SHIELDS – THREE GENERATIONS OF FUN
The Dunes, South Shields, was purchased by Kenneth and Gillian Reader in 1995. They had previously operated small high street amusement arcades and video shops before acquiring the 8000sq ft amusement site on the North East coast.
Kenneth had many years of experience working in coastal locations, managing his father’s amusement and leisure sites in Morecambe and the Isle of Man during the 80’s and 90’s. Kenneth’s family were Travelling Showmen, who settled down in 1968 and opened a bingo hall in Wallsend. This business developed into a chain of bingo halls, prize bingos and full AGCs. Working in this varied amusement/leisure business gave him an insight into the potential of The Dunes as a coastal leisure development.
In 1995, The Dunes was a stand-alone arcade/FEC comprising Category D fruit machines, pushers and video game’. A fish & chip shop and ice-cream kiosk completed the leisure offering. The amusement arcade is now made up of FEC, AGC and redemption games.
After acquiring the land adjacent to The Dunes in 2002 the family built a 12 lane bowling alley and bar/restaurant, followed in 2008 by the development of a 5 story indoor soft play area, Italian restaurant and function rooms. The Dunes had grown into a 42,000sq ft coastal leisure site, providing entertainment for all the family. The functions rooms were changed last year into a dance school. The vision was to create a one stop leisure destination that was accessible all year round, reducing the reliance on busy seaside holiday periods.
Rebranded ‘Dunes Adventure Island’ in 2009, the site has 50 staff in total, 30 of which are in full time employment.
‘I watched most of the major developments within the business whilst at school or university’ said Kenneth Reader Jnr, ‘however, the main addition and highlight for us was the addition of the bowling alley in 2002’. As manager of the seaside leisure destination, he added ‘ The footfall increased significantly with the added indoor attraction, which as a result, generated a better following in the arcade and amusements, opening our eyes to the opportunity of a business that is functional all year round’
‘Changes in government legislation over time has been difficult to manage, and we are now competing with a huge online market’ he adds ‘ Everything you can do in an arcade, (AEG or FEC) you can do at the touch of a screen at home. Our coastal location is an added bonus, especially during the holidays. We aim to offer a variety of experiences for our customers, whilst holding on to the traditional fun associated with the seaside’.
During the ‘low season’, the typical customers are from the local community. The Dunes has a strong following of regulars in all departments. The Bowling alley has morning slots for special needs group, and senior citizens. Similarly, in the soft play area you will find child minders and parents of young children, who come along to ‘Toddler Time’ taking advantage of the quieter times’.
‘Over the summer months we get more tourists migrating to the beach and local caravan parks, however the core of our customers are from Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham and Gateshead – all towns within a 15 mile radius of South Shields’ adds Kenneth.
The Dunes offers many experiences under one roof. There are family entertainment centres all over the country, but the Reader family have moved with the times, expanded into different leisure areas and reduced their reliance on the traditionally busy periods at the seaside. October and February half term holidays are now busy times for the play area and bowling alley, with the arcade benefitting from the increased footfall.
‘The driving personalities within the business would most certainly be my parents’ says Kenneth. ‘It was their vison to be “more than just an arcade”. We wanted , and still want to offer something for everyone in the family, without forgetting the traditional seaside values. There were times when, if it rained on a bank holiday, it was all doom and gloom, and yes – sometimes it still is- however, having an indoor facility like we have now, gives us a chance on a rainy day’.
The Dunes has received some support for the Government during the COVID-19 crisis but the area of business rates is one that Kenneth would like to see addressed.
‘We struggle at the minute with excessive business rates. We are a substantial employer in the town and have a large facility to heat and power as well as facilitate a huge rates bill. Granted, due to COVID-19 we have been helped significantly by South Tyneside Council, who have waived business rates for 2020/2021, but for us to survive the business interruption caused by this pandemic, we would like this problem addressed and the bills reduced going forward’
Kenneth is, however, pleased that the B2 stake was reduced last year, which helped his business to compete. ‘We feel that the move last year to limit the FOBTs in the bookmakers to £2 a spin, has levelled up the playing field and given us a chance with our AGC, with a slight uplift in our cash area activities, nothing too significant but minor progress, which is a positive’
KW Reader & Sons have been BACTA members for over 30 years and traditionally attend the EAG at the EXCEL every January.