After 6 long months, our escape rooms finally reopened on 11 September. We were itching to host games again and to share the excitement of escaping in person rather than online. Naturally, one of our biggest concerns was how to make our venue as Covid-safe as possible before admitting any customers. It was clear from the start that we would need to implement a range of changes to the on-site public spaces as well as the games themselves.
While completing our risk assessment we quickly realised that having both game rooms open at once presented a logistical challenge: these are accessed from the same corridor and the last thing we wanted was for the paths of two teams to cross. Therefore, in addition to staggering start times and running fewer games, we would have to introduce a one-way system. Luckily, there is another entrance at the back of our unit, which had so far only served as a secondary fire exit. Making this into our main entrance means that we can greet teams outside, who can then make their way to the game rooms through a one-way corridor and, after the game, exit via our lobby area. Noone will accidentally run into anyone outside their own group.
The new entrance is equipped with a touch free alcohol-gel dispenser that customers are asked to use before entering. As in supermarkets and other indoor venues, players must now wear face masks throughout their stay. We were initially concerned that this might reduce the enjoyment of the experience, but after playing a game wearing masks ourselves (M4 Escapes Dino Deadlock) we felt reassured because we forgot that we were wearing them in the heat of puzzle solving!
Our lobby area, which used to serve as an entrance and waiting room, was stripped of its sofas (the solid wood benches that remain are easier to clean) and now displays a variety of play-at-home games as well as our portable pirate experience. Customers can browse the collection and – as Christmas is not too far around the corner – can get their first stocking fillers. As a safety precaution, the control desk in the lobby has been fitted with a large hygiene screen, which staff can stand behind while chatting to customers during the game debrief. Once outside the unit and into the airy passageway, the masks can temporarily come off for a group photo opportunity in front of our iconic cog-door, just like in the good old days!
Regarding the rooms themselves, we removed several props that involved a lot of touching and were not essential to the game play. Also, some of the puzzles needed adjusting – such as one that relied on wearing goggles, which have been replaced with a purpose-built alternative device. In pre-pandemic days we used to enter the room with our teams (in the case of Sub Terra) or give a more involved story briefing in front of the room entrance (in the case of Prof. Dunstan). Instead, teams now watch a themed introduction video on their own inside the rooms before the game starts … but during the game we are still at hand to give clues and cheer you on from our control desks!
To further reduce the risk of transmitting the virus between teams and staff, each room ‘sits’ for a while post-game with a UV-C air-purifying unit running. We then enter wearing our shields (or masks, depending on current guidelines) and wipe down every lock, keypad and high-touch surface area before resetting the game. There is a 90 minute break between the end of one game and the start of the next in the same room, which allows us time to clean thoroughly and also sanitise handles and main surfaces across the venue.
Through these measures we have achieved our ‘Good-to-Go’ accreditation with Visit England and we will keep adapting as the situation and guidelines change. In the meantime we hope for the best and will continue providing puzzle adventures for families in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and beyond 🙂