ON DUTY The Wild West is back open and providing much needed local employment for its staff.
Children’s indoor play village back open with strict Covid protocols
It’s Thursday morning in Westport and misty skies have wrapped themselves around the town. Some are wondering where summer has hidden itself and ruminating on the consequences of the Covid pandemic, but in Wild West Play Village on Altamont Street there are no such concerns.
The place is buzzing. Children are back doing what children do best – having fun and parents are happily relaxing in the knowledge that everyone is safe and happy.
A cursory glance at the scene gives the impression of controlled mayhem as laughter and excited shrieks dance in the air, but delve a little deeper and there’s an entirely different layer to the land of friendship and fun.
Tish Gill is the sheriff in town. The Wexford native is the boss and her able deputies are husband Tommy, a native of Thornhill and their children Matt, Shane and Caitriona. On Thursday last, Tish, Tommy and Matt were in Wild West to tell The Mayo News of their emergence from lockdown; their plans for the future; a ground-breaking hand sanitiser, designed specifically for use by children of all ages while also introducing themselves to the Mayo public.
The family settled in Westport last December when they purchased the business from Micheál and Natalia McGreal, however they are no strangers to the area as Thornhill was always a second home to the clan.
“We lived and worked in Dublin for years and then in St Albans in the UK, but ‘home’ was always Thornhill or Wexford when we were growing up,” Matt explains.
Tish, a woman with hurling in her blood, laughs and says she’ll have to introduce a splash of gold to the Wild West’s purple uniform before explaining she was a neighbour of the legendary hurler Tony Doran and is cousin of equally heroic figure George O’Connor. “The GAA is in the blood. Myself and our son Shane are GAA-mad while the other three are more into the rugby,” she explains.
Stories of great rugby days in St Albans where the family lived cheek by jowl with many of the Saracens players, decorate the air as laughter bounces off the walls. Matt is no slouch when it comes to rugby, having played to a high level in Ireland and the UK and is looking forward to the coming season.
Tommy, the man from Thornhill, is very proud to be back in his native place. A lifetime in agriculture and environmental science which saw him work on the ground in over 50 developing countries has given him a huge wealth of knowledge and experience in many different fields.
“We were looking for a new challenge, a new direction and when the opportunity came to move to Westport and buy this business we were absolutely delighted. Micheál and Natalia had built a great business and we were delighted to come and continue that,” Tish says. “My background is in teaching children and teenagers, especially children who have sensory needs. I worked in a special unit in Oaklands College in St Albans in London and enjoyed every moment. I hope to bring that experience and knowledge to The Wild West, especially our sensory room, which is very, very popular with children and families from all across the region.
“We’re all involved in the business. Tommy does a lot of the ‘business’ side of it, Matt does the marketing and PR and although Shane and Caitriona aren’t based here, they have a day-to-day input too.”
Soon, the conversation turns to the pandemic and the challenges it brought the Gills and their business.
“The minute lockdown was mentioned, we took the painful decision to close immediately, so to remove any risk to children, customers and staff,” Tommy states before describing how the business has emerged from lockdown.
“The single biggest issue facing us around reopening was finding the most suitable ‘hand sanitiser for little hands’ as most products contain over 70 percent alcohol and can cause skin sensitivity problems.
“I have a long background in the field, and working with an Irish company, a new product was developed and approved for use, with specific focus on children, from babies up. The product is called ‘Cleanrite’ and is accepted as the best and safest for children. It’s been a huge success already and we’re now marketing it nationwide.
“Tish and all the staff went through a detailed Covid-19 training schedule, and put in place the best systems to protect staff, customers, and comply to the best advice and direction from the various government agencies. Our policy is simple, - Safety, Cleanliness, and Customer Service are our priorities.”
Thursday morning is moving towards Thursday afternoon, and it’s time to leave ride out of The Wild West, but not before Tish has one final comment. “We love it here in Westport. The local community are so supportive and we hope to be just as supportive in return. We’re all in this together. It’s the only way we will emerge from lockdown in a better place.”
Covid safety actions in The Wild West
Hand sanitisation stations specific for all children and indeed adults to use before entry and exit
Ball pits removed due to the surface area sensitisation
90 minute time slots to be pre booked, for 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm, to allow a full cleaning down process between visits
Maximum of 50 people to be on the premises, including staff
All café tables and chairs are distanced appropriately, and children supervision is the responsibility of the parents and guardians, and they must feel comfortable minding their children on visits