Party time is over as Sunderland soft play business closes

Cheeky Charlie's owner Ashleigh Cook, with staff Claire Reed, Tracy Brooks, and Amanda Morton outside the closed premises at Sunrise Enterprise Park, Ferryboat Lane, Sunderland.
Cheeky Charlie's owner Ashleigh Cook, with staff Claire Reed, Tracy Brooks, and Amanda Morton outside the closed premises at Sunrise Enterprise Park, Ferryboat Lane, Sunderland.
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A soft play business has closed over a planning row, leaving dozens of children’s parties in doubt and nine jobs in jeopardy.

Ashleigh Cook has been locked out of Cheeky Charlie’s Sunderland base after her landlord halted it from running while an application is considered to change the use of the building on the Sunrise Enterprise Park, off Ferryboat Lane, North Hylton, from light industrial to leisure.

Everyone will receive their deposit back and we will help them get into somewhere elsewhere.

Ashleigh Cook

Ashleigh, who employs eight people, expects the application to be considered by Sunderland City Council in coming weeks and has already put the business up for sale in anticipation of passing it on with the granted permission.

A report, which was to be put to a council planning committee previously recommending approval, has been put on hold while the local authority tries to resolve concerns over potential parking issues.

But bailiffs have placed notices in the window of the unit, setting out how the locks have been changed and the goods inside are being held.

Ashleigh says this is because her firm got a week behind with its rent, though she insists the money is available for the landlord to accept.

While she says there are differences between her and the landlord, they have held discussions and she says he is happy to lease the premises to a new owner with the planning permission in place.

The 35-year-old, from Mount Pleasant, in Washington, has been contacting customers through Facebook to tell them of the issues, but as the booking diary is shut inside the building, she is struggling to get hold of 37 customers who have made plans to host parties there.

Ashleigh, who is mum to Holly, eight, and Charlie, six, said: “The business has closed, but we are fighting for the planning permission.

“We can’t get into the site to get to the diary.

“Everyone will receive their deposit back and we will help them get into somewhere elsewhere.

“We will try and get in touch with everybody to help them out.

“I want to see the staff keep their jobs and stay part of the community and it would be a shame for it to not stay open.”

She added the soft play is well used by families and popular with parents who have disabled children.

Cheeky Charlie’s was launched after Ashleigh previously ran Cookie’s Funtime for five years, making a move in September 2014 as she sought cheaper premises to rent.

Parking concerns have raised concerns about the site and access, but Ashleigh says she has been helped by neighbouring firm CBL, which has given customers access to spaces.

The business is for sale through Baker Tilly, with Ashleigh acting as an agent.

The landlord and property services firm handling the unit could not be contacted for comment.