A café owner is welcoming customers back inside for the first time in six months with a game of…Pandemic!

Ric Kemp runs board game café The People’s Meeple in Huddersfield town centre.

And to mark the café’s re-opening on Monday May 17, some of Ric’s regular board gamers will mark the occasion with a game a Pandemic, a co-operative board game where players work together to defeat deadly diseases.

The People’s Meeple hosts a thriving community of gamers and has a library of 450 games.

In October 2019 Ric quit his steady managerial job to pursue his dream of running a board game café.

He thought he knew the rules of the game he was getting into. But the People’s Meeple opened in December 2019, just six weeks before the first UK case of Covid-19.

Ric said: “When I opened The People’s Meeple, I thought I’d prepared for the unexpected. I was ready for a slow start or a fast start. I had a good cash buffer. I had a good team of staff.

“We were just beginning to build momentum, seeing sales growth in January and February 2020. Then Covid-19 and the first closure happened. We were shell-shocked.

“It was like the rug being pulled out from under us. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We thought we might be able to re-open in eight weeks. It turned out to be three months.”

Game of Pandemic anyone?

The following 12 months was an emotional rollercoaster. The café opened again in June, there was Eat Out to Help Out but then the shutters came down again in October.

“It’s felt at times like hospitality has been portrayed as the villain of the piece,” said Ric. “We’ve had harsher restrictions than most other areas of business and work.

“With all the stopping and starting I’ve lost good staff who understandably had to make other plans.

“It’s been a tough year. You expect hiccups in your first year or two as a business but this is something else.

“We’ve diversified a bit, selling board games online and running some online raffles but it hasn’t come close to filling the gap in our food and drink takings.”

Ric added: “The support from our customers has been great and the help from Kirklees Council with accessing grants and advice has been invaluable.

“Since April we’ve been able to offer outdoor dining, which has been lovely, but at the mercy of the weather. If it’s raining, sales halve.

“We’ve got fingers and everything else crossed that May 17 is us re-opening for good. We’ve taken half our tables out so we can space people out safely and we’ve got a pop-up banner with Covid safety guidelines and a physical barrier so people scan in with the app if they come inside.

“Hopefully we get some stability and the business gets back on something like a normal sales growth curve and I can start planning more than a few weeks ahead.

“I want The People’s Meeple to be a great space for all the community. We’ve been building links with lots of groups focused on wellbeing and tackling social isolation but to do that we need to stay open!”

The People’s Meeple are taking bookings through their Facebook page and their website www.thepeoplesmeeple.com