Newlyweds open disability inclusive Geek Retreat in Bedford

3682

A newly married couple will open the Bedford branch of gaming store Geek Retreat in the Harpur Centre on Saturday 14 August.

Store owners Sharon Lockhart (53) and Rob Harden (49) purchased the franchise during a lockdown career change.

They initially pictured a quiet retirement.  However, Rob said: “We didn’t really sit still for very long. We’re not really those kinds of people.”

By chance, Rob saw an article about the award-winning gaming franchise.

And so, the Ipswich couple ditched their careers in teaching / recycling consultancy and accountancy to open not one, but two franchises of the game retailer.

The Bedford store, situated in the Harpur Centre Unit 10, will be run by their gaming enthusiast son Jordan Stevenson (30).  An Ipswich store will open later in September.

Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! Warhammer, Pokémon and traditional board game retailer

The Geek Retreat franchise opened in Glasgow in 2013. They are a geek culture retailer, gaming café and events company with 33 stores across the UK.

Fans of Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! Warhammer, Pokémon and traditional board games can meet and play their hobbies in store. They can even sample a menu of burgers, vegan food and geekily named shakes such as ‘The Chocolate Thunder’, which have been developed in partnership with leading food firm, Booker.

The Bedford shop boasts a total of 76 spaces for enthusiasts to play in store, with 50 spaces downstairs and a further 26 upstairs.

Sharon and Rob are board-gamers themselves but it was Geek Retreat’s inclusivity ethos that most attracted them.

Sharon said: “The more we read about it, the more we thought ‘actually there’s more to this than just opening a gaming shop’, because we really loved the inclusive nature of Geek Retreat.”

Creating “an inclusive, welcoming, and social environment for its more vulnerable customers, like those on the autistic spectrum, or with mental health issues” is central to Geek Retreat. The company has a national partnership with the National Autistic Society.

Autistic friendly, “It’s a great place for anyone”

Sharon said: “It’s a great place for anyone. There are no restrictions really.”

The Bedford staff have all been trained in working with autism to ensure everyone who comes in feels welcome.

They have disability confident certificates which are awarded to companies who want to enable people with disabilities to get jobs.  They also plan to run work placements for people with additional needs.

Sharon said the store was “autistic friendly” and they’ve had pre-visits for children and adults on the spectrum so they feel comfortable when they come in.

The couple have an innate understanding given that some of their own children are on the spectrum. Sharon acknowledged that gaming is often something that lends itself to people with autism, due to the collectability element of the hobby.

It’s also where Sharon’s passion lies, having worked closely with children with special educational needs.  It’s what connects her to the store.

For a while she wasn’t sure how she’d fit with “the geekery” because she’s “not as much of a gamer as the rest of them.”  But it’s the outreach and working with everybody aspect that is special to her.

Their focus is also on bringing life back to the town centres post pandemic.

Sharon said: “There’s a lot of empty buildings right now still. It just feels like everybody is dying to get out and be with people. These ‘destination places’ are really important now to bring life back to the town centres.”

Jordan Stevenson (Manager), Dan Sexton (Assistant Manager) and Dan Walker (Supervisor)

To aid them in their quest, they have assembled a crack team of in-store gaming experts, who affectionately call them ‘The Overlords’.

Jordan is the ‘go to’ for anything board game related.  There is also a Pokemon and Warhammer specialist.

There will be events every night and plans for:

  • Parents and tots mornings
  • A Chess club
  • Crafting

As Sharon said:  “It doesn’t have to be a game to be geeky.”

“A lot of people say, once they’ve been to a Geek Retreat, they go to work, they go to home, and they go to Geek Retreat. That is the three places in their lives.”

Anyone who attends Saturday’s opening dressed in Cosplay will get 10% off food and drink. The first 10 people will receive free milkshakes.

In the meantime if you see a Storm and Shoretrooper patrolling the town, that’ll be Rob and Sharon out on a promotional mission.