Robert Schofield has willed his way to becoming the guardian of the Secrets of South Lodge. Certainly, you cannot enter the domain of this wonderful place of mystery without feeling inspired about its potential for escape room offerings.
Positioned right in the centre of the huge island off the A1(M) at Junction 45 in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, the enticement of the location begins just as you turn into the hidden entranceway and see the building’s façade. Once inside, the number of rooms and hallways ignite a sense of intrigue and imagination.
It is the kind of place some would dream of when imagining where to build strong themed escape rooms. The building’s own presence has been the inspiration for the game and puzzle ideas. Everything has fallen into place for Bob (as he likes to be called). The location was known to him – he had previously occupied it for the PR business that he ran for nearly 15 years. As a former journalist, Bob knows how to create good story to draw people into his world of imagination. But Bob isn’t the only strong mind in this creation, he is surrounded by an excellent team of creative, building and business professionals, including a movie set designer.
Having retired from his PR business and moving to Spain, the relaxed ‘good life’ didn’t quite suit Bob (pictured below second from the right). He admits to becoming bored. After a spell in laser tag, he returned to the UK in 2010 and started up a Paintball leisure centre. He still has strong standing in this sector, being the Chairman of the Paintball Association.
Bob is a highly driven, strongly focused business man, whose business philosophy has been carved from considerable raw experience. He has learned from this and it has been of great value as he has developed his next steps. It was perhaps inevitable that he would be attracted to the Escape Room business with its high development potential, and its natural allure of creativity and entertainment. After experiencing some rooms as a player, Bob says “I felt I could do it better. Even when rooms had deficiencies, we still enjoyed it. So I started to research its business potential.”
I’m sitting and chatting with Bob in the future control room, whilst the building is being adapted and built around us by a very busy team. He is a few months into the build and plans to be open for November. As Bob describes the sequence of events that lead to this moment, I can feel a sense of the planets aligning for him. All that he needed, the support, the creative input and the people were just turning up in his orbit, and of course, the location called for his return. Somewhere upon the whispers of serendipity you hear South Lodge declaring its need to be lit up in joy, fun and good purpose.
“We are approaching the development of the business with two brands” explains Bob. “Firstly, the conventional leisure players, who will be enjoying ‘The Secrets of South Lodge’. Alongside that is the corporate ‘Breakout’ elements that will attract team building and development.” Bob has done considerable work to develop the corporate service function of South Lodge. He has implemented good design within the room structure and already engaged with professionals working with the Belbin Team Roles system who can provide additional service to his business customers. A lot of thought has also gone into the viewing and recording aspects of the technology being fitted into the rooms, so that proper analysis is available of a team’s performance.
As he proudly shows me around the building, I am absorbed into the world he is creating. The ideas and themes for the rooms are built around a central storyline. South Lodge is the fictional home of ‘Sir Henry’ and it is filled with the life traces of this 19th century explorer, traveller and adventurer. The building offers an opportunity for an expanding and evolving storyline around the central theme of Sir Henry’s adventures. Each room will be a part of Sir Henry’s history and experience, which makes the escape room experiences adaptable for the future. That’s such a unique feature of this property.
Even from these early stages of development I can see the build and construction is high quality. People are going to enjoy the sense of being embraced in Sir Henry’s world. Stacked in the corner of one room is an array of genuine African ornamental statues. “We kept those from a retail unit my wife and I ran” says Bob. “We used to import from Africa, and now they will be part of Sir Henry’s memorabilia”. And the planets continue to align.
Then a moment of extraordinary captures me. I step out onto a small decked patio and before me is a large mature garden. Beautifully encased in a circle of trees, the magic and potential of this space floods right through me. The possibilities of outside events, corporate social functions, theming and theatrical setting, is wonderful. I look at Bob and he has a twinkle in his eye, he knows the sheer potential of this location and he is already developing the ideas and possibilities. It is, without doubt, one of the richest locations I have ever set foot in with regards to its potential for escape room enjoyment.
As the alignment of the planets is feeling almost perfect, I ask what Bob has found difficult since venturing into developing the property. “Money,” he says “fully funding the project is the only thing I’ve not been so comfortable with.” He has of course secured all that he needs, but I’m sure he has encountered what many room builders have…. the budgets tend to expand in an upward direction. Creative splendour has its price.
Robert Schofield has sheer determination to make things work. That has come from the wealth of experience he has already traversed during a varied business life. At the age of 62, he is allowing the fates of offer up a return on his journey, and thankfully, they are doing so.
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