THE owner of the only bingo club in the Borders says the Scottish Government has left the country's venues “out in the cold” through a lack of funding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Financial aid has been offered to entertainment venues across Scotland in an attempt to offset the impact of forced closures and lockdown restrictions.

However, Ryann Stisi - who owns The Pavilion bingo club in Galashiels - says a lack of government support for clubs has left him “wondering why we’re being left out”.

“We’re trying our best to survive,” said Mr Stisi, 43. “All we are asking for is a level playing field with other sectors.

“Cinemas and theatres have been getting funding while bingo has been given nothing. I am happy for them (cinemas and theatres) [but] it is unfair treatment and we are just wondering why we’re being left out. It is just a struggle.

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“We’re needing some funding to keep us going. We want to make sure that when restrictions are loosened we are in a good position to survive.”

After having to close in March last year due to pandemic, The Pavilion reopened in August - but was forced to operate under tight restrictions.

Mr Stisi - who has run the family-owned club since 2010 after taking over from his father - says they have had to reduce the number of tables inside from 90 to 30 in order to adhere to social distancing measures.

The number of sessions run in a week were also reduced from six to four to protect customers.

However, due to current lockdown restrictions in the Borders, The Pavilion has had to shut its doors again to the public.

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“We have been open for a matter of weeks since March,” said Mr Stisi, from Galashiels. “We were one of the last sectors to get open [after the first lockdown] so we are way behind the curve on that as well.”

He added: “I can’t see us opening until April.”

Following contact with the Scottish Government regarding support for bingo clubs in November, Mr Stisi says there has been “silence” since.

“We are trying to ask the question [about funding] but we haven’t got an answer,” he said. “It’s frustration on our part.

“They contacted us, there was a good meeting [in November], then nothing. We are trying our best here.

“We are part of the culture here in Scotland and we’ve been left out in the cold.”

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Mr Stisi says The Pavilion is currently receiving £2,000 a month of support from the Scottish Government.

He says specific grant funding given to bingo clubs “won’t solve everything” but will help the club to survive, which he says is important for the community.

“It is a safe place for friends and families to come,” said Mr Stisi. “It is more of a social club in a small community. Everyone knows everyone else.

“Some of our customers are older, this is the only time they get out,” he added. “Some have got nowhere else to go, they don’t want to be going to pubs and clubs.”

He continued: “It is a big part of my life, we have known these people for so many years. It’s not just about their mental health, it is about my mental health as well.

“You know, are we going to survive? Are the customers okay? Are the staff okay?

“It’s not just a bingo club, it’s a social hub.”

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A campaign to save Scottish bingo clubs has been set up by The Bingo Association.

On the lack of specific financial support for bingo clubs, a spokesperson for The Bingo Association said: “Bingo operators have instead been forced to rely on small closure grants for their clubs, worth up to £3,000 per month per site, to cover the costs of bills, rent, utilities and employment costs.

“In total, it is estimated that the sector has lost over £80million in revenue in the past ten months, with the smaller, independent, clubs facing particular hardship.”

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We understand that all businesses face significant difficulties during the pandemic and we are committed to providing continued assistance, within our limited resources.

“Bingo halls are eligible for 100% non-domestic rates relief in 2020-21 and our Strategic Framework Business Fund further pays monthly grants of up to £3,000 for businesses required by law to close.

“Earlier this month the Finance Secretary also announced an additional top-up payment for hospitality, retail and leisure businesses – including bingo halls – which in some cases doubles or triples the amount of support we are providing.

“Since the start of the pandemic our support for business and the economy has reached almost £3 billion – more than a third of our total coronavirus (COVID-19) funding, demonstrating our commitment to provide as much help as we possibly can.”