Staff at the main Southend On Sea branch of Poundland have been celebrating this week after their store scooped the 2016 UK Escape Room Of The Year Award – the US-owned £1 item retailer SENSATIONALLY beat more than 250 actual escape rooms to take the top prize. According to a panel of expert judges, it is one of the most challenging ‘escape room’ environments that they have ever judged, with some contestants saying that at certain times of the day it can take more than three hours to escape past various obstacles and members of the ‘walking dead’ to reach the exit. 

Joanna Tootz is an employee at the Victoria Shopping Centre store, and she said that she was delighted with the result. She said: ‘We have carefully planned the correct mix of customers, shelf-stacking members of staff and cleaning operatives during peak times to ensure that visitors get the best possible escape room experience. While we are unable to provide zombies in full make up, we can get as close as possible with our regular elderly lady in fifteen layers of winter clothing who furiously compares the custard creams to the lemon puffs – getting past her is a nightmare at the best of times. By the time you have spent countless hours looking for your desired size of padded envelopes, you’ve not just lost your lunch hour, and you could well be walking out of the store in a different month.’

There were further celebrations as 2nd place in the national contest was also awarded to a Southend site. Card Factory in the High Street narrowly missed out on the title by just a few points, and one judge in particular praised their achievement of being able to fit 15 million greetings cards into the same floor space as a ‘generous wardrobe.’ Jayne Polchard is a regular at the store, and she said: ‘Card Factory is an amazing experience, and just last week I was in there for three hours. There were only a few people in the queue, but I felt like the grandma birthday cards were closing in on me so much that they were taking over my soul.’