Inside Peterborough's new gaming hall: The Vault

24 June 2024
Newly opened, we caught up with Josh Smith about creating a welcoming home for tabletop gaming – wargaming in particular – in Peterborough.

When I open the door into The Vault Gaming Hall, nestled in a business estate on the outskirts of Peterborough City, I’m enthusiastically greeted by a beaming Josh Smith. “Hello Charlie! Welcome!” he tells me, before immediately pulling up a chair and asking questions. It’s not a universal experience to drop into a gaming space to such a response, and being put at ease is just as important to Josh as other aspects of the business. 

What is The Vault?

“It’s a gaming lounge, so it’s predominantly set up for one purpose and that is to have people come in and be introduced to tabletop gaming and all of its different visions and versions. [But] the idea of The Vault is that when you walk through the door you get a welcome, meaning everybody in the room, if they’re not in the middle of something really intense, they’re like, alright mate, how you doing? Welcome, even if they don’t know who you are.” He says, as we talk about how lovely this is. We trade horror stories of other stores (thankfully much less common nowadays!) that embody what I like to call the Hot Fuzz moment – that second where Simon Peggs’s character walks into the pub and everyone turns to stare at the outsider. 

So quickly drawn into the conversation are we that it takes a moment to take in the full space.

“We’ve got five tables downstairs, five tables upstairs.” He explains. “The vision is to build a community that outgrows where we are now and to then at some point set up a very large venue with bar, food, still all the same support, learn to play evenings so you can come along and learn to play a game that you really wanted to play but haven’t got the friends to learn with or don’t want to spend 150 quid on a game that you might not enjoy.”

It’s set up in a manner that prioritises miniatures gamers when you first walk in, but additional space is open should you wish to run an RPG or play some board games. 

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Why Go To The Vault?

Within a few minutes of being shown around, it’s incredibly clear that community is at the heart, and that Josh is a leader in bringing people into the hobby. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he doesn’t hesitate to explain the terms he’s using. The downstairs space is surrounded by gorgeously painted models on shelves, the backdrop to tables of incredible painted-themed terrain, and a stack of available books and bits. 

“The idea is that somebody can walk in with absolutely no experience and when they leave they’ll know how to play a game or they’ll want to learn how to play a game,” Josh explains. “They might want to learn how to paint, and so they’ll learn how to paint. It’s a full support network. The idea is you walk in through the door, and when you leave, you’ve got more knowledge than you had when you first came in.”

How much is it to game at The Vault?

The Vault works on a table rental service, £3 an hour gets you a table [correct at time of writing], but it’s more than just a space you’re borrowing. 

“We’ll provide you the best table space and support that we can. That will include print-offs, and laminated information, if you need tokens, dice, or even a tape measure, we’ve got it all here that we can lend out. We also rent armies for all the different games that we teach. These armies are normally painted to a good tabletop standard and once you’ve borrowed an army, if you want to borrow another one you can just swap it over and it’s no extra cost. You basically pay a flat fee and then you get access to these armies. So you want to learn how to play Age of Sigmar, we will teach you how to play and then you can decide whether you want to make a purchase or not. It doesn’t have to be from us. The idea is really for if you’re a new tabletop gamer or an old one who’s been converted and come back to the hobby.”

Learn to Game at The Vault

Being able to borrow an army is significant – fronting the significant cost of an army for newcomers, when you’re not sure if you like the game or the faction you’ve purchased can be offputting. Terrain is easily available on the table so your time is spent just gaming. And this welcome isn’t just within the gaming itself, but all areas of the hobby. Each week, they have a schedule of events, including a painting workshop, a learn to play, and then specific events. 

“It can be very daunting to try to put paint to a model,” Josh knows, but doesn’t let that stop anyone. “Painting workshops are very simple. They’re normally about an hour to an hour and a half long. It costs a tenner. It’s all speed painting. The idea is to teach you how to paint and give you the confidence to paint models to a good tabletop standard in a very short amount of time. We are players that paint, not painters that play. So it can be very daunting to try and put paint to a model. We’ll show you ways of very quickly making your confidence boom and you’ll get it finished, and you’ll get it done, and you’ll play with a fully painted army next time that you turn up to play.”

“On Thursday nights, we do learn to play a game. Last night, we had Star Wars Legion, we had we had Lord of the Rings Middle-earth Strategy game, and more, all being taught at the same time. It was bonkers and it was incredible, and it was exactly what the Thursdays are all about. People then bought a load of stuff as well, and that was nice but that wasn’t the main reason for getting them to learn”

The Future of The Vault

Josh has big plans for The Vault. I’m shown around the lower floor to begin with, but also given a glimpse of the additional space the unit offers and an idea of what we’ll see in future. One area, he explained, would be set up for painters to be able to spray their models. They’re looking into enabling 3D printing on-site and will be opening up their upstairs area for additional opportunities. He referred to the space as “the bunker” in his descriptions, which is thematically fun whether intended or not, and explained the plans for the space to be available for big unified games, from RPGs with table presence and multiple group overarching campaigns, to full wargaming days embracing theme. He’s got an upcoming event that embraces the fun – The Great British Paint off, or Ready Steady Paint, offering three hours to open, assemble, and paint a model – who will win? You’ll find out on YouTube.

Josh explains he’s been running events for thirty years, and talks about his LARPing with EYELarp when it comes up. All of these demonstrate and evidence a foundation in immersion, taking fun and putting it physically into the world”. When he talks about his vision for this space - and more – you feel confident that bringing the space to life and making it stand out, is well within his wheelhouse. 

“We’d like to open more vaults all over the UK.” He says confidently. “If it takes 12 months or two years, it doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter. We’re having fun on the journey anyway.”. 

Where is The Vault Gaming Hall?

You can find The Vault Gaming Hall at 6 Benedict Square, Peterborough, and online – and hopefully one day, in a town near you! 

Looking for more board gaming opportunities in Peterborough? Check out the Dice Box!


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