Toys are us:

It might not be hid­den deep in the snow of the North Pole, but Nor­folk has its own toy pro­duc­tion line where a lit­tle bit of Christ­mas magic is be­ing sprin­kled

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rachel Buller Š PHO­TOS: An­gela Sharpe

We pay a visit to Nor­folk’s top games maker

If you spend any time with young chil­dren, the chances are you will have played a round of two of Shop­ping List or gig­gled away as Greedy Go­rilla de­vours some junk food.

But did you know that these fab­u­lous fun games are dreamt up, de­signed and made in the heart of Nor­folk – along with hun­dreds of other tra­di­tional toys meant to ed­u­cate, en­gage and amuse lit­tle peo­ple?

The games and puz­zles made at Or­chard Toys at Wymondham are sold around the globe – and with the fes­tive sea­son in full swing, the pro­duc­tion line is buzzing with ac­tiv­ity and ex­cite­ment, mak­ing the presents which will have lit­tle chil­dren beam­ing with de­light come Christ­mas morn­ing.

“Man­u­fac­tur­ing hap­pens all year round but from around April time we will start to stock-build for Christ­mas and then in Oc­to­ber it re­ally kicks in and ev­ery­one is work­ing non-stop,” says mar­ket­ing man­ager Ali Brown.

The ethos of Or­chard Toys has al­ways been learn­ing made fun, and, says Ali, it re­mains at the core of their busi­ness.

“Ev­ery game needs a theme to cap­ture chil­dren’s imag­i­na­tions, good game play and clear ob­jec­tives. It also teaches them about shar­ing, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion and fol­low­ing rules. What also makes our games so suc­cess­ful is that of­ten they only take around 15 min­utes to play – not only great for lit­tle at­ten­tion spans but easy to fit into busy days for mums and dads.”

STEP ONE: IDEAS

There are five il­lus­tra­tors, two graphic de­sign­ers and a pro­duc­tion man­ager who come to­gether ev­ery week for a de­sign meet­ing to dis­cuss new ideas and on-go­ing prod­uct devel­op­ment and de­signs.

“They get ideas from ev­ery­where, things they see when they are out and about, or from chil­dren them­selves, or per­haps in­spi­ra­tion from mar­ket trends – like di­nosaurs at the mo­ment,” says Ali. “One of our team al­ways has a pen and pa­per by her bed as she al­ways wakes up in the night with new ideas.”

STEP TWO: TEST­ING IT

“Once we de­cide on a prod­uct, we start to de­velop the first pro­to­type and then start test­ing

them by go­ing into nurs­eries and schools,” she says. “We might think it’s great, but it needs to be com­pletely spot-on in terms of en­gag­ing the child and be­ing age ap­pro­pri­ate. The graph­ics and im­agery might grab the at­ten­tion of one age group, but we might find the game play is ac­tu­ally suit­able for a dif­fer­ent one. Af­ter test­ing it comes back to our team. Some­times we have got it right first time, other times fur­ther devel­op­ment is needed.”

STEP 3: PUTTING IT TO­GETHER

When the game is deemed ready for mar­ket, the art­work goes off to be printed, the only part of the process done else­where. The de­signs ar­rive back as huge flat sheets. Then around 25 staff put the com­po­nents to­gether, build­ing and pack­ing the game boxes and mak­ing sure all the bits are there, ready to go.

STEP 4: DIS­TRI­BU­TION

Once ready they go to dis­tri­bu­tion ready to be packed and dis­patched. “Our games and puz­zles go all over the world but we also have lots of sup­pli­ers lo­cally,” says Ali. “On­line shop­ping has changed the en­tire re­tail land­scape but we are still very sup­port­ive of our bricks and mor­tar stores who have been there for us since the start.”

With the fes­tive sea­son in full swing, the pro­duc­tion line is buzzing with ac­tiv­ity and ex­cite­ment, mak­ing presents which will have lit­tle chil­dren beam­ing with de­light

THE HIS­TORY OF OR­CHARD TOYS

When Keith Har­vey and his wife Mar­garet sat at their kitchen ta­ble al­most 50 years ago sand­ing down hun­dreds of pieces of woods to cre­ate sim­ple build­ing block sets, they couldn’t have imag­ined it would be the start of what has be­come one of the lead­ing ed­u­ca­tional toy com­pa­nies in the coun­try.

The cou­ple, who then lived in Not­ting­hamshire, had trans­formed part of their house into a nurs­ery called Or­chard House and be­gan think­ing of ways to pro­vide cheap but ed­u­ca­tional re­sources for the young chil­dren.

“Toys seemed so ex­pen­sive, so we asked the car­pen­ter who had done some build­ing work for us whether he had any left over wood which he could cut into sim­ple build­ing block shapes. He agreed, and it seemed such a good idea we of­fered them for sale to par­ents who used the nurs­ery,” says Keith. “We soon had 25 or­ders for the lit­tle boxes of bricks and promised de­liv­ery for Christ­mas. With a week or so to go, we took de­liv­ery of this huge pile of bricks, ready to pack­age. What we didn’t re­alise was that none of them had been sanded.

“So Mar­garet and I sat around the ta­ble sand­ing bricks for what seemed like for­ever, des­per­ately try­ing to get them all packed and out for Christ­mas. We laugh about it now! We made some sim­ple red boxes, with a pic­ture of our daugh­ter Char­lotte and one of her friends on the front, as well as a la­bel – Or­chard Toys – and that was our very first prod­uct.”

The car­pen­ter pro­vided more wood and they made some paint­ing easels and a few Wendy houses, and the idea of cre­at­ing a range of ed­u­ca­tional but fun toys was formed.

“One lit­tle boy in the school loved draw­ing but when his mum picked him up she would al­ways say what a mess his draw­ings were. We tried to think of ways we could help him so I made a sten­cilling kit, cre­at­ing sim­ple shapes he could draw round to make a lorry. We gave it to him and he did a bril­liant draw­ing. It was a great way for him to learn the skill of hold­ing and us­ing a pen­cil, while also giv­ing him en­cour­age­ment and con­fi­dence as he was achiev­ing some­thing.”

From this the cou­ple be­gan cre­at­ing lit­tle trac­ing sets and grad­u­ally be­gan to sell their fledg­ling range of prod­ucts to lo­cal stores, while de­vel­op­ing more prod­ucts. By the early 1970s they had added sim­ple colour match­ing and num­ber games to their range – and then came the brand’s most pop­u­lar game, even to­day – Shop­ping List. They moved their en­tire busi­ness to Wymondham in 2006 and it is now in the hands of their son-in-law and daugh­ter, Hugh and Char­lotte Beever.

“For us it has al­ways been es­sen­tial that our games have an ed­u­ca­tional el­e­ment as well as be­ing great fun,” says Keith. “It was key to our first prod­uct ideas nearly 50 years ago and it al­ways will be.”

ABOVE: Mar­ket­ing Man­ager Ali Brown

RIGHT, FROM TOP:The de­sign team work­ing on a new game for next year (from left; April Nash, de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor, Kevin Dob­son, de­sign stu­dio man­ager and Rowena Isotta-Day, de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor); games be­ing put in their boxes; the pro­cess­ing depart­ment; games be­ing packed ready to dis­patch

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