And its calm­ing ben­e­fits *Adult fans of Lego

First it was colour­ing-in books, now adults are turn­ing to plas­tic bricks to un­wind, finds Nick Hard­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - - Features & Arts -

My wife is stand­ing over me, shak­ing her head. She has just re­turned home from a two-day busi­ness trip to find that I’ve not made any din­ner, and the house is a mess.

“Talk to the hand,” I tell her, hold­ing up a cres­cent of yel­low plas­tic. “I’m in the zone.”

Ear­lier that af­ter­noon, I cracked open a box of Lego. Crack is the op­er­a­tive word – after four decades of ab­sti­nence, I have re­alised that Lego is ad­dic­tive.

“I’ve be­come an AFOL,” I ex­plain to my wife. “Yes, you have,” she says, mis­hear­ing me.

Not so long ago, few wanted to ad­mit to be­ing an adult fan of Lego (AFOL). But Lego is now rid­ing the mind­ful­ness wave, as adults turn to it as a form of nos­tal­gic cre­ative ex­pres­sion. Its web­site has an adult sec­tion where AFOLs can buy com­plex kits, cost­ing up to £650.

The com­mu­nity has its own meet­ings and in­ter­net fo­rums. They build mod­els of the Ti­tanic, and cre­ate full-sized, fully func­tion­ing slot ma­chines. They have their own char­ity, Fairy Bricks, which pro­vides Lego for chil­dren in hos­pi­tal. They even have their own am­bas­sador, Jeremy Wright, the Cul­ture Sec­re­tary.

Some AFOLs never stopped lov­ing Lego. Oth­ers, like pro­duc­tion man­ager Jack Daubey, 29, have re­dis­cov­ered it, after be­com­ing dis­il­lu­sioned with video games.

“Games are vi­o­lent and de­struc­tive, whereas you phys­i­cally cre­ate some­thing with Lego,” he says. “You start with a pile of bricks and end up with the Statue of Lib­erty.”

He also en­joys the so­cial side, and is part of The Brick­ish As­so­ci­a­tion. “I have a 14-month-old son now, so it’s dif­fi­cult fit­ting Lego around his sched­ule,” he adds, “but my wife is into it too, so after he goes to bed we spend time on it to­gether.”

AFOLs can be di­vided into three tribes: set builders, free builders and those, like Jack, who do a bit of both.

Set builders buy the boxed sets, rang­ing from tiny ve­hi­cles with fewer than 100 pieces, to feats of en­gi­neer­ing, such as the 6,000-piece, £350 Hog­warts Cas­tle.

Peter Morde­cai, 29, is a so­lic­i­tor and a set builder. Cur­rently, he is tack­ling one of Lego’s most iconic sets: the 7,500-piece Mil­len­nium Fal­con, which cost a mere £650. “I have a stress­ful job, so after a long day I build Lego,” he says. “It can be 10 min­utes or a cou­ple of hours. I have to limit my­self, though. It can take over your life.” And your house.

Free builders de­sign their own cre­ations, which are dis­played at con­ven­tions and on In­sta­gram.

Stock con­troller Daniel Jarvis, 37, has a “build room” in the loft of his Wilt­shire home, where 1.5mil­lion bricks are sorted by colour and type. “I’m not as or­gan­ised as some,” he ad­mits, “be­cause I still en­joy rum­mag­ing through a box, look­ing for a spe­cific piece. I find it re­lax­ing.”

This is a re­cur­ring theme among AFOLs. And the Lego Group – which, in March, re­ported its first drop in sales and prof­its in more than a decade – has been quick to cap­i­talise, launch­ing Lego Forma sets, specif­i­cally de­signed to help adults “dis­con­nect from the stress of life”.

I was ready to be cyn­i­cal about Lego’s ap­par­ent men­tal health ben­e­fits. But then I spoke to James, a teacher from Sur­rey.

“Four years ago, my wife and I lost two chil­dren through mis­car­riage,” he tells me. “I sup­ported my wife and bot­tled ev­ery­thing up. Then, out of nowhere, I be­came ill with de­pres­sion, post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and OCD. To try to calm down, I reached for the Lego I used to play with as a child.”

It worked. “It gave me a break from what was go­ing on in my mind,” ex­plains James, now fa­ther to an 18-month-old.

As a child, I re­mem­ber hap­pily build­ing for hours. My son, Lu­cas, 11, is also a Lego fan but rapidly reach­ing the same age when my love af­fair ended – re­placed by mu­sic and girls.

I turn to him for ad­vice. “You need to be pa­tient and pay at­ten­tion to de­tail,” he says. “It can be frus­trat­ing when you re­alise you’ve missed an im­por­tant piece.” For him, the ben­e­fit is two-fold: “I get a sense of achieve­ment and a toy to play with.”

As I look at the pieces in front of me, with the sound of my wife cook­ing her own din­ner in the back­ground, I re­alise I need to build some­thing else. Lone Lego isn’t for me. In­stead, I vow to sit down with my son, so we can en­joy the Lego ef­fect to­gether – while we still have time.

New build: Nick Hard­ing im­merses him­self in the world of the adult fan of Lego

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