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Still no toys made in Britain

Dinky toys proudly stamped 'made in England'

Dinky toys proudly stamped ‘made in England’

With just one month away from our son’s 4th Birthday we are, for a second year, desperately looking for toys made in the UK. Unfortunately, it appears that 12 months has not improved the struggle we had last year.

It is one of our biggest disappointments with the current state of UK manufacturing that there are so few toys made in Britain. This is especially true because of the country’s previous dominance as a nation of toy makers. A dominance that lasted until the 1960’s/70’s, at which point the Far East became the centre of global toy manufacture. So, it is with some sadness that we must announce that toy manufacturing in the UK is still dead.

However, with the rising cost of manufacturing in Asia I predict that it will not be long before the toy manufacturers return. Sadly, this mass re-shoreing of the UK toy sector  is unlikely to occur before the 7th July (Lucan’s birthday). If anyone does know of any toys that are made in the UK would they please get in touch or comment below.

–  James

 

 

Where are all the British made toys???

michinatoysWith Christmas around the corner the continued struggle to find toys for Lucan has reached a frenzied crescendo. The amount of time and research we have put into finding anything he would like to play with must extend over weeks, with very little return. I am not sure that we have, even now, resolved what to get Lucan for Christmas.

There was a time when Hornby, Kiddicraft and Meccano all manufactured in the UK but sadly these, and many others, have relocated their manufacturing and/or been consumed by bigger foreign companies. Of course 80% of all toys are now made in China but not all European countries have suffered the same fate as the UK; Germany, Denmark and parts of Eastern Europe all still have a thriving manufacturing sectors.

So what happened here?

The Americans first succumbed to the lure of cheaper manufacturing costs in the 1960. Mostly importing from Japan and then by the end of the 80’s their imports were dominated by China. The UK followed this trend and the mid 90’s we had caught up with the Americans in closing our factories and importing the vast majority of our toys from the Chinese.

However, it is not all bad news. Orchard Toys have been flying the flag for British games for a long time now and, what is best is that there products are readily available. Alongside these are Dice Maestro, Zombie and others also producing card-based games. Merrythought is also a famous name making high quality, highly collectable, teddy bears for over 80 years.

trunki-tipu-tiger-front_1But what is more exciting still is that there are signs of ‘green shoots’ growing in the wasteland of British toy making. In 2012/13 Airfix bought some of their production back from China in the form of their junior Quick Build Kits. So, indeed, have Trunki, the makers of the ride-on luggage of Dragons Den fame. This may be jumping the gun slightly but could this be the start of a once great British toy industry’s resurrection? Maybe/maybe not, but it does go to prove that we have capacity to make mass-market plastic toys. We only wish there was more.

As for this year, it is looking like Lucan’s stocking is not going to be bulging with British made toys as we would have hoped. This is obviously a real shame and perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of our project to buy British.

–    Emily

Tyme Again Role Play Toys

Toys

We have just had an interesting trip to Bluewater and there was one aspect of the trip that we felt deserved a post all of its own. That is the issue of a lack of British made children’s toys.toys

It would seem that buying British made toys is an impossible task. We visited Hawkins Bazaar, which was filled to the rafters with noisy, flapping and brightly coloured gadgets, non of which are made in the UK (or at least that we could see). Lucan inevitably picked up a load of stuff all produced in China which,when we had to escape this sensory overload, we had to wrestle off him. As you can imagine this ended in Lucan screaming and kicking as we fought our way through the far too narrow isles.

We next went John Lewis, which we felt might be a better bet to find British made toys. However, this was not to be the case. Having turned over every box  it seemed like every country was represented but the UK. There were small plastic toys made in Germany, novelty items made in Poland and well known favorites made in the Scandinavian counties. But the overwhelming majority were made in China – even the John Lewis own brand stuff. Rather depressingly even the old British favorites, like Corgi cars and Hornby trains, are now produced in the Far East.

orchard_toys_logoLucan picked up a toy tractor and a stuffed Paddington bear, both of which were not British. We were desperate to find something to negotiate these two items away from him. We did find one saving grace, Orchard Toys, who produce books and jigsaw puzzles. Using all of our parental negotiation skills and some slight-of-hand we got him to the till with just the Orchard Toys tractor puzzle.

It has to be said that this made us both feel really rubbish. We knew that there were things on offer that Lucan would have loved but could not have because of our self imposed rules. It was really hard not to relent when he was fawning over these, perfectly nice toys.

Moving forward, the concern for us is that Britain just might not make fun toys for kids anymore. More generally you can find plenty of twee wooden trains, and the Orchard Toys puzzles are great, but where is the proper toy manufacturing in this country?231202216

We have already seen in our search for all things British this year that we can make molded plastic items, electrical components and of course we know we are good at traditional wooden items. Why then are there not companies making toys for the children of the UK to play with? Why are companies like John Lewis outsourcing even their production of wooden toys to Indonesia and China, a mainstay of traditional British toy manufacturing? We would love to know.

Factory Tour: Stevenson Brothers – The Finest Rocking Horses in the World

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting the workshop of Stevenson Brothers, the makers of, what are widely regarded as, the best rocking horses in the world. I also had an opportunity to meet the charismatic owner and founder of this creative business, Marc Stevenson himself.

My invitation to the factory was arranged by Family Business Place, an organisation committed to helping British family businesses. I must firstly thank them for this rare opportunity.

Stevenson Brothers, as the name suggests, was started by two siblings with an ambition to create the world’s finest rocking horses. 30 years later it is clear that Marc and Tony Stevenson’s vision is now a reality. Their client list reads more or less like a copy of Who’s Who, and even Her Majesty herself can boast of owning no less than five Stevenson horses.

You would be wrong in assuming these luxury items are just for kids. The vast majority of their sales are for a more grown-up audience. Marc himself describes them as being more akin to pieces of sculpture than toys, and it is easy to see why. The attention to detail is outstanding, especially if you have the financial means to commission a rocking version of your own real horse. In these instances the colouring is meticulously matched and every equine marking is beautifully captured in wood and paint.

Everything about these horses is hand crafted –  from the carving to the painting and even all of the leatherwork. In fact the attention to detail is so great that the saddles are basically real saddles, but in miniature.

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Each horse is hand painted. Here the stippling is being added to a beautiful gray mimicking the pattern on a real horse.

However, these wonderful horses are made to be ridden. In fact Marc claims to ride a rocking horse everyday – at which point he duly demonstrated this fact by jumping on one and slowly rocking back and forth. Once the surreal image of a middle aged man astride a rocking horse has been given time to become reality in your mind, it appears to be a lot of fun… and I can confirm it is! I have to admit to having a little go myself. Mark made some excuse that riding a rocking horse each day was somehow beneficial to his back problems. I am tempted to believe that this is a bit of an excuse. I think if I owned one I might be tempted to have a canter each morning too.

Stevenson Brothers remain in their original workshop in Bethersden in Kent where it was founded some 30 years earlier with a £1000 loan and a lot of bravado. It was a real privilege to get to see behind the scenes of this fantastically fun British manufacturer but they also have a showroom/museum displaying some of their finest creations. So, if you ever find yourself in the wildes of Kent and fancy a ride, drop into Stevenson Brothers and gallop away on a wooden horse.

– James

If you can get over the annoying voice-over here is an American episode of ‘How it’s made’ athe the workshop:

 

 

 

 

Hornby on brink of collapse – A warning to other manufacturers

hornby-ENDOFTHELINE

Following a 3rd profit warning in just 5 months Hornby’s chief executive, Richard Ames, has quit the ailing British firm. Is this the end for one of Britain’s best loved manufacturers and can anything be learnt from their current situation?

Hornby, which also makes Airfix kits, Corgi cars and Scalextric, have produced children’s toys since the early part of the 20th century. Until the 1999 they produced most of their product lines in the UK but subsequently moved all of their manufacturing to China. It would seem that, despite desperate attempts to move some production back in 2012, it is the unreliability of their Chinese manufactures that is set to toll the death knell for Hornby. The irony of this will be in the event that Hornby does go under, I would be willing to bet that it will be the Chinese that buy it!

Hornby have struggled to consistently get its products out of China and into European stores for the last few years, despite going to the length of changing Chinese factories in 2014. These stories of businesses struggling to get stock out of China are not new to us. We have heard from business owners of, start-ups specifically, that were lured to China by the promise of low unit prices only to be hit by low quality or delayed stock. Such delays can have devastating effects for fledgling businesses and, as we can see in the case of Hornby, more established companies too.

Another downfall to Chinese manufacturing, particularly, is the potential threats against  intellectual property. Again, we have heard first-hand from businesses that have produced in China only to find knock-off’s being produced in the very same factory utilising their innovations. What is more, there is very little you can do about it.

We are not saying that anything produced in China is bad. In fact, it can, and does work very well for some businesses. But, if you are thinking about producing abroad, don’t say that you have not been warned of the dangers and made effort to protect yourself.

As for Hornby, James May, the Top Gear presenter, has recently attempted to encourage his followers to buy a Hornby train set to save the company. We would say that you perhaps opt for one of their Quickbuild kits made at the Plastech factory in Sussex instead.

From Sunday Telegraph 13/9/15: The British Family’s guide to buying British

20150913_193343We were interviewed for part of a feature about one journalists efforts to buy British for a week in last Sundays Telegraph. For those that bought the paper there was actually a far larger article and a buying British quiz in the online version (We only got 9 our of 11 in the quiz). Anyway, we were asked to provide a brief bullet point guide to buying British…. so here it is:

Toys

Unlike in the 1950s and 1960s, there are very few British toy manufacturers around anymore. One of the few you are likely to find on the high street is Orchard Toys, which makes a wide range of fun and educational games and puzzles. There’s also Merrythought, which makes high quality teddy bears in the UK.

English wine

Once derided, English wine is now cool. Many of our own vineyards are producing wines of a world beating standard, especially some of the sparkling wines. From large producers like Denbies to smaller makers like The Squerryes Estate, there are many fantastic bottles on offer.

GB Sauce

It might surprise many that HP sauce is made in Holland but do not despair. New kids on the block, GB Sauce, make their whole range in the UK… plus they all taste fantastic.

Rapeseed oil

Unlike olive oil, it is easy to buy British produced rapeseed oil in all of the major supermarkets. Brands like Farrington and Hill Farm can be found quite easily and add a distinctly nutty flavour to meals.

Fake Britannia

Don’t be fooled by the Union flag on products. This does not mean that it is made in Britain. Look for the specific words “Made in Britain” or even our own made in Britain logo which is now used by more than 700 British manufacturers.

Made in Italy

Just some of the things we found marked 'made in Italy'

Just some of the things we found marked ‘made in Italy’

Don’t worry, we have not turned out back on all things British made, but we have just come back off our first foreign family holiday in 5 years. Our plan was to forget all about our day jobs, the British Family Fayre, the Britipedia directory, the made in Britain logo and our various British manufacturing campaigning projects to simply relax for one week in the sunshine of southern Italy. However, old habits die hard.

Today we traveled back from the wonderful island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples. Lucan spent just about every waking moment in the swimming pool and actually swam for the firm time unaided in the luxurious thermal pool at our chosen hotel. We all ate our fill of fantastically fresh food and enjoyed the welcoming hospitality of our Italian hosts. In short, while we have had a fantastic holiday. However, it was hard, while there, not to begin to draw some parallels between what the Italians appear to have preserved that we, in the UK, seem to have all but lost.

First off it is clear that the Brits’ and the Italians’ relationships to food differ wildly. The Italians have an obvious reverence for their home grown produce. We ate nothing but fresh, seasonal meat, fish, fruit and veg at every meal. There were also delis filled to the brim with nothing but local ingredients. One deli in particular we visited, the owner was passionate and knowledgeable about his products beyond what I have ever experience in the UK. He even produced his own fabulous cheese at the back of the shop. No one will perhaps be surprised that the food we ate was, without exception, grown in Italy (could a tourist to the UK say the same?). But what really took us aback was the quantity and range of stuff in shops that was stamped ‘made in Italy’.

While we wanted to leave it all behind for a week, our habit of picking stuff up and looking where it was made stuck with us throughout our trip. And it felt like everything we looked at was proudly emblazoned with the made in Italy stamp. From toiletries to clothing and from playing cards to hair dryers they were all made domestically. It certainly became clear to us that the Italians have not given up on, or casually sold off, their manufacturing as we have. One of the big surprises for us was going into a toyshop to buy Lucan a gift, him falling in love with a plastic model boat and it having the words made in Italy on impressed on the bottom. I challenge you to go into any high street toyshop in the UK and find anything made in Britain. You will be looking a very long time I assure you.

Of course the high street on Ischia still had a great number of Far Eastern imports but I would say they were outnumbered 2-1 by Italian made products. This is a startling contrast to UK high streets where perhaps less than 1% of anything you find will be British made. This seems to be fulled by a consumer demand and passion for Italian made, or Italian grown, products.  A mindset that is lacking in the majority of the British population. It has always been our contention that it would be consumer demand that would drive the manufacturing revolution here in the UK. Our trip to Italy has reaffirmed this to us.

Back from Italy refreshed an energised we are more keen than ever to get the UK buying British.

– James

The Made In Britain Logo in Action

We launched the made in Britain logo just a few months ago and we are already being contacted by proud UK manufacturers with images of how they are using it.

If you are using the logo please email us (james@briitishfamily.co.uk) and we will feature your image here and on social media.

Featured in the gallery are:

Balmoral Knitwear
Inhouse
Lisa Watson Quilts
Classic Curtains
Charlesworth & son
Chevron Bags by Amber Allen
Arctic Cabins
Faulkner London
Toyday Toyshop Ltd
Earthwise Products Ltd
Salix Alba Skincare
Pronto Paints

The British Family Christmas Gift Guide 2014

Our Christmas Gift Guide last year was really popular and we are now being constantly pestered to provide offer our guide for 2014. With just 2 weeks lest until to big day here are some suggestions for British made gifts your family will love you for!

City-of-Zombies-Box-Front21City of Zombies

Voted by the Independent as one of the best educational toys for Christmas 2014 City of Zombies is a board game for ages 5 and up. These guys came to our British Family Fayre this year and the never before have I seen kids so engaged in maths.

Available online £29.99 here>>>  

 

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Sockmine Roys Boys

Socks are a dads festive favourite  and there is no excuse to not buy British. The Roys Boys range of socks from Sockmine are subtly mismatched and available in a rainbow of colours.

Available online from £8.00 here>>>

 

 

CARBONCANS-BLK_GLD-45-500x500Angle & Curve Carboncans Headphones

We love British made electronics and this latest offering from Angle & Curve is no exception. These fabulously designed headphones are a winner for the music aficionado in your life.

Available online priced £119.99 here>>>

 

 

EDITION-SCOTLAND-TARTAN-BLK1_largeEdition Scotland Tartan Scarf

Edition Scotland make their scarves  from the softest Scottish spun cashmere, knitted and hand finished in the Scottish Borders. Perfect for keeping Grandad warm this winter!

Available online priced from £159.00 here>>>

 

 

katie-jane-scented-candle-tumbler-glass-signature-range-98-p[ekm]160x90[ekm]Katie Jane Scented Candles

Hand made just down the road from us in Kent these scented candles are sure to be a hit with Mum this Christmas. Available in a range of scents to suit any mood.

Available online priced from £15.00 here>>> 

174b9bf5bf68e9735f4aba1688083d56Twinkle Bespoke Play Tent

Creative play is hugely important to small children and these play tents would be a great gift for any small child… but the best bit…. they can be totally personalised!

Available online priced from £100.00 here>>>

 

 

IMG_6822_mediumMolly and Monty Baby Grow

Looking for a gift for a new born this Christmas then look no further. Molly and Monty produce a great range of British made baby clothes.

Available online priced from £13.00 here>>>

 

 

141jr_purple_black_purple-2_custom_largeEttinger Stirling Wallet

This British bank note inspired wallet is a real touch of luxury for someone that has been a very good boy this year. And by owning this they will be in very good company. Ettinger supply to Prince Charles himself no less.

Available online priced £194.00 here>>>

 

 

3CpAnPAJV2WWCxMVokt6HrnDZ9cFire Faerie Necklace

Fire Faerie Designs produce a vast range of glass jewellery all handmade in Norwich.  If you are stuck for a gift idea for the mother-in-law then you cannot go wrong here.

Item show is available online priced £55.00 here>>>

 

 

rainbow-30L-trug-riddleRainbow Trugs Rainbow Riddle

As the name suggests these garden riddles come in as many colours as you can imagine. Made from durable plastic this is a British made trug that converts to a garden riddle. A great gift for those that are green fingered.

Available online from £24.99 here>>> 

 

 

2-505-cake-monster-game-1432-standardOrchard Toys Cake Monster Game

Orchard toys are an annual festive favourite in our house. This Cake Monster game combines education and fun perfectly and Lucan loves it.

Available online priced £9.50 here>>>

 

 

If you have suggestions for great British made gifts please comment below.

– Emily

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