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.

Comments

  1. I live in Todmorden (Calderdale, striding across East Lancashire and West Yorkshire). we have a toy maker here. They mostly use wood. Are you interested in their details?

  2. steve says:

    I love trains and the models their of. It broke my heart when Hornby went to China production.We are generally told this happens because the consumer wants cheaper products, I am a consumer and have never said that, or been asked if this was the case. I think Frank Hornby must be spinning very fast, when he sees what has been done to his Meccano and Hornby empire. rant over.

    • admin says:

      Can you ever imagine Lego not being made in Denmark? We have been too willing to sell out perhaps.

      • Sorry to be pedantic, but I must correct you here.
        Although LEGO’s headquarters are in Denmark LEGO is made in factories all over the world: Denmark, Hungary, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, China (Yes, China!) and Mexico. Often, bricks are produced in one country, and then shipped to another to be printed on or packaged.

  3. We have a toy shop locally to us and he makes wooden toys as well as importing them in. Interesting we popped in just before Christmas and he said he was glad he was making his own toys as his European suppliers were letting him down!

  4. Sandy says:

    I live in Birmingham and Chad Valley toys is only a short walk away but they closed in the 1970s – but this brand is now only available through Argos – again outsourced. I think the main reason why we don’t make toys is the concept of “shareholder value” – that is make as much profits for the shareholder as you can. No care to the customer or workforce. That us why we don’t make things here anymore

  5. Your experiences are a sad reflection of the demise of British manufacturing.

    I really hope that David Cameron is following your blog – he might understand that a manufacturing revival is a far better way to get our economy back on track as opposed to constant slash & burn austerity measures. It might create a few jobs too!

    The same applies to agriculture. I’m getting sick of searching my supermarket for a joint of British bacon buried under a heap of imported Danish and Dutch meat (the origin of which is probably doubtful).

    • steve says:

      More jobs making things to sell, more money, no need for austerity measures…….

    • annon says:

      i couldnt agree more with whats wrote above by hcip the duck

    • chris m says:

      People will not pay the prices for British made goods while they can buy cheap Chinese made trash! That is a fact, price is everything to most people, they cannot see that by buying Chinese goods of any type they are costing Britain jobs – Cameron or Milliband cannot do anything about those facts it is down to the people to support British industry whenever possible. Personally I will NEVER buy Chinese goods of any description, much rather go without than give them my money!

  6. Very sympathetic to this issue. You very deliberately avoid naming a certain Scandinavian manufacturer of what must arguably be one of the world’s most successful toy products. These are probably produced using high tech, 3D Cad design skills, (in country) and manufactured using hi-tech injection moulding machines (in country), using raw material quite probably sourced in Europe. A perfect example of what the UK ought to be able to do – if we can’t compete at the hand made level with wooden toys. A recent example of a rather sophisticated “toy” at the upper end of the age range is the Raspberry Pi, but you would be amazed to see the trials and tribulations they have gone through, as a charity, to get the product assembled in the UK.

    Good luck with your ongoing search……..

  7. steve says:

    Just a thought, Merrythought make teddys in England (est. 1930) and I think Dean’s to.

  8. I felt this very same thing during xmas just past. My daughter must have aquired neally 2 dozen various bits chinese plastic and it made me think that surely with the amount of toys that are sold at christmas in this country there must be some area of the market that can be competed with by UK manufacturing, but after quite abit of looking about it appears not. It’s a very sad state of affairs :o(

  9. I completely agree. This country has lost it’s way in self production. Too easy to buy ready made elsewhere. I firmly believe our factories should be reopened and things like British rail, British telecom, British gas should all be brought back into UK hands. We have the facilities, the experience and the man power to produce for our own country so why don’t we?

    • chris m says:

      That will never work, we had years of those industries which were useless, you had to wait 3 months for a phone line, no mobiles, computers or iPads would have been around without Private companies. Costs would be very high, unions would soon destroy everything just as they did before. No Private is the only way and as for toys and other goods if Britons keep buying cheap Chinese trash then we will never get manufacturing back here – we need to buy British whenever possible!

  10. Nicola Karn says:

    There are plenty of pages on facebook that make toys. Have a look and see what you think.

  11. annon says:

    i think this british thing your doing is fantastic! and iam really enjoying reading about your experiences! i try to buy british when ever possible and am happy to pay more for products from the UK so thats our money stays in our country! I am finding your list of british suppliers very helpfull 🙂
    I really wish the governement would back a scheme (a bit like what mary portas suggested whem she started manufacturing knickers up north) where it makes it easier for us as consumers to know what we are buying is truelly british! all it would take would be a symbol or something on all this products produced in the UK! why cant they see if we can bring manufacturing back to the UK we would be helping to solve many of our other problems?! it doesnt seem rocket science to me!
    I shall continue to read about your experiences!

    • The scheme you would like to see existed in the late 60s. Google “I’m Backing Britain”.

      The government backed it and the logo was emblazoned on all manner of goods in the shops. I remember it well – and it worked, radically reducing our adverse balance of payments.

      However, we are not allowed to run a similar campaign now as it is banned under EU law, which of course subsumes British law. EU members have to have a level playing field, although no one has told the French.

      I won’t elaborate on my opinion of the EU. Let’s just say I’ll be voting UKIP at the next election.

      But you can have a look at http://chiptheduck.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/does-anyone-support-the-european-union/ if you want to back Britain.

      • steve says:

        I remember “I’m backing Britain” still have the badge somewhere (made in Britain)

      • annon says:

        thats interesting to know as I am afraid I am too young to remember the 60’s! trust the EU to stick their noses in!! I dont know why we have a governmet here if the EU are just going to dictate to us what we can or cant do! I too shall be voting UKIP!

        • annon says:

          I am pretty sure other countries round the world look at us hard working british tax payers and think we have “mugs” tattooed on our foreheads!

          • …and I think they are right annon. From my side it reads “GUM” 🙂

          • chris m says:

            Afraid its the same in America, everyone buying cheap Chinese trash goods that last a week or two at best! No work there either, when you have a billion Chinese people working for a bowl of rice a day there is no way we can compete except by paying more for British made goods!

      • If you look at other member states (Germany, Denmark, France, Poland, etc.), they have no trouble keeping toy manufacturing in their own countries and are the home of popular toys. It’s easier to blame EU leglislation than to look at the real problem: Too many British companies are more interested in short-term gain than quality.

  12. I am the MD of a toy retailer. I hadn’t seen your post until after I wrote my own on our own website this afternoon – having seen you on Breakfast TV this morning. You’ll see what I said here – http://www.mulberrybush.co.uk/blog/index.php/2013/04/04/toys-made-in-britain/ and you’ll see I guessed you’d be struggling to find British made toys. It is one of my big disappointments that, over the last few years, so much of the British toy manufacturing industry has entirely disappeared and, sadly, it’s all down to cost. Toy production is expensive and toy safety testing incredibly so – and made more and more complicated by increasingly tough EU legislation, in some respects more stringent than applies to the aircraft industry for example. Unfortunately we’re now in a position where, so far as I can tell in conversation with manufacturers, they simply can’t risk the high costs of switching back to the UK, even though many of them would probably prefer to. And consumers are now so used to the modest prices of the toys they buy that they would balk at the inevitable price-hikes that UK manufacturing would mean. A very sad state of affairs – but keep the pressure up !.
    Jonathan Copeland

  13. I am the inventor of BOX4BLOX, an innovative storage solution for keeping Lego type blocks organised and we make our product in Britain using a contract plastic manufacturer in Wales. We sell it exclusively online, using Amazon FBA to handle our orders and distribution. We also do the same thing in the US, by shipping our moulds across the Atlantic to a contract manufacturer there. The ironical thing is we live in New Zealand, but have recognised early the way the Internet is changing the way things work in the world. I enjoy nothing more than reading articles written by large retailers PR departments squealing how online sales are hurting the local retail economy, when in reality it is these supporting Asian sweatshops that has totally undermined the entire local manufacturing industry. The question needs to be asked where are the real jobs, in retailing selling cheap Asian made products, or in manufacturing making high quality local made goods. Maybe the answer is in devising a company tax system whereby the more people you employ and the more product you export, you pay less tax. It sounds complicated, but in this day and age a computer could work it out in seconds.

  14. We are massive fans of the Bradsaws. As Toy shop owners, we have faced this challenge of trying to source products as close to home as possible, and sadly only about 40% of our wooden toys are currently manufactured in Europe, and as little as 5% is manufactured in this country. We would love to get in touch with any British toy makers out there, so if there are any reading this, please do contact us as we would dearly love to turn this figure the other way round!
    In the meantime, we have managed to source these beautiful wooden rocking horses, made hand in Surrey and 100% British! http://www.toyday.co.uk/shop/index.php?searchStr=gentle+rocker&act=viewCat&Submit=Search
    Keep up the good work!

  15. It is not a matter of whether one can make toy here in UK or not. It is a matter of how much people are willing to spend on toys. If you have a UK made toy that cost £25, next to the exact same toy made in a factory in China with the same safety standards at £10, how many of you will buy the £25 toy? Well, I can tell you, not enough! I started an ethical, eco friendly toy distribution company in UK and nearly starved, lost my house and all the money I had because not enough of you believed in buying ethical and eco friendly… I have had to adapt my company with what the market want. I am still careful with the factory and suppliers we use. I visit the factories to check. Toys made in Britain will only come back when it is no longer economic to make toys overseas.

    • I agree that the average UK consumer has lost touch with the true cost of manufacture and that the UK finds it difficult to complete in certain sectors. I am sure that you know more about this that we we do but I do find it difficult to believe that it is impossible to make a toy in the UK at a reasonable price point. I would certainly relish the challenge of giving it a go.

      • Thierry, sadly, you are absolutely right; The UK market is currently far too small to make any kind of decent living out of British made toys (and many other items). I also blame the likes of Poundland and B&M, which makes consumers believe that buying products for unrealistically low prices is “normal”. The best place we can put our efforts is into re-educating our customers, by teaching the real value of things.

        Toys should not be purchased on price alone, but the actual play value and environmental impact of the toys should also be considered. I dread to think how much cheap Chinese plastic junk and batteries end up in landfill after being played with for hours rather than years. Kids have far too many toys these days. Surely it is better to have two or three treasured and played with expensive toys, than a room full of tiny plastic ignored pieces of random junk.

        We need more families to live by the standards of the Bradshaws, and stop buying this imported rubbish, but for people to do this do this, we need to offer alternatives. We have just invested in premises and machinery to start producing our own toys and games here in Cornwall, and we will have planned to add 42 more 100% British manufactured lines to our Toyday shops and online at http://www.toyday.co.uk by December next year. I do fear that the market is not big enough and we’ll never see our investment back, but we have to try and fight this!

        • admin says:

          Adam, We would be very keen to discuss your plans to launch a range of British made. Anything we can do to help we will!

          • That’s great news, thank you. We are still in the early stages of development, but we would love to tell you about our exciting new plans and show you our new range once unveiled.

  16. As you like well made toys of quality, please do have a look at my campaign for real toys http://slowtoymovement.com/. We have had great success in getting good toys to major retailers like Selfridge’s, Harrods and this year John Lewis.

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