Fleetwood's Toy Story - HTI is the UK's biggest independent toy maker

Emma Mayoh was Santa's Little Helper for the day when she visited the UK's biggest independent toy maker PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON

If you’re a parent or grandparent, it’s possible you’ve already spent hours wracking your brains for that all-important toy – the one that is going to be at the top of every child’s Christmas list. After all, you don’t want to end up buying something that’s just Doggie Do, do you?

Sorry, I’m not being rude. Believe it or not, the hot toys for this Christmas include a plastic pooch that does its business in coloured plasticine. Ugh.In search of a rather more perfect present, I headed to Fleetwood, where I was given the chance to revisit my childhood. Yes, for a couple of hours I was allowed to be a big kid.

HTI is a Lancashire company, which is one of the largest manufacturers of toys in Europe with worldwide sales. So far this year Peppa Pig, Hello Kitty and many of their own brands have netted sales in excess of �70 million.

I set off hoping that at the grand old age of 31 I hadn’t lost my sense of fun and I would slip back into those happy days spent playing with Care Bears and My Little Pony. However, I have to admit that within a few seconds of picking up the first toy at HTI, I was totally lost. The challenge had been to use the JCB dumper truck and I failed miserably. I was just clueless what to do with it.

The JCB workbench suited me as much as the tiny hard hat and safety goggles. In other words, not much. But then I realised my mistake. I was looking at them through adult eyes.

Once I’d learned that it was quite acceptable to bash everything in my path in my motorised JCB tractor and loader – although it’s possible I may have been the only one – things got a lot more fun.

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As I whizzed around the HTI showroom, filled with utter glee – things got even better. The bright pink Hello Kitty bicycle was glinting in the corner. This was a brand I loved as a kid and like an excited three-year-old again I jumped on it, determined to make my get away. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, my legs were too long and I managed to move along at a snail’s pace only able to move the pedals half a turn before reluctantly having to back pedal. I may not have made it out of the building but it was a lot of fun.

What was noticeable was that many, if not all of the toys at HTI, didn’t involve being glued to a screen. They were interactive, exciting and most of all sociable. It is this ethos that is important to the company, according to Andrew Coplestone, licensing director and one of the three owners of HTI, first set up in Blackpool almost 60 years ago.

‘We want children to learn from our toys,’ he said. ‘We spend a lot of time coming up with the designs so we want them to not only captivate the children but we want them to be educational as well as encourage social characteristics.

‘The toys also change with lifestyles too. Next year, we’re launching a bakery and deli range because food is so popular at the moment.’You might expect, as one of the owners of a big toy company, that Andrew’s children would have wanted for nothing when they were growing up. When one of his sons, Chris, bought a toy gun at the Great Eccleston Show, Andrew was convinced the 19-year-old was too old for such pursuits.

He said: ‘He told me that he never got any toys when he was little. It was only then I realised the children had always had other things because people always presumed they’d have a mountain of toys. He was making up for lost time and he constantly teases me about it. He seems to be getting a lot of enjoyment out of that.’

It goes to show you’re never too old to enjoy playing with toys.

Celebrate the Christmas present

Every year the Toy Retailers’ Association releases a list of the top 12 Christmas toys.

The Doggie Doo, a plastic dachshund that poops coloured plasticine when you squeeze its lead (pictured), is at the top spot. If you’re not too keen, here are some others on the list

Fijit Friends: an electronic friend with a squishy body that loves to chat and make you laugh. Sensors mean it will dance along with you as well as respond to you with other movements, phrases and jokes.

Fireman Sam - Pontypandy Multi Rescue Set: Open the play set and help put out the building fires with the hose, save naughty Norman when he traps his head in the railings and help Sam get the cat down from the tree!

Kidizoom Twist: A two megapixel camera for your child to take pictures and movies of their friends and themselves. It also has voice recording with five different voice changing effects

LeapPad Explorer: More than 100 games, book apps and videos. This gadget has a built –in camera as well as interactive e-books, an animation studio and children can also record their own story.

Lets Rock Elmo: This cheeky Sesame Street character comes with a microphone, a tambourine and a drum set. Choose which Elmo plays, and he magically recognises which one you give him. Kids can also play along on Elmo’s instruments.

Milky the Bunny: This snow white bunny has moving eyes, nose, ears and ticklish feet. Its belly grumbles when it’s hungry and calls when it is ready to play.

Monster High Lagoona’s Hydration Station: This fun play set is also a bedroom accessory, including Lagoona and her hydration station, her pet neptuna with eye mask plus accessories.oshling Treehouse: The perfect abode for your Moshlings, with lots of hideaway places and a basket lift for them to play on.

Nerf Vortex Nitron Blaster: The first fully automatic, clip fed disc blaster in the Nerf Vortex line, features a removable clip that can hold up to 20 discs, an electronic targeting scope accessory, a front handle to help steady your shots, and the tactical rail system.

The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Lancashire Life 

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