For over 30 years the Metcalfe family has lived in a constant state of recreation.
Their toy store, Adventure Toys, is an independent store that has become a phenomenon for enthusiastic families and their children under the most unlikely of circumstances.
The toy store was established in 1989 on the site of Southolme Farm – which is in a remote North Yorkshire hamlet near Northallerton with a population of just 45 – when Belinda Metcalfe sought to diversify forms of income from the family farm.
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She had the perfect partners to check the quality of the products in her two daughters Louise and Emma, the former of whom is now involved in the co-operation of the store.
Belinda said: “The way farming was going back then wasn’t enough to support the whole family. It still isn’t!
“But I never imagined the toy business would take over so much. I just wanted to put something in place so that I didn’t have to work away from the two kids.”
Meanwhile – also showing the perks of working in a toy wonderland – Emma pursued a career in design that saw her work at Lego where she helped come up with ideas for sets, which seems to be the dream job for my younger self.
Additionally, expert advice is now provided by Charlie, Louise’s eight-year-old daughter, who is granted free reign of Aladdin’s toy cave and outdoor play sets available at Adventure Toys.
Belinda explained that she opened the store after seeing an ad for a toy maker in a farm newspaper at a time when she wanted to use an abandoned building at the entrance to the farm.
The rumor quickly spread and the business grew and became such that the store is now three times the size of it originally and there is a whole garden out front with a vast range of outdoor play areas for children.
Belinda said it has always been a key part of the store to make sure the toys are on display so that children can play with them and find out for themselves whether they like them or not.
She said, “Because the toys are out and there is a lot of space, kids can actually try out the toys and see how big they are and enjoy it.”
This has proven to be an extremely enjoyable growing environment for Belinda’s own children and is currently being exploited to the fullest by her granddaughter who is the “last toy tester”.
Belinda said: “These kids have had a play area in their backyard all of their lives.
“It’s always very difficult to buy birthday presents.”
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Some may enjoy the freedom to use the products though, with Belinda saying in the past she had to talk to groups of nannies and parents who brought their children to play on the device like a day. rather than as an expense expedition.
She said, “We were playing ‘spot fathers who have their kids for the day.” We had a case where the father was in the car reading the newspaper while the kids were going wild.
“We had to say that we are not a playground. If you want to go to a park, there is one down the road.”
There is a strict process for which toys the family brings to the store, with this emphasis on quality being another of their key goals.
Belinda said: “The benefit of getting them out is that the kids can come and play with them and you can see what’s popular and what isn’t.
“Toys should excite us. We are all children at heart. If they don’t work, we look at them again and think: what can we do differently? “”
Belinda and Louise visit toy conventions across Europe and America where they inspect the latest products from international companies, among which they have developed a glowing reputation as a “North Yorkshire Farm”.
They also have a loyal following, many of those who bring their children now having come when they were younger.
Belinda said she also liked to focus on traditional toys rather than “electronic gadgets,” which she said were in part detrimental to the growth of children.
She said: “The toys we sell are not the trendy ones and they don’t have batteries, but it’s amazing how fads like Brio trains keep coming back over and over again.
“It’s nice to feel that you have provided the children with something they will cherish and that will last into the next generation.
“We want to see children use their imaginations. It’s sad that they are forced to act older than they actually are.”
Louise said, “There has been a recent push to have STEM toys that you learn by playing that we are very supportive of.”
Plus, while the farm is “part of the fun” of visiting the toy store, the family likes to keep the two practices separate.
Louise said: “We have walking dogs and baby lambs but we are a toy store. We now make the point of not mentioning the farm.
“That doesn’t mean people don’t know us as a farm toy store yet.”
The coronavirus presented a number of issues for the company, but previous experience meant they were ready to face a lot of issues.
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Louise said: “We had to change all the activity when the foot-and-mouth disease happened and we introduced click and collect and started moving everything online.
“It actually helped in the long run and meant we were prepared when Covid arrived last year.
“Normally we would have a lot more toys on display to try out, but with Covid that’s not possible.”
But, despite a huge increase in demand for toys over the past year, other issues have been raised by Brexit and big companies like Amazon that have changed the landscape.
Louise said: “Amazon has taken a lot of business out of the Main Street toy stores. Very little is left and we are one of three independent toy stores in North Yorkshire.
“Getting inventory this year has been horrible. There has been such a demand for products, but European suppliers have not been able to keep up. There is also a lot of paperwork due to Brexit and some of the small manufacturers in Europe are not fully selling to Britain.
The company has adapted again and is now generating business by supplying spare parts and repair products for two toy companies in the country.
Belinda said: “It always changes. We always had to diversify, otherwise we would still be very small or be gone altogether.
“Give it six months and it will stall again. Our moans and moans will be different from moans and moans.”
To visit the Adventure Toys website, click here.