Learning from role play is a staple in the education of children. But Gemma Turnbull and Michelle Anderson have formed their successful business around the premise, creating a miniature version of their hometown as a play centre for local children.

Gemma tells us more about the business, how the idea came about and what winning a North Tyneside Business Award means to the team at Littley Bay.

Tell us a little bit more about Littley Bay

Littley Bay is a business idea that came to me about nine years ago. I bored my friends to death talking about my ideas for the business, but I never had the courage, finances or health to take the idea forward. I did lock down the name, bought a domain name and opened an email account back then, though. I also went through intellectual property to protect the name, so I knew deep down that it was something I really wanted to pursue, as soon as the time was right.

That time came when my husband was playing golf with Michelle’s husband and happened to mention the business idea to him – the rest fell in to place and Littley Bay opened in 2019.

Littley Bay, based on Marine Avenue in Whitley Bay, is a play centre with a difference. It’s based around role play and provides opportunities for children to use their imaginations in a mini version of our hometown of Whitley Bay. Albert Einstein once said: “Play is the highest form of research.” He was right, and we have built a centre for children to exercise their imaginations, play creatively and learn while they’re doing it.

Michelle and I are both local mums as well as educators and we understand that the first seven years of a child’s life are crucial to their development. We also know how exhausting parenting is, so we’ve designed Littley Bay to be a haven for both children and their carers. Adults can relax with a good cuppa while their children learn through play in a pretty, coastal and locally themed play environment.

We’ve worked with loads of Whitley Bay’s businesses to feature them in our centre, and our customers, large and small, seem to love role playing Whitley Bay life.

Our first year has been fantastic. Our team has grown from three to ten and we’re currently recruiting for more team members. We’ve developed links with local schools for work experience and employment opportunities, as well as working with nurseries and first schools to support the curriculum. We want to be an important part of our local community.

How did you come to apply for the Leisure and Tourism Award?

We were encouraged to apply for the Award by our business support contact at The Business Factory, Tracy Clarkson. We didn’t have any expectations of being shortlisted, but we thought we’d give it a go.

What does winning the award mean to your business?

We still can’t quite believe it! The award means the world to us and really helped to give us a solid grounding to build our business further. It’s also given us the confidence to know we are making the right decisions.

We’re massively inspired to keep growing and build on the good we’ve done so far – it proves to us that the impossible might just be possible. We’ve reached new customers and contacts who we didn’t know before as a result of winning the award and has helped us reflect on the hours of hard work we’ve put into the business, not to mention the sacrifices we’ve made along the way. Hearing our name announced as the winner of the award was really special – it’s a moment we’ll treasure forever.

We’re so grateful to our team, our customers and the many individuals and businesses who have helped us to get here.

What are your plans for the business?

There are so many! We’d love to expand and franchise our Little Town of Play. We always plan to do good within our community and we’re looking to develop curriculum-based programmes of work with local schools, as well as supporting disadvantaged children and adults. We hope to give support to areas that are close to our hearts, such as single parenting issues, assisting children with addition needs, Dads networks…

We have collaborated with some iconic local businesses and have created little areas which help advertise their businesses.

We’d love to develop our menu to include evening services so that families can have a nice meal out while the children enjoy our play area. We’re developing a toy shop which will sell quality and sustainable toys, books and locally made goods, many made by some of the local Mums we know.

We’ve gone on to be nominated for three more awards on a national level too. The Family Business Awards, the What’s on for Kids award and the HOOP awards. We’ll carry on championing our local area and working with more of our region’s amazing businesses.

What’s the best thing about running a business in North Tyneside?

Being part of such a warm, welcoming and supportive network of businesses. There’s so much business support available and we have incredible customers too. Dreams really do come true when you live in North Tyneside – there’s a real sense of community with people pulling together to make our area a better place to live. We’re incredibly proud to be a part of it.

Find out more about Littley Bay at https://www.littleybay.co.uk/

To register your interest for the 2020 North Tyneside Business Awards, please visit https://northtynesidebusinessawards.co.uk/register-interest/

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