Forget the Wii, the train set is back

As people clamber to get hold of state-of-the-art video games, iPods and MP3 players, traders trying to sell more traditional goods could be excused for fearing the future.

As people clamber to get hold of video games, iPods and MP3 players, traders trying to sell more traditional goods could be excused for fearing for the future.

However, one independent shop owner in Lowestoft has seen a big increase in sales of his model trains and accessories to young and old.

Andrew Shepherd admits his shop, called Parrs, nearly went out of business 10 years ago, so this year's increase in Christmas trade of 20pc, compared to the same period last year, has proved a huge boost -

particularly when other shopkeepers have been blaming the town's

ongoing roadworks for a big drop in business.

Customers from as far afield as America, Canada and Australia, along with a loyal clientele from around East Anglia, have ensured there is still a market for the hobby of constructing and running train sets - even in the hi-tech world of the 21st century.

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Mr Shepherd, 61, who has worked in the family shop for 45 years, said he believed his brand of traditional model shop was now almost unique in the region, making him optimistic about the future.

"Ten years ago I almost went out of business, but now I'm doing well and I'm being left to run my business without strong competition," he said.

"The big stores only stock the popular items. People say they come here because we have a wide range and because we offer a personal service. We're a niche in the market."

Mr Shepherd, who also sells paints and other accessories, said while a healthy number of children were following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers by taking up the hobby of model railways, 'grown-up boys' made up a large proportion of his customer base.

"A man came in saying he wanted a train set for his three-year-old son, but when he left the shop he admitted it was for himself!" added Mr Shepherd, a Liberal Democrat councillor on Waveney District Council.

"Basically, it's middle-aged and elderly people, particularly professionals like bank managers and solicitors. Over the past few years there have been retired people, who have wanted to play with a train set all of their lives and for the first time they have got the money and the time.

"The youngsters who are particularly interested are the ones who have just left school and have got some money."

Mr Shepherd said traditional models such as the Flying Scotsman and Mallard were still proving popular, but that there had been a big increase in demand for trains bearing the markings of Anglia Railways, the company that used to run services between the region and London.

While operating model railways can be a huge passion for many, Mr Shepherd said that building up a set could also be a valuable educational tool for children.

"There is a tremendous amount of learning involved which people overlook.

"Too often people buy train sets for children and the dad puts it together. Then it's not the child's train set, but the dad's train set and he is denying the child a chance to learn."