Norfolk toy maker Orchard Toys celebrates 50th anniversary

Orchard Toys managing director Simon Newbury

Orchard Toys managing director Simon Newbury - Credit: Archant

Multi-award-winning Wymondham toy company, Orchard Toys, is celebrating its 50th anniversary - but how has the Norfolk-based company become the market leader in UK games?

Christmas is coming and for the 50th year, Orchard Toys will be given and received at homes all over the UK.

Since 1971 Orchard Toys has been creating fun educational games, jigsaws and colouring books for children – ranging from toddlers, to pre-schoolers and children in primary school.

In over five decades the company has grown from creating blocks and tracing sets around the kitchen table for a local nursery, to become a leading UK manufacturer of pre-school games.

It now manufactures over three million products every year, and sells a copy of its best seller Shopping List, every two and a half minutes.

Orchard Toys managing director Simon Newbery with founder Keith Harvey

Orchard Toys managing director Simon Newbery with founder Keith Harvey - Credit: Submitted

Learning Made Fun is at the heart of everything Orchard Toys does, ensuring that games, jigsaws and activity books strike the perfect balance between education and fun.

When parents are looking for games to help teach essential early learning skills such as colours and shapes, literacy or numeracy, they are reassured that their children will be enjoying themselves so much they won’t even realise they’re learning. That’s a winning formula with parents, and why so many of them have developed a love for the brand.

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Local mum and columnist for this paper Ruth Davies, who blogs at RocknRollerBaby, said: “He [her four-year old son] loves them and it’s like a hidden veg dinner as he has so much fun playing that he doesn’t realise the good they do in his education. Winner in my book.”

Christmas Eve Box by Orchard Toys

Christmas Eve Box by Orchard Toys - Credit: Submitted

When designing their games and jigsaws, the company works closely with educational advisors, teachers and children themselves to ensure that each one is age appropriate, educationally sound and, most importantly, fun.

Simon Newbery, managing director at Orchard Toys said: “In a world full of electronics, parents and children still enjoy simple, fun ‘traditional’ products.

“A good idea will always be a good idea! The hardest part is not so much about coming up with the idea, but getting it to the point that we are totally happy that it is as near perfect as it can be.”

Only when the game meets these criteria is it deemed worthy of the Orchard Toys “Teacher Tested” stamp of approval. It’s no wonder they’re loved by teachers, parents and children.

How much have things changed over the last 50 years? Mr Newbery said: “Everything happens so much faster now, from sending and receiving orders, the way we communicate and the instant feedback we receive via social media. Consumers are really clever, they know what they like and what they don’t and they can spread that message very far and very fast”.

Staff in the Orchard Toys processing department

Staff in the Orchard Toys processing department - Credit: Archant

For parents frustrated at losing a piece of their child’s favourite game, Orchard Toys is now re-introducing its free Misplaced Pieces service so a replacement character stand, card or dice can be ordered – and normal play enjoyed.

During lockdown Orchard Toys was a huge support for parents, and demand for its literacy and numeracy games went through the roof, as parents became the school of mum and dad overnight and took on teaching duties to support home learning. The company also offered free daily downloadable worksheets which were a massive hit with parents whilst schools were closed.

Keith Harvey, founder of Orchard Toys, said: “I’m most proud of the way the company has developed and continued to grow whilst maintaining its core values. It’s great to be recognised as a market leader for educational games and puzzles, and I’m so proud we were able to support families during the pandemic, not just with our products but with free activity sheets to download too.”

Shopping List by Orchard Toys

Shopping List by Orchard Toys - Credit: Submitted

For its 50th anniversary Orchard Toys is celebrating with a number of initiatives, for its customers they recently ran a week-long treasure hunt on their website giving away 500 Orchard Toys games and puzzles.

For schools, Orchard Toys celebrated with a Learning Made Fun initiative, in which pre-school teachers could apply for free education resource packs. Teachers agreed overwhelmingly that the packs really helped them follow the Early Years Foundation Stage goals in the classroom and that the take home elements were a real hit with parents.

And for staff it has some celebrations planned towards the end of the year to mark the milestone 50th anniversary.

Childish fun with Orchard Toys' Match and Spell

Childish fun with Orchard Toys' Match and Spell - Credit: Submitted

Year-round Orchard Toys games are a go to for birthday gifts, but there’s no doubt that Christmas is a key time of year for toy companies.

This Christmas Orchard Toys is hoping its fun games and jigsaw puzzles, such as Rainbow Unicorns, Farmyard Heads & Tails and Big Dinosaur, and its new seasonal products - a Christmas Eve Box and Pigs in Blankets - will make it onto Santa’s list.

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