Creating more balanced children

“As one of the founders of CAW, I’m hugely proud to be part of it. It’s very important to make sure that parents are supported with knowledge and peace of mid that when they take their children somewhere, it’s safe and secure and age appropriate. There is lots to do all the time and we just want to help them give their kids the best start in life.”

“The work Caudwell Children do is making real differences to everyday lives, so having them involved is quite humbling. Because our work is based around the senses and individuality of a child we do have many kids coming through our programmes with autism and a whole range of disabilities. It’s a great way of raising awareness, supporting families and allowing kids to release the wonder within themselves.”

Sarah Cressall founded The Creation Station, in Devon, in 2002. Seventeen years on, it has reached number 15 in The Top 100 Franchises list compiled by Elite Franchise Magazine. Indoor Play caught up with Sarah to find out more about her business model

The Creation Station is about creativity in learning and life, says its multi-award winning founder and managing director Sarah Cressall. “It’s about creativity in all aspects, so whether it’s about bonding with a parent in a keepsake craft class, baby or toddler classes, or bringing a 2, 5 and 9-year old to a family fun session, the important thing is that we all engage in different ways and it’s not one-size fits all,” she expands.

“It all started through a need to support and recognise the individuality of each child. I have three kids, who were young at that time and I wanted to nurture the potential in each of them and allow them to blossom,” she says. “A lot of activities out there at the time were about putting information in, but I wanted kids to explore, discover and develop their own thoughts and ideas about stuff.”

Demand grew quickly for what Sarah herself had created, friends came, brought their friends and they kept coming back. “Finance was not the driver, so I grew the business gradually. It was about developing the right programmes and systems first and foremost. I joined the British Franchise Association when my first little one went to school in 2007 and developed the first franchise. Six months later, we set up the second one and we’ve got 120 now, covering roughly 37% of the country.”

The desire for creativity drove footfall right from the start, she remembers. “People are all different, yet the education system is especially good at funnelling certain skills into one channel. I don’t believe that we want everyone to be the same and we don’t know what skills are needed for the future, so we should instead be unlocking the talent within children to at least get them to embrace their own ability and be excited about learning. We need to build their confidence by allowing them to face challenges without being told that they have to do so in a particular way.

“The Creation Station sparks children’s imagination and their ability to shape their own individual development journey through the creative process. We don’t just tell children what to do with materials, we ask them what they think they can do with them. The programmes are all tried and tested, health and safety checked and linked to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), so each child can learn at their own pace. Self-esteem, knowledge, confidence, sharing with others and helping others, all areas of the EYFS and the curriculum are all covered when the child is allowed to engage with the creative process.

“When you see a child get into the creative zone, you can see the learning through their focus and attention, their ideas and suggestions. The mad-crazy things that kids come up with is undoubtedly one of the highlights of doing what we do!”

Sarah’s franchisees work with local business owners and recognise that their chances of success rely heavily on the relationship they build with their community. “We are in indoor-play centres, cafes and art galleries, nurseries, shopping centres and we do birthday parties and event entertainment. Basically, any place where families gather, we can work there. We improvise some really cool stuff,” says Sarah.

“Everyone can get involved. There has been a resurgence of crafting in adulthood, so it’s not just about the kids – parents aren’t just sitting at the back of a soft-play centre watching a session, we often see dads and granddads model-making, playing with the 3D sculpture or experimenting with paint and other things. It’s a very inclusive activity and there is no defined outcome, so different people come up with very different things. I’m often sent photos where all of the stuff has ended up on the fridge – the child’s, mum’s and grandad’s, and people are so proud of creating something they can physically hold in their hand.”

Open invitation

“Our involvement in the indoor-play sector is still on a localised basis. I’d love to talk to anyone who’s interested as I could put you in touch with your local franchisee. If you don’t have one, then there is definitely more we can do. With an indoor-play centre, we would promote the classes to bring new customers in and engage with them, then we take care of the set-up and clear-up.”

How about an indoor-play centre itself becoming a franchisee? Sarah says that is certainly not out of the question. She has just been voted onto the board of the British Franchise Association and reports a massive increase in women going into the franchise sector, and also multi-franchises. “We are just about to award a franchise to a farm and it’s an area we would be very interested in talking to indoor-play centres about. Obviously some play centres are franchises. Having your own Creation Station in your area, to provide all the training, resources, health and safety, it’s a great way of attracting people. This is an experience market and like a soft-play area, we provide great experiences that people probably couldn’t do themselves,” says Sarah.

Clearly, for an operator the idea behind working with an activity provider would be to find new customers as well as delighting their existing customer base, she says. “We are very vocal in encouraging parents to come back to the centres we work with and with social media now, sharing and hashtags have also become a really big part of the marketing and PR. We regularly run competitions alongside the venues we are working with and we are doing a music tour this year, so we’re looking for key partners to work with on that.

“The really nice thing about arts and crafts is that it can be tailored to any time of the year. We often bring a lot of visitors into soft-play centres with special sessions in the summer or at Easter or Halloween, for instance, and we come up with new ideas all the time. One of our biggest things is slime workshops, which are not as messy as they sound – and they can be tweaked to fit pretty much any trend or time of year.

“This year, we’re also launching a creative building programme, which features robotics and Virtual Reality, as well as bringing arts into STEM, which is where we are working closely with early-years childcare providers and key stage 1 schools. We’ll be working with the childcare sector to provide Inspiring Imagination STEM workshops and because there are areas of the country where people want our resources, who we are unable to physically support, we are also putting together activities resources and training for providers.”

CAW objective

“Children’s Activities Week was fantastic last year because we sent out the message that we want kids to be active in all sorts of ways. This year, The Creation Station has lots of fun activities planned around flying and releasing the wisdom within every child,” says Sarah.

“There are lots of different activity providers involved and CAW gives parents an opportunity for parents to get their children to try different things that they thought they might not like. People might assume that arts and crafts are aimed at girls, but that’s really not the case. Little boys might love playing football, but you give them problems to solve and they will get really into it. It’s not just glitter and sparkles – although that’s popular with boys too! – it’s about building and thinking and trying.

“It’s also another mechanism to let parents know what’s out there for them to do with their kids. It’s hard for parents; they are working hard, juggling everything and they are exhausted or financially unable to do what they’d like to do with their children. We can give them ideas, resources and also activities that they can enjoy together. Lots of people have others bringing their kids up for them these days, but when a parent does things with their children, they both grow from it and it sets the foundation for the development of their future relationship.”

Sarah’s three kids are now 16, 18 and 20 and respectively doing maths, engineering and charity work in Nepal – all things that could justifiably be traced back to an upbringing that nurtured their creativity. “We have a very close relationship. They share and talk about stuff, they have hobbies that they are passionate about and they have great social skills. I think being exposed to activities that made them think for and about themselves, problem solve and make decisions. They might not have always got the decisions right, but failing is the first attempt at learning as they say and they have learnt to persevere until they find a way.”

For more information about The Creation Station, go to www.thecreationstation.co.uk and click on the contact button to get in touch with Sarah and her team about Children’s Activity Week 2019