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Play Inside Out

“Learning Through Play” is the admirable motto of East Sheen toy shop Play Inside Out. But that aim is not just limited to its young customers …


Manager Louella Busby revealed to us a secret which is both amusing and one of the reasons why the shop’s colourful premises on the Upper Richmond Road is such an attraction to local families.

DPP_0029wlThe staff always check out the new toys,” she confessed. “We play with them, just like children, and have lots of fun. That way we know exactly how they work and can talk about them to customers.”

This attention to detail characterizes the approach of owner Nicola Cooper who, from scratch, has built up three flourishing toy shops in East Sheen, Teddington and Walton.

The mantra outlined in her Mission Statement is to create “an independent treasure trove of traditional toys and gifts.”

She urges her staff to “exceed expectations” in the realm of learning through play in order to “amaze and enchant our customers.”

A fine philosophy which is reflected in the many shelves of toys which are well-designed, fun to play with and will help with the developmental skills of young children.

“All toys are educational, even the ones that don’t look it; dressing up encourages role play, sitting around a dolls’ house or garage together promotes social skills, our range of crafts inspire endless hours of creative play and even playing with our beautiful ragdolls or unbelievably soft Jellycat cuddly toys can help a little one understand how to look after and be less overwhelmed when they are presented with a new baby brother or sister.”

“We fervently believe in the importance of play.” added Louella. “We want to get children away from their iPads and mobile phones and into using their imaginations, thus developing those all important communication skills.”

Among the thousands of toys stocked in the shop are large sections devoted to puzzles and games which are timeless in their popularity. The shop stocks many jigsaws which remain as favourite as ever, ranging from wooden peg puzzles for early years and basic ones for toddlers, to giant ones with complex subjects and even occasionally 2,000 pieces!


“We have lots of the classic board games but really love the Orchard Toys range of games that children adore playing whilst keeping the parents happy in the knowledge that they are secretly learning a lot, too.”

“Lego remains a big favourite and not just for boys,” she said. “There is a Lego range for girls called Lego Friends which sells just as fast.”

DPP_0036wlAmong the gorgeous painted toys which feature heavily in the shop, the Le Toy Van range is Louella’s favourite. They have a stylish aesthetic and stimulate creative play and the range includes castles, carriages, dolls’ houses, garages, cookers, a London bus, tractors and more.

These well-designed toys are designed by a British company who have won many awards.

“They are so well-made they last a long time and can be handed down to another generation of children,” said Louella.

The staff have also come up with a good idea to help solve the problem for children who end up with two of the same Lego Mini Figures, a dilemma any parent can sympathise with! They offer a Saturday morning swap shop where a child can exchange one of their ‘doubles’ with the other local children.

As befits a toyshop which should be a magical place, the counter is painted with monkeys, a toucan and bright flowers, courtesy of well-known illustrator Milly Green, who has her own range of stunning items on sale.

We asked Louella for her top tip for Christmas this year and she recommended an Aquabot – a little robotic fish which swims in water just like the real thing. It’s been such a success that the shop is constantly selling out of them as soon as fresh supplies arrive. “No stocking will be complete without one this Christmas” she said.

“And don’t forget if it’s boxed we will build it free of charge and free local delivery to your door can be arranged too!”

Play Inside Out, 377 Upper Richmond Road West, SW14 7NX

Words by Mark Dowdney – Pictures by Bob Lisney – Project Coordinator Richard Osbourne