Maidenhead MUm

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Saturday Night Fever? The Night Market comes to town.

There’s a quiet revolution happening in Maidenhead. 

Although on the surface you might only see small uprisings of activity on the High Street and in the Nicholson’s Centre, behind that there is a bubbling undercurrent of….

Town pride.

I kid you not.

This week I’ve been overwhelmed by the outbursts of passion from all kinds of Maidonians about last Saturday’s Night Market.

In case you weren’t aware, the Night Market was an idea that was suggested by local resident Jeff Lloyd for a competition run by the Maidenhead Advertiser for ideas to help invigorate and boost the town. Jeff’s idea was to create a night market, similar to ones that you see in Strasbourg and Barcelona, and invite people down to the High Street to shop, mingle, eat, drink and be merry.

Newspaper articles in the run up to the event said that:

“Residents can expect live music from local band Money on the Drum, stilt walkers and street entertainers, funfair rides from Traylens at either end of the High Street and a wide variety of food stalls featuring local traders and those from further afield.”

The coverage in the paper was accompanied by a quote from our local councillor:

“Cllr Natasha Airey, who is acting as Jeff's mentor and sat on last year's judging panel, said: "This is great example of the Big Society in action - giving residents the chance to come up with innovative ideas to help improve the communities where they live.”

It’s fair to say that there was a lot of anticipation for the event.

Having been at the successful fireworks night back in November which saw the high street and the town centre packed with people, it definitely seemed worth checking out. So together with our little lady and friends who have a little lady of a similar age, we headed down at around 7pm.

I’ll let the photos do some of the talking…

At 7pm the High street was already really busy
Face painting was very popular
There was a bar outside the Nicholson centre, and a stage with a band.

The stalls were grouped together in the centre of the High Street
You could be sketched...
And you could be painted.

But the kids were left with little else to do apart from window shop!
And run around, but this was actually great for tiring them about before bed!
But there weren't any rides... and no balloons! 
The Peruvian street food stand was very popular... but that meant big queues.

Looked and smelt great - all freshly cooked, but I didn't have time to queue!
The King of Churros was a very popular stand

I bumped into Rachel Cook who won second prize in the competition for her Wildflower garden at Oaken Grove
Well earned Churros. Possibly the longest queue of all!

A local stilt walker at the Market

So what did I think?

There’s no denying that it was great to bump into neighbours and familiar faces and actually talk to them, as opposed to just rushing past in town. And there was a sort of relaxed, kids pottering around freely like they would on holiday kind of feeling. But as I walked home chatting to our friends, I couldn’t help but think that we’d been a little short changed. Where was the fair? Where were the varied stalls and stands? We'd even double checked around the corner by the Town Hall before we left, just in case we'd missed something! 

After putting the little one to bed I then found myself on the internet, and on Facebook (I know, I know, I’m addicted, I can’t help it!). But what was amazing to see is that whilst the Night Market itself hadn’t quite hit the mark, it had united a large part of Maidenhead on social media as they came forward to share their views and offer suggestions. Town-pride-tastic (new word!).

By 9pm on Saturday night, a comment posted by a local mum in the popular Facebook group ‘Maidenhead Gossip Girls’ saying she had felt let down by the market, had over 70 people replying with a comment within a few hours. That’s the kind of social media engagement rates that Marketers dream of! But unfortunately that’s representing a lot of disgruntled local ladies.

People felt that the market fell short of the vision that had been painted with such a small variety of food stalls, no local craft stands, and nothing to do for the kids apart from a rather lovely volunteer lady who was doing face painting. Although McDonalds were doing a roaring trade!

Maidenhead isn’t a big place, so I’m sure that a lot of this feedback has already found its way back to the organisers and to Jeff Lloyd. But I decided to go one step further and asked the ladies of Maidenhead for any other feedback about the event so that I could share it with this blog post and hopefully it could be used proactively for future events.

I was overwhelmed by the responses.

Here’s what everyone seems to agree on:

  • We like the idea of a night market and we’d like to see it become a regular fixture, perhaps quarterly, but definitely in the run up to Christmas and in summer.
  • We would expect to see local crafts, trades and although culinary delights from all over the world are great, it would be great if the local restaurants could represent themselves with a stall.
  • Perhaps the Night Market could be combined with some of the other great local events and activities that have been organized like Art on the Street and the Craft Co-op activity.
  • There needs to be something for the kids to enjoy early doors. Carter's Steam Fair are based locally and have some great rides. Once Upon a Bus is another great local initiative that would help entertain the kids too. 
  • We’d like to see it spaced out a bit better, with varied stalls spread across the high street instead of being bunched up into one section of the street.
  • We’d like the event to be marketed a lot better, both physically around town and virtually on social media. There were a few people saying they would have loved to have a stall, but just didn’t know about it.
  • But the biggest piece of feedback…. Talk to us! Tap into the talent. Maidenhead has a whole lot of talented and skilled people that would like to help and support the town and events like these. So if there are plans to do another event, just ask for volunteers or support! Start a facebook group for the next event and let people come forward and contribute. Now that really would be the ‘Big Society’ at its best.
I hope this post has been a fair summary of the event and the passions it seemed to ignite.

Here’s hoping that we’ll see another (new and improved) night market in time for Christmas with the words ‘back by popular demand’ on the posters!

Over to you… What did you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Hartbeeps and Duplo, a match made in heaven?

For those of you that don't have young children, some of this post may seem a little… well… alien. But let me assure you, in the same way that when you were little there were crazy saturday morning TV shows full of fun, games and exuberant TV presenters, for our little ones there are real life, neon headband wearing ladies that bring fun, singing and playtime to little ones all over the country. Meet the Hartbeeps Team.

The official description for Hartbeeps is ‘an innovative, fun and interactive music based educational programme for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers'. To translate, each week they hold  sessions for babies and young children and for around 40 minutes both Baby and Mum (or sometimes Dad, Nan or Grandad) are whisked along on a merry sing-along of make believe with various different toys, props, outfits, coloured lights and bubbles. It's highly addictive (both for babies and for grown-ups!) and when I was at home with the little lady on maternity leave I went every week. It was my way of getting ‘that Friday feeling’ every week. (You can read about my friday adventures here

Honestly, its all about her, I'm not really having the time of my life! 
So it’s fair to say I'm a pretty big Hartbeeps fan. At £5.50 per session its not the cheapest way to spend a morning, but it is the most professional and entertaining of any of the baby/toddler sessions I’ve been to. One of the biggest plus points for me is that they encourage such imaginative play - rubber gloves for duck feet? Sure! 

Crazy dinosaur shower caps for Mums and Babies to wear? No problem! 

I love that they have such great ideas for play without always needing special props or expensive toys. You're able to re-create some of the fun from the sessions at home, and often with things you already own. So when I read in April that they hade made a partnership with Duplo I was pretty interested to see how it would all work.

Duplo is the baby brother or sister of the mighty Lego and comes in many shapes and sizes and kits. Aimed at children around 18 months and up, you can buy a Duplo zoo, train, stone quarry and even a 3-story play house kit.

I have to admit, a nostalgic small person inside me looks back to a time when I was little when we just had Lego bricks, and we made up all of this stuff, without it having to come in a kit to be put together, but times have changed, and plastic building blocks are Big Business these days. So with Duplo being masters in creating imaginative toy sets, and Hartbeeps being the masters of imaginative play, I was really interested to see what would happen when the two were combined.

This was the stuff that I grew up with! Image courtesy of The Guardian article 'The best brick on the block' .

Last week I was invited along to a launch party for Hartbeeps and Duplo at Legoland in the Legoland Hotel.

Seeing as it’s often tricky to find words to describe the crazy antics of a Hartbeeps session, I shall let the photos do most of the talking!

It was a familiar start with coloured mats laid out in a circle
My little lady was keen to get involved
She also managed to find a puppy immediately. (She LOVES white and black dogs!)
She was keen to hold onto the sunshine and sing along
A special Monkey guest caused quite a stir!
I chuckle as I see all the dads in the background trying to get their heads round the mayhem, as the mums all sing along!

Whats in the box?! Everyone rushes over to see. 

Ahaaaa, some toys and some Duplo in the box!

A chance to sample one of the newest 'Creative Picnic' Duplo sets.
All of the children played with the toys and the Duplo.
A hamburger from the set.
The boxes help show what you can make.
But after a few minutes with the Duplo and toys we were soon up on our feet again, ready for the next song and activity.
Yep, it was time for neon sweatbands and disco lights.
And the 'Tidy Up Song'!
Just some of the props and toys - a lot of tidying!
Gift bags for all of the guests so they could try out the Duplo Learning Play Number Train set.

So what did I think?

It’s a very clever collaboration. A marketer's dream. The Marketing Manager part of me gets a little giddy when I start to analyse how clever it is. Seeing as the Mums take such an active part in the activity and play at the Hartbeeps sessions, they now get to see their children play with the Duplo first hand. They can see if their children like it, and can get exposure to toys that they might not have even thought of beforehand. Brilliant inspiration for Christmas and birthday lists. 

The 'Mum' side of me was pleased to see that the Duplo toys were mixed in with the usual Hartbeeps toys and props (of which there seems to be and endless variety) so that it didn’t feel as if Hartbeeps was being taken over by another brand. And from what I saw the children played equally with all of the toys. Although the fast paced nature of the sessions meant that just as you started to build something with the Duplo, it was time to move onto the next part of the session. On the plus side though, it did show how you could integrate the Duplo toys into other role play activities, like the teddy bears picnic, instead of seeing it as just a 'building blocks' exercise. 

Perhaps a better question to ask is whether the session was twice as much fun because the Duplo toys were there? My honest answer would be 'No', but then its hard to improve on an already (in my opinion) perfect formula. Which demonstrates that its not specific sets toys that make the kids happy, it’s the whole experience. (So fill your toy box wisely!) Although your family might think you’ve lost the plot if you put yellow rubber gloves down on the Amazon wishlist for your little one… they might find a Duplo set a lot easier to comprehend!

As a final note, here's what happened when, stuck at home on a rainy Saturday the next day we remembered the Goody Bag which had the Duplo Learning Play Number Train set in it. Again, its a toss up as to who (parent or child?!) is having more fun...! 

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

10 great Birthday ideas for bloggers

Whether you're friends with one, related to one, live with one or are married to one, this list is designed to help make you become a birthday 'Fairy Godmother' for the blogger in your life. 

Compiled from extensive personal research (!) and chatting to bloggers I’ve met over the last year or so, this highly scientific* list will give you some great ideas to inspire you to give them a fantastic birthday gift. (*no real science involved in making this list)

As a side note, any of these gifts would also be well received at any time of the year, so if you’re feeling generous, don’t feel you need to just limit yourself to an annual event! (shoots sideways glance and smile at husband who might be reading this)

So, in no particular order, and with a varied price range, here are my Top 10 things that you could buy a blogger for their birthday:

1. Keyboard for iPad or iPad mini, from £49.99

Admittedly this is going on the assumption that they have an iPad or iPad mini, and if they do, that they can reclaim ownership of it back from the kids. (I often have a fight!) 

These clever keyboards from Logitech work on Bluetooth, hold a charge for ages, and mean that you can get typing, anywhere. Not only is it a practical way to sneak off and find a quiet corner to do some writing, wherever you are, but it also makes you look super cool when you whip it out at blogger events and press conferences. I've seen quite a few professional journalists sporting one of these too. 

Ultra thin Keyboard Case for iPad

2. iPhone/Smartphone from £469 or from around £30 a month

Most of the best performing blogs are underpinned by great design and great photography. Now while we can’t all be David Bailey, or live with a Graphic Designer (although I managed to marry one, whoop!!), it goes without saying that a good camera can work wonders on your photography and the look of your blog. 

A smartphone is the camera option your blogger is most likely to have with them at all times, so it makes sense to make sure that they have a good one. The quality of photography apps available for iOS, and the consistent high standard of images the iPhone takes means that Apple wins hands down for me in the smartphone stakes. If you don't think that they're an Apple fan then they might also like the Nokia 1020, the HTC M8 or the Sony Z2. I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to have a play with all of them and great as they all are, it’s the iPhone that I can’t live without.

If you are splashing out, be mindful that bloggers take a lot of photos and use a lot of apps, so 8GB storage on the phone wont last them for long- go for the 16GB or 32GB if you can! Also, if you're looking for a bargain on ebay, make sure you get the iPhone 5 or above, as these have the best cameras. 

iPhone 5, a great all round smartphone for bloggers. 

3. Eyefi WiFi SD card from £33

If you don’t have the budget to buy an iPhone as a birthday present (which is pretty likely, I just threw it in on a whim because there are some very generous husbands/boyfriends/family and friends out there!) then this Eye-Fi Wi-fi SD card could be another ingenious present. 
You put the SD card into any compact camera (it doesn’t have to already have Wi-fi built in) and it means that you can access your photos from the camera straight away on your phone or tablet via an app. The days of having to wait until you get home to upload your photos onto the computer are long gone. Bloggers love to be able to react to things as and when they happen so this is a great, cost effective way of giving us access to great quality photos that can be instantly shared on social media or in a blog post.

A Wi-Fi SD card for your camera

4. Funky business cards from £28

Sometimes the thought of printing business cards can be a bit like writing your own CV - you know you should do it but you never quite get round to it. Having a lovely presentation box full of business cards that someone has made for you would be a great surprise. The software at Moo means that its quick and simple to design business cards so you might even be able to do this in a super sneaky way without them knowing. 
Their 'Luxe' range has a premium feel and the short print run means that you don’t have to be stuck with the same cards for years. 

Luxe Business cards from

5. Business card holder from £7.50

Such a simple idea, but why bother to get lovely business cards made if they’re going to get shoved in their purse along with their Tesco Clubcard, or they’re mixed in with the other shrapnel at the bottom of their bag.  Whipping out a business card holder full of your funky business cards helps make you look that little bit more professional. They can even be a great conversation starter- super helpful if you’re out networking with people. I love this one from the French Design shop Pylones, but you’ll find lots of different styles on the web.

Business card holder from Pylones

6. Posh pens and paper, from £1

Us bloggers are all united by a love of words… and writing… so I’d say it’s a pretty fair bet that we all used to get a little bit giddy at the start of a new school year and the impending ‘new pencil case’ opportunity. Personally, that excitement hasn’t ever really gone away and shops like Paperchase help to bring out that inner schoolgirl in me. Yes, I know that I’m meant to be embracing the digital world and that I can make notes on my phone, but you cant beat a good notebook. Either a big posh one to keep at home or a small pocketsize one that you can take anywhere with you, or both! You might want to go super swanky and get a leather Smythson one. Whatever you go for, you can be sure that a lovely notebook or fancy pen will be a gift that definitely gets used regularly.

Funky stationery is always a winner. This one was from Poundland! 
7. Blogfest/ Britmums Events from £59

One of the best things about being a blogger, and particularly a parent blogger, is the community of other bloggers that exists out there. Throughout the year there are various events where we all get together to network, share ideas and experiences and learn as much as possible about the craft of blogging. The events vary in location, size and price. One of the most famous is Mumsnet Blogfest which currently has Early Bird tickets available for £59 until the end of July.  (*update on 1st August* I got my husband to buy me an early bird ticket to Britmums Live 2015 last night.... Just 10 months to wait!)

Receiving a ticket as a gift would be great for two reasons:

Firstly, despite the fact that we all love to chat on social media, the thought of going out there and actually talking to a room full of real people can be a bit intimidating. Having been to Blogfest last year, its not as scary as you think, and the amount of knowledge you get from listening to the speakers is invaluable. A day of professional writing training could cost £500, so by comparison this is much better value for money as you get training and networking thrown in together. Rather than spending ages pondering the ‘should I go or not debate’, having a ticket bought for you pushes you into action! (In fact, I found that being at Blogfest was a bit like being at Glastonbury, (!) read about it here)

The second reason why this would make a great present is that attending one of these events can amount into an expensive day when you think about the travel, the ticket price, and whether you need to pay for additional childcare, and this can sometimes be off-putting. Being treated to the ticket means there’s just one less thing to worry about!

Tickets to Blogfest also include a great goody bag!

8. On the go battery charger: Kit Powerbank, £29.99

I would imagine that most bloggers use their phone at least twice as much as the average person. Whether its checking social media, taking and editing photos, writing notes, checking emails or reading other blog posts, you can be pretty sure that their phone is in constant use. And when you’re out and about that sucks. Because invariably you’ll find yourself low on battery by the end of the day, and if we’re unable to communicate with anyone its like having a limb cut off. These portable chargers are really handy. There are two sizes, the smaller one (around £15) holds one charge, but if they have room in their bag  or you have budget for the bigger one you’ll find it holds enough charge to re-charge your smartphone at least three times. Trust me, they’ll love you for it!

Portable power for your Smartphone and Tablet
9. A trendy and practical bag from £50

Bloggers might find themselves attending a networking event, or perhaps even more excitingly, get invited to a press event or product launch for a brand they're working with, or hope to work with. As they pack the night before there will be a moment where they realize that for the last few years they’ve ditched all of their handbags because they’ve been carrying all of their stuff in their child’s changing bag. You can help prevent this panic!  Giving them a new bag, you can help your blogger be prepared in a girl/boy scout kinda way.  Just make sure its big enough to fit in an iPad/ phone/notebook/ umbrella and mini stash of chocolate!

A bright leather satchel is a great way of carrying your stuff.

But regardless of any of the things listed above, there is one amazing, sure fire winner that you could give your blogger for their birthday....

(Dramatic pause....)

10. Time off (Free)

The simplest thing you can do that will potentially surpass all of these gifts, is to give your favourite blogger person the gift of some spare time. Most of us fit blogging in when we can around or jobs and parenting responsibilities and there is a constant feeling of ‘if I just had one spare hour/afternoon/ day’ then I could re-brand myself, redesign something, write 3 more posts… the list goes on. So if you can find a way to give an afternoon or day to them that they can use to get all that stuff done, they’ll love you forever!

I hope this last has helped spark a few ideas. If you're a blogger yourself reading this, let me know if I've missed anything off the list!

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.