Name a parent who hasn’t occasionally despaired at the vast accumulation of cheap plastic toys in their child’s room. One woman found herself so frustrated by the ‘throwaway’ nature of toys, and the lack of true ‘experience’ value for her girls, that she spawned a spectacular gifting concept which is going from strength to strength.
Give The Gift of Time…Not Things, Says Entrepreneurial Mum
Whether you’re the doting mother of a materialistic tot or not, you’ll be pretty familiar with the drill.
It’s a play mate’s birthday.
You’re in for another low-sum outlay.
A few quid here, a few quid there.
You couldn’t ‘not’ gift your child’s current friend with some plastic toy or other. Even if you do feel pretty certain it’ll be destined for landfill (oh, okay, maybe charity shop) within a few short weeks.
But if your heart sinks at the thought of another quickly purchased China-made play item, be it for your own child or someone else’s, you may well be familiar with the thought process which Vanessa Hilton found herself repeatedly experiencing after her second daughter arrived in 2014.
“I can remember sitting with a colleague one day, asking what he was going to be buying his daughter for her birthday, and expecting the same response I’d heard countless times before from other friends, about the latest plastic fad toy or other,” she recalls, smiling.
“Except, he didn’t come up with a dismissive material item.
“Instead, he told me that he was buying her swimming lessons, and that it was pointless continuing to buy her yet more toys which would be played with for mere minutes, before finding themselves broken or in the back of a cupboard.”
The conversation resonated with Vanessa enormously.
As the mother of two, she had very quickly ‘bought into’ the idea of wanting her child – and their friends – to have all sorts of brightly coloured toys and play items.
But, so too, had she become ever more aware of how pointless and short-termist the whole ‘gift purchasing’ was becoming for any parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or generous friend.
That one chat was enough to make her delve further into her own consciousness, and ask if, surely, there might be another way to gift your kindness to a child?
“I’m not exactly an environment-preservation warrior or anything of the sort, but it had chipped away at me that my husband and I – and thousands of parents like us – were busy just buying toy after toy after toy, all of which would have contributed to global carbon levels to create, and then would end up sat in landfill for years,” she says.
“But even without the more global environmental aspects, there’s the mere fact that millions of relatives and friends spend money on nipping into a supermarket or toy store to try to find something unique for your son or daughter – when invariably, that item is probably not going to end up giving the child any memorable experience or insight.”
It was this picture of frustration which consumed much of Vanessa’s thought, as her second-born grew and the mountain of toys escalated in tandem.
Eventually, her entrepreneurial light-bulb burst into life.
“It struck me that while we were graciously accepting all these generous gifts, we as a family were at the same time beginning to spend out on real-life experiences,” she goes on.
“We wanted our daughters to be growing up with beneficial insights and learnings, so we were paying for toddler gym classes, swimming lessons, and exploring things like tennis and acting for when our girls got older.
“It then dawned on me that it would be far more of a ‘win win’ for both the gift-giver and the recipient, if it were possible to contribute to something which the child would really benefit from having in their life.”
And so the idea of Gift Time for Kids was born.
In many ways similar to a ‘wedding list’ scenario, the platform allows a family to create a bespoke ‘wish list’, which might feature the kind of ‘entertainment’ or ‘lesson’ or ‘experience’ which that recipient child would be keen to participate in.
In turn, friends, relatives, well-wishers and parents of classmates, can then log on to the created account and place a contribution toward that identified ‘gift’.
The services are then matched to one of 50 suppliers (and growing) currently on the site, with around 140 classes capturing everything from baby massage, to storytelling sessions, to sensory experiences.
“Having registered the business in the latter part of 2015, I spent the following months busily trying to find suppliers local to me in the south east, who would want to be part of the early-stage website,” Vanessa says.
“I was blown away by the reception that the idea received – both from companies wanting to be on board, and from parents and grandparents who listened to me explain and immediately said ‘about time’.
“While I can’t say I ever set out to be a business creator, I do think there’s something special about building something from scratch when it’s based on your own learned experiences.
“I feel extremely proud that I’m now getting such incredible feedback – and yet it’s really early days, with just a small number of partners compared with the scope I know the concept has.”
With funding applications in process and other major partner conversations taking shape all the time, Vanessa is quite rightly elated with the traction her idea has achieved already.
She’s continually evolving the model, and has recently added to the ‘journey’ for the customer so that a thank you card and photograph can subsequently be sent to the ‘gifter’ by an automated process when the activity has been carried out.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly given we’re all in the thick of dialogue about over-use of plastic, Gift Time for Kids will be jumping on that topical arena too.
“Having worked in corporate managerial positions and given advice and counsel around sustainability, it doesn’t surprise me at all that we’re now at a stage where more and more consumers are thinking about the impact they’re having,” Vanessa says.
“Now that the debate on plastic is so ‘on topic’, I’ve applied for a grant to enable us to build a carbon calculator into the website.
“That will allow people to get a real insight into the energy being used in toy creation, and will reiterate why something like Gift Time for Kids is so much more of a valuable offering.”
Of course, as an eyes-wide-open mother of two girls, Vanessa isn’t for one minute seeing herself as being on a singlehanded crusade to stop people buying the many and varied plastic toys which will continue to put smiles – albeit, perhaps, momentarily – on the faces of our nation’s children.
What she is doing, however, is extending choice, and forcing us all to think just that little bit more conscientiously about the potential benefits and impact of our purchased gifts.
“It’s never been my objective to stop people buying toys,” she stresses, adamantly.
“I just know how easy it is for us to all fall into the trap of buying more, and more, AND MORE, ‘things’ for those we know and love.
“The beauty of this is that I’m creating a business where friends and relations can truly gift a memorable experience to a child. And that’s something which they’ll have the joy of storing away in their minds forever.”
For more information about Gift Time for Kids, go to www.giftimeforkids.co.uk
We would love to hear from Eloquently Her readers who use this site or who feel it is the perfect way to help them treat their children or relatives.
If you’re a supplier who would like to be put in direct contact with Vanessa, drop us a line to email@example.com quoting Gift Time For Kids.