Changing times means changing fortunes and a new direction for the UK’s oldest toy museum which has seen its visitor numbers drop significantly since the Covid pandemic.
A lack of overseas tourists to the museum and a reduction in local office workers to its gift shop has meant that trade continues to be well below previous levels.
But this week Pollock’s Toy Museum and Shop in Fitzrovia opens its doors with the first of a series of collaborations with artists and traditional craft workers in an effort to boost its visitor attraction and also to support the arts.
Emma Carlow, an artist, designer and maker, has been working with the museum to create a unique collection of souvenirs that reflects Pollock’s diverse collection of over 7,000 toys, dolls and paper theatres.
“Having access to a toy museum as original as Pollock’s is a dream come true,” says Carlow.
“The museum is a character in its own right and getting to know the collection is a bit like getting to know a family. I didn’t anticipate that the dolls would come to mean so much to me,” she says.
Carlow has made a line of products and is helping the museum make the transition to work with local and UK-based artists and craft workers to produce gifts based on the museum’s exhibits.
“We get the benefit of their skills in making products for us to sell. And at the same time we are supporting local artists and makers,” say Emily Baker and Jack Fawdry-Tatham who run the museum.
“This is a much more sustainable way to make toys because they are locally produced and made from sustainable materials.”
Pollock’s has been described as a “raft of resistance” against mass produced toys and gifts where the shop benefits from the skills of artists and makers and at the same time the shop gives them a platform for their creativity in central London.
The idea is that Pollock’s will make itself more attractive as a destination shop and attract a new cohort of visitors.
Tucked away in a side street off Tottenham Court Road the museum and shop does not get much passing trade. Previously, visitors to Habitat and Paperchase used to also make a bee-line for the quirky and colourful Victorian shopfront as part of their shopping trip.
“Tottenham Court Road has changed a lot. Customers to Habitat and Paperchase would have maybe popped in here. But now both those shops have gone, so have their customers,” says Fawdry-Tatham.
But with the loss of one shop selling cards and wrapping paper, Pollock’s sees an opportunity to sell its own unique range of cards and gift-wrap based on the museum’s own collection.
The museum is also delivering educational work for five-, six- and seven-year-olds. Schools don’t want to travel to the museum so they take the museum to them instead.
“We take in very old toys for the children to see and handle. An opportunity they would not normally get. Such as a 140-year-old Victorian doll,” says Fawdry-Tatham.
For the children “it’s a segue into learning history” and “grappling with the basic principles of ‘what is the past?’
“Toys are a great way to start them on that historical journey,” he says.
The museum and shop has also doubled-up as a teaching centre where traditional crafts can be learnt and enjoyed instead of gazing at digital entertainment viewed on screens and fiddling with handsets.
“We did a toy theatre making class in the museum and quite a few of the people were teachers,” says Baker.
“They said it would be a great way of bringing performances alive instead of being seen on television or YouTube,” she says.
Pollock’s creaky old building still has a lot of the past to explore but it is shaping its future as an improved attraction for new visitors and as a resource for artists and makers.
Emma Carlow’s Make Believe Museum Shop will be running from 19 November to 31 December 2021. Make Your Own workshops on Saturday 20 and 27 November, and Saturday 4 and Friday 10 December 2021. Pollocks Toy Museum, 1 Scala Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2HL.