After a few years running solo, I decided to expand my ideas. It was great that parents were booking me but I realised that it was often the poor mums missing out on all the fun, as they were stuck in the kitchen, busy preparing the food. So, I wanted to trial offering party food with my packages.
I took my idea to a fellow mum at the primary school who was a caterer and together we sat and brainstormed ideas. In order to get some market research and trial out our new additions, we decided to hold a ticketed Halloween party with food and party bags included.
The party was a HUGE success – We enlisted the help of Kelly (now 8 years old) and the caterer’s daughter as my two side-kicks. They were the team leaders and helped demonstrate how all the games worked, they also helped to engage the less confident children so everybody joined in. You might notice we always have at least 2 entertainers for our all our 2 hour packages, this is why!
The party food was a big hit and being plated up separately worked perfectly, especially for children with food intolerances/allergies. My eldest son, Dan is gluten and casein intolerant so it was the norm for me to prepare his own packed lunch to take to parties but this made him feel different. Having all the food plated up meant that everyone had the same plates and those children with special dietary needs could sit and eat with the other children.
TOP TIP: We also discovered that not many children liked Birthday cake! They much preferred chocolate mini rolls or cupcakes! Why? Most of the children said they didn’t like it sticking to the serviette but there were quite a few that also said that they didn’t like jam or icing! We now advise parents to just buy a cake big enough for the family and do individual cakes for the guests – it’s a lot cheaper too!
Over the years, The “Jolly Good Party!” Experience gradually evolved and as character costumes became more available, we were able to expand. My first costumes shipped over from America were Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger and Mrs Potts-still available to book today! I started to work closely with a local charity and take our characters into PA Hospital and Rivers to cheer up those on the wards.
In 2007 I started teaching at Youth CREATE, a performing and creative arts development theatre charity in Sawbridgeworth. We have an open door policy – everybody is welcome including those with a disability. 1:1 Support Workers are provided for those that need a little bit of extra help. With Dan having ADHD and ASD I knew how important it is for all children to feel included and also what a struggle parties can be with sensory overloads. This didn’t mean Dan didn’t want to be there, he just needed somebody to understand him and to help him feel included. Teaching at YC meant that I received training that covered all different types of disabilities. All the students that train there also learn how to accept and work with everybody. This support is continued at our parties.
It wasn’t until 2013 when Youth CREATE were struggling for funds that I suggested to the team that I would change the name of my parties to help raise awareness and donate a percentage of profits in order to keep them going.
I couldn’t bear to see Youth CREATE close, as so many children and young people benefit from the support and opportunities given there. Including the majority of our Entertainers who are trained by the charity. Youth CREATE is still surviving and offering training to children and young people. And to this day, we continue to donate- raising £2,539 in 2019!
As a mum of five and the pressure to have ‘the best party in the class’ growing, I learnt very quickly how time consuming a party can be. Contacting all the different suppliers for decorations and face painting doesn’t just add up financially! That’s why I wanted to be able offer one simple package with everything included and most importantly, be affordable! Every child should be made to feel special on their birthday and it shouldn’t be a stress for us mum’s either!
Now an adult, Kelly was busy pursuing a career in the Entertainment industry working as an actor and dancer for companies such as Disneyland Resort Paris, CBeebie’s In the Night Garden, Chessington World of Adventures and local businesses Willow’s Activity Farm and Mad Science. Each time she finished a contract, she returned and injected more experience and knowledge into the small business to help it grow, until 2020 when I handed everything over to her capable hands!
Although Kelly is now the first call of contact, I am still involved with face painting and training up new comers and often step in a “mature” character. It’s so lovely to see the next generation of entertainers performing and continuing to do what I set out over 25 years ago…putting smiles on all those gorgeous faces!
You may not know this but four of my own children are part of the Entertainment Team, perhaps when the youngest is old enough, it will be all five!
It’s nice to keep things in the family
Founder of Youth Create Does Parties