Oh my, where to start with our time at the newly opened Rainbow Factory in Farsley, Leeds-as soppy as it sounds I find myself welling up recalling our experience there as it was like no other we’ve had before as a family.
A unique storytelling wonderland, the Rainbow Factory is the only one of its kind in Yorkshire, a place that merges storytelling and performance with arts & crafts and imaginative play, for what is an immersively spellbinding, educational and most importantly, fun day out for all the family.
The brainchild of 32-year-old Hazel Merlino of Guiseley, who has 10 years experience in marketing and events, and her 33-year-old sister Sarah Underwood, associate professor of Leeds University, this was borne from wanting to offer families something more than a soft play centre.
Hazel’s aim is, ‘to transform lives, to inspire and reawken the imagination-all through the simple joy of reading’.
Together with Richard Underwood, Sarah’s brother-in-law, the creative whizz behind the whimsical characters and sets made from paint and clay, this trio have collectively made reading cool again.
And it’s got Richard Branson’s seal of approval too.
The centre has already been hailed by the Virgin Group founder as an inspiration to budding entrepreneurs and was one of just six new businesses from around the country to be named Virgin StartUp Ambassadors. And it’s easy to see why.
On entering the refurbished mill and being cheerily welcomed by your designated performer, a thespian guide, you make your way down the yellow brick road with a chance to marvel and discuss illustrated prints of classic fairytale as you go.
Heavy curtains are opened revealing a magical world within.
A nostalgic world bursting with captivating tableaus, 3D depictions of fables and fairytales and of course these achingly beautiful marianettes bring your favourite stories to life from Alice in Wonderland to Billy Goat’s Gruff and beyond (changing seasonally).
Each child is given a cone like hat-cum-basket so as you tour the sets, you search and collect cardboard pieces (rabbit ears for example) you can then glue together to recreate characters yourself, in workshops at the end of the tour.
The children adored the arts and crafts and after feeling inspired by the enchanting sculptures, were soon dressing up and recreating the fairtytales they’d just observed.
What stands out the most for me, was how as parents, Peter and I instantly felt transported back to our own non-digital childhoods, ones that were firmly planted in fairytales and magic, where the imagination could run free.
As a blogger, I’m all for digital innovation and the benefits it has for kids but I believe there’s a time and place for it, it shouldn’t be all pervasive or in replacement of feeling books between your hands.
More than anything we desperately need to cherish and encourage literature for our children not always consumed on iPads and kindles, allowing storytelling to take shape in a tangible and liberating way.
To simply go back to basics.
Books must to be touched, read, loved and passed down, dramatic plays put on, enjoyed, discussed-just as my brother Solos and I, spent so much of our childhood doing.
This is when confidence and spirit can grow and flourish.
I saw it with my own eyes as my boys took the stage reinacting Jack and the Beanstalk at the factory before improvisational-based fun with the other children and performers, as they tried to outwit a witch and escape her spells. It was a joy to watch.
But don’t just take it from me-Oliver, 5 asked us during our day there, ‘When will the party finish?’
Daddy, ‘It’s not a party, you can come and go when you like’
Oliver, ‘OK, good because I want to stay for 20 million hours’!
The Rainbow Factory is an open space where children are free to explore and interact, create or simply read in quieter areas and just observe if they’d rather; it’s ideal for day visits and even school trips of which they host many.
From story hubs, to craft kitchen filled with pots of glue, plasticine and glitter, to a stage for putting on plays, to areas for parties, and a cafe with healthy meals and snacks, this is a haven that doesn’t just entertain families, it enriches them.
We left uplifted, nourished, happy, and most of all, desperate to return (which we did less than a week after our first visit)!
Here’s a little film we made from our day. Enjoy!
Thank you to the Rainbow Factory.
The centre is open six days a week during term-time: closed Tuesdays; and open every day of the week during school holidays. Read more on their website HERE.
Prices for children on peak “+ £8, off, £6, Adults £2 for either times. This includes the whole day at the Rainbow Factory.
Now for the exciting bit, 5 lucky Honest Mum readers can win a day pass including lunch for 4 (2 adults and 2 children) by entering below.