Art, Crafts, Lifestyle, Photography, Travel

Unleash the child in you

There’s a magical place, we’re on our way there, with toys in their millions, all under one roof; it’s called… Well sadly Toys’R’Us don’t need that catchy little ditty any more, but perhaps the new Lego house could use it instead.

Billund, Denmark; the home of Lego. Nearly 90 years ago the founding family of Lego started their business, first as carpenters, then wooden toy makers, and then moving with the times into plastic. They weren’t the first to do a plastic brick, and doubtless they won’t be the last, but they are the best, and it would take something very special to change that.

The Lego House is a stunning piece of architecture in this funny little town, where to be quite honest- there isn’t much else. For fans of Lego though there’s a full days activity here, exploring the different interactive zones and trying the many and varied tasks and challenges. There’s also a great museum which walks you through the story of the brand, along with some incredible displays.

Occasionally they run tours of the factory and if you get an opportunity to do this it’s a real privilege (pre-booking essential). I was one of those lucky few and excitedly went behind the scenes to see where those iconic little bricks come from. No cameras were allowed sadly, so I can’t share much of the experience in photo form, but I can say that the factory was vast, and there were surprisingly few people about for such a big place. Instead, automated robots busily went about their work, ferrying around boxes full of bricks fresh off the production line. The robots impressively just manoeuvre around you and get on with their work if you step in their way.

We were shown the impressive selection of very heavy duty metal blocks (each weighing between 150 and 300kgs) in which the molten plastic is forced to produce the bricks. Row upon row of shelving played home to these hugely valuable moulds which are worth a few hundred thousand pounds each, and each of which will produce millions of blocks in their lifetime. We then saw the storage facility where tens of thousands of 17kg boxes on miles and miles of shelving hold their precious cargos until they’re required, at which point they’re retrieved by a separate and equally impressive automated picker. I haven’t seen many factories before, but I suspect this one is up there with the more advanced around.

Next up we went down into the vault where a sealed complete box of nearly every set ever produced sat in the most fantastic archive, with shelves that could be moved back and forth to allow access to every section. We wandered around freely, looking around and excitedly picking up the boxes which evoked the most childhood memories, or looked the most exciting, and in some cases bazaar (there were some quite weird products which passed us both by when they were originally launched, from a time when the Lego group tried to diversify, perhaps a little too much).

We were down there for a good half an hour, but all too soon were rounded up as we had to move on to the next stage of our tour. Another half hour down there would have been about right!

The next stop for us was a guided tour of the museum, which took us on a journey through the original workshop where it all started with with a small family-run carpentry and traditional joinery business, through to the first step into toys with some lovely, if very basic by today’s standards, wooden play things. There’s some fabulous stories about the very high quality standards which the founder considered so important right from the outset, and these high standards are still at the core of the Lego group to this day. An original piece of machinery shows their first steps into using plastic; presumably a very brave step into the unknown at the time. The rest is history (and all documented for you to explore in the museum!).

After a great hot lunch, served in a giant Lego brick of course, we had a tour of the new Lego House, with the magnificent Tree of Creativity (constructed of some six million bricks!) and all the wonderful models, displays and interactive play zones where you can do everything from building and programming a robot, to racing cars, making a stop-motion video, creating a magazine cover and even saving a mammoth.

We barely scratched the surface with our two hours free time, but had great fun and let our creative sides run riot.

There is of course a well stocked shop on site, which has all the sets you’ll be familiar with, and a few exclusive to the Lego House.

An incredible place to visit for young and old alike; you’ll not be short of things to see and do and I’d bet you leave there inspired and feeling a little younger at heart.

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