The magical door at 64 Constitution Street


Posted by in October's Magazine

A grey stone building with a large turquoise front door on Constitution Street is fast becoming a local landmark in Leith. Tourists and families with children linger outside the windows to exclaim at the changing displays of cuddly toys and puppets. Like an old fashioned toyshop, it epitomises childhood memories new and old. One week there might be a cuddly, vintage teddy bear, framed by the colourfully painted shutters, the next week, a giant red robot. Inside, a sunny studio houses Picture to Puppet and Leith Toy Hospital, two connected businesses founded by Mari Jones, which have occupied the space at 64 Constitution Street for the past three years.  

Picture to Puppet started in 2012 for the purpose of making custom puppets and soft toys to order. The toys are based on photographs of people, pets, children’s drawings, school mascots, corporate mascots, and encompass just about anything you can imagine, from banana slugs to superheroes. 

Share:

[ssba]

TV and theatre shows, individuals, schools, parents, authors, illustrators and others order them. One service often in demand is the re-creation of a missing favourite toy from a photograph. This can be a lifesaver for frantic parents whose child is inconsolable without the lost best friend.  Realising how important beloved toys can be, along with receiving requests for repairs, led to Mari setting up Leith Toy Hospital to cope with the growing demand. The two companies operate side-by-side under her direction, creating and mending and sharing expertise.

A couple of years on from its founding, the Toy Hospital is thriving, and now has two dedicated employees of its own. The majority of the patients are teddies and dolls, but the hospital has treated a huge range of other toys such as marionettes, Jack in the Boxes, rocking horses and ornaments. Customers vary from children, whose favourite toys have become damaged, to elderly people, who want to get their childhood toys restored in order to pass them on to the next generation: re-purposing and recycling at its best! Everyone who comes in shares a desire to preserve their beloved objects, which hold huge sentimental value; the range of services offered and the promise of making well-loved toys last have resulted in a loyal following of happy customers for the toy hospital.

A lovely doll, which came from Latvia originally, was brought in recently by an elderly lady whose family came over as refugees during World War II

With a ‘teddy surgeon’ seamstress and ‘plastic surgeon’ doll specialist on staff, the variety of repairs the hospital is called upon to perform is far-ranging; no two days are the same and there’s always something exciting going on! The most common repair services are fixing (surprise, surprise) toys damaged by pets, stitching up seams or adding a bit of stuffing to give a favourite toy its cuddle back. For more serious cases, teddies can get a whole new fur ‘skin’ and broken dolls are carefully glued back together.  

Part of the challenge of the toy hospital is to restore the toy to full strength without changing its unique character or making it look too new and different. Leith Toy Hospital always provides a personal service to the customer to make sure they’re getting exactly the level of repair they want. When each toy arrives, it gets a spot in one of the many little hospital beds, its name on a chart on the wall, and an individual treatment plan. When they’re fixed, they get a fresh ribbon around their neck, a sick note detailing their return to work guidelines and an ‘I was brave’ sticker to take home!

Many of the toys come with fascinating stories attached to them – one memorable case was a lovely doll that came from Latvia originally; it was brought in by an elderly lady whose family came over as refugees during the second world war and she’d kept the doll ever since. 

Another exciting day saw a man bring in his girlfriend’s childhood teddy that his dog had just chewed up, and he needed it fixed urgently in order to save their relationship! It was completely torn to bits and had to be pieced together one strip at a time. 

One lovely teddy dated to 1906 and some of the dolls are even older, as far back the as the Victorian era. The toy doctors consider it a privilege to work with these treasured objects that hold such sentimental value to people and to restore them back to health.

There used to be many more toy hospitals, and customers often talk about ones that used to exist in Edinburgh. Lots have memories of visiting a doll’s hospital as a child. Now they have become much scarcer and Leith Toy Hospital strives to preserve the handcrafting and personal care that families remember. There are generally about 30 patients in for treatment at any one time, mainly from across the UK, but some are posted from as far away as North America. 

The hospital’s services are in keeping with the growing interest in sustainability, offering conscious consumers the option to repair toys rather than replace them. Ultimately, Leith Toy Hospital’s popularity shows that no matter how old you are, there are few things more valuable than your favourite teddy.

Emma Forest, Senior Teddy Surgeon

Info: www.leithtoyhospital.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *