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Charity transforms city shop into visitor centre against the odds under tough Covid restrictions

A Leicestershire charity has revamped its Highcross headquarters into a visitor centre despite the city facing huge challenges and the toughest levels of lockdown in the country.

Photo by Victoria Wilcox

Leicester Children’s Holidays’ new centre is a feast for the senses with a toy figure on a zip wire, a mountain biker riding up the wall and photo montages of holidays from the past and modern day.

The delayed opening went ahead at the end of lockdown on Wednesday, December 2 with a focus on selling toys on the run-up to Christmas.

Leicester Children’s Holidays provides free respite breaks for local children. They've taken 60,000 children on holiday since 1898.

The visitor centre move is to draw more families in to the centre and offer education sessions for school pupils of all ages. The focal point is a giant ten-metre-high tree of life to represent the charity’s long history. There are word boards and a charity timeline running across the entire space.

A range of 300 children’s toys are on sale including board games, dolls, soft toys and puzzles with a ten per cent discount on everything. All profits go straight to the charity which takes disadvantaged children on life-changing holidays.

The charity’s manager Nicky Kandola oversaw the project with a lot of 6am starts. She said: “We spent the months of lockdown organising the designs and briefing the suppliers and the contractors. As soon as the restrictions eased, they started work with social distancing guidelines in place.

“It is exciting to see it all come together and we hope to welcome visitors of all ages. People in Leicester have already responded to our move into Highcross and tell us stories from over the decades of their own or their family’s experiences

“We are pleased to have used local companies for the work and they have done a wonderful job. Highcross management could not have been more supportive during a challenging time.

“We are attracting corporate sponsors and now have a revenue stream from the toys on sale. Visitors who buy our toys should know that they are helping our charity at the same time as another disadvantaged child in the county. Everyone can learn about our charity and its history in a dynamic setting.”

Photo by Victoria Wilcox

Interior designer Sarah Palmer-Granville, who runs SPG Interior Design, drew up the centre designs for free.

Sarah said: “What the charity is doing to help disadvantaged children is amazing and I am happy to use my expertise to assist with its success.”

The principal contractor was Simon Appleby from Applebee Contractors in Oadby, who has long been a supporter of the charity, and provided the work at cost price. He said: “It was an interesting project with the zip wire and the giant wooden tree which was laser cut. Our team of three worked from 6am to 8pm. It was good to help them out.”

Nyemachi Atanda from Fast Signs in Leicester provided the outside signage and ‘bus stop’ sign to get the charity’s unit, opposite Zara, noticed. She said: “It was a joy to work on this project for a charity which helps children who easily get forgotten. Nicky Kandola is an awesome person and I pray the charity gets the support it deserves.”

Leicester printing company PrintPrint produced the print graphics for both inside and out. Managing director Rubina Lokat said: “It has been great to get the opportunity to transform this space so children and parents can enjoy it. It represents a celebration of 120 years of the charity’s heritage.”

Designer Molly Mathews, from Leicester-based creative agency Masters Allen, created all the internal and external graphics. Molly said: “I loved working for such a highly-regarded charity and look forward to seeing families enjoying the space."

The Leicester Children’s Holidays visitor centre is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm.


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