We decided to kick off the run-in to Christmas by visiting the free (yes, free!) Santa’s Post Office, in Sheffield City Centre (Barkers Pool).
Santa’s Post Office Location
For non Sheffield locals, Barkers Pool is about a 5-10 minute walk from the train station right in the city centre, very close to the Crucible and Lyceum theatres. As you can see the outside of Santa’s Post Office is beautifully decorated and not easy to miss!!
What happens inside Santa’s Post Office?
Inside, the children can write a letter to Santa (or parents can do it!). The letter gets put in a post box and magically ends up in Lapland!
Spoiler alert: Then an adult goes to the magical elf and gets a letter from Santa to give to their child at an appropriate time. You might want the elves or another adult to keep your child occupied whilst you get the letter!!
We went last year (2017) and Santa’s Post Office was quite small. However, Santa’s Post Office has expanded and so there should be enough space to write a letter and not feel rushed or squashed! For 2018, there is also a buggy park inside!
All, it will take about half an hour to an hour to do the letter. You get a good quota of stickers to decorate the letter which leaves enough time to enjoy the other things in Sheffield City Centre.
As you can tell, Santa’s Post Office is wonderfully decorated and once you go in, you’ll really feel in the Christmas spirit!
What about the rest of Sheffield?
If you’re travelling from afar, you’ll want to spend more time in Sheffield than just this. However, there is a Christmas Market with possibly the largest Santa’s Grotto you have seen. There is also a Christmas Trail, which you can read about here and you can play “Find the Elephant” at the Winter Gardens (that is my made-up game!)
For more information about all the other events in Sheffield, check out the “Alive after Five” website – http://www.sheffafter5.com
It sucks… let’s just get it out of the way. Christmas as a single parent really, really sucks.
This is the first year where bridges have been burned, the end of the road has been reached etc etc. Things are going to be awkward. There will be tears. There already has been, even whilst writing this…
No-one will be happy all of the time. Not me, not mum, not even the most important person in all of this, Heidi. Unfortunately, with her being 3 years old, she probably won’t know what she wants until it is too late. Regardless of all the plans, unless they are perfect/lucky, they won’t please her. Maybe in a couple of years time, she will be able to say exactly what she wants, and mean it, but not at the moment sadly. That is the worse thing about all of this, the poor little thing is going to be really confused and upset and there is nothing I can do.
I am already dreading the time it will be to say goodbye on the big day. Mind you, I dread it every single time, be it summer, winter, weekday, weekend. It is an emotion that you can never escape as a single parent.
The last couple of years, we have managed to spend the day as a notional family so we all spent the day with her and made it as “normal” as possible. Sadly, despite best efforts, that doesn’t seem to be on the agenda so even 2 weeks before Christmas, I have no idea what is actually going to happen.
However, in the days leading up to and after Christmas, I am going to treat every day like it is Christmas Day. Ok, there won’t be any presents or crackers or big dinner, but there will be fun times, laughter, adventures and love.
That is the best that I can do for myself and Heidi. That is the only way I can do Christmas as a single parent.
Yes, it will suck on Christmas Day, regardless. Christmas as a single parent s rubbish. But I’ll have the memories of the days before and the planning of the days after to think about.
Firstly, there is a special preview post for the show hereso feel free to give that a read first, prior to reading the review post, especially if you have never been to or heard of the Rainbow Factory.
Secondly, there are no spoilers whatsoever, so even by reading this, you won’t know what is going to happen, or how it is going to happen – the magic for young and old will certainly be there still!!
Writing a review for anything to do with the Rainbow Factory is so difficult because no matter how creative or spectacular the blog post is, it pales into insignificance compared to the magic they produce, and that magic was in full force for this show!!
The first part of the show is what you would expect from Cinderella, setting the scene, introducing the ugly sisters (with a difference!!) and Cinderella. However, after 15 minutes, the story turns from a traditional fairy-tale to a unique Rainbow Factory creation, thanks to the mystery character, played by Lydia Toumazou.
Once this character enters, the audience interaction jumps up a notch, children start to feel the need to shout to help the characters and there is laughter filling the room. This is because the groundwork has been set, and the characters play off each other wonderfully to get to this stage.
The ending is somewhat traditional, but this underlines the fact that you are watching a performance based on Cinderella, but a completely unique performance nonetheless.
Think of it like a Rainbow Factory sandwich (bear with me…!) Between the start and end of the show, which are based around tradition and fairy tale, there is a middle jam packed with creativity, magic, and laughter – everything that the Rainbow Factory is famous for. Getting this mix right is difficult, but they managed to do it perfectly.
Just a couple of notes to be aware of, given that the performance lasts 40 minutes and there are only two performers, shortcuts have to be taken in the story, but you are in no doubt that you are watching a Cinderella performance. Also, be prepared for slight audience participation if you are (un) lucky to be chosen – thanks Lydia!!!! Nothing to worry about at all, but just thought that I would mention it!!
The quality of the performance is of the highest standard, Lydia is the Education Director of the Rainbow Factory and wrote the show and has a First Class degree from Cambridge, as well as 25 years of working in the arts and education industry (which meant that she started when she was 3 I think!). Rachel Abigail Smith is Cinderella and has performed on some of the nation’s biggest stages – this is not an amateur production by any stretch of the imagination.
Speaking of imagination – the performance pushes your imagination, relates to your child’s imagination and as such, develops them further in ways that perhaps no other Christmas show will. The show entertains as well as stimulates and develops them.
As a footnote, we got to meet the cast for photos afterwards and I’m sure that this will be a regular thing throughout the show-run, so hang around for pictures and look at the set (hint: look above the fireplace!) However, I mention this because the person to sort this out wasn’t the Communications Manager or one of the other members of staff, it was the Managing Director. This attention to detail and customer care (and child friendly attitude) from everyone involved in the Rainbow Factory makes it one of our favourite places to visit, but also means that this show will be enjoyed by so many people throughout the Christmas period.
So we were invited, along with a number of other bloggers early Sunday morning to the #smigglexmasparty launch in the Smiggle store in the Trinity Shopping Centre in Leeds City Centre. Having never been to Smiggle before, I deliberately didn’t do any research. As such, first impressions counted.
And wow, what a first impression it leaves. If I was to explain it in simple terms, it is like a well known stationers mixed in with a well know beauty shop. However, a work colleague probably described it better when saying that it looked like a rainbow from the outside! The colours when you enter are so vibrant and striking. That is exactly the type of persona the products inside have. It is exactly the type of products children want to have and be seen to have.
We were left to our own for about an hour to basically play with all the products in store. We saw what we liked, what we didn’t like and generally was nosy (and pick up Christmas present ideas!!) At the moment, Heidi is being taught how to use a pencil properly, although she is not too interested in it. As such, a shop like this is a perfect opportunity to get her interested and enthusiastic about writing. It makes writing “cool”!!
A simple stocking filler that we found was the Scented Pencil Pack (4 pencils for £4.50). The pencils smell and also, if you rub them, they change colour. So simple, but it would be something that Heidi would use and be excited about using, and would help her development.
A favourite of most of the children was the Pop Out Scented Party Pencil Case (£15). It looked like the Swiss Army knife of pencil cases! The product had drawers and buttons for everything from scissors to rubbers and sellotape. It even had space for pens and pencils!! Not quite sure how the teachers would react to the pencil case if your child was playing with it in class, but not a bad problem to have.
However, we liked the smelly soft pencil cases, which come in all sorts of shapes. We loved the ones which looked like drinks containers the most. Perhaps it fitted in well with the humour of a 3 year old, but out of everything of the store, that is the one thing she wanted, so we bought it for £11. She was hysterical upon the idea of drinking out of a pencil case!!
While it all sounds a bit “girly”, there are products for boys as well. These include Yo-Yo’s with an LED light (£7) as well as a “pumping” toy, which extremely popular with a number of children. This is probably not popular with the parents, so that might be one to give to a niece or nephew!! There was also a slinky with animals painted on the side (£8.50). We couldn’t really it work in store because there were no stairs but looked really cool.
Although the products are aimed towards children and teenagers, a good little present would be the “Puzzle Python” (£10). This is made up of 60 small magnetic tiles and you can arrange them however you like, to make whatever you like. Due to the small nature of the pieces, younger children would probably not have the dexterity to play with it. However, it would look good on an office desk!
As this was a preview event, the staff were obviously really keen to help. However, they did seem genuinely enthusiastic about their products and were really good with the children. Now, I am one of these people who do all their shopping online for Christmas. But I think that if you’re going to buy from Smiggle, you really need to go in the store to see the actual product.
By all means, do the research online. But because the products are so unique, you really need to see them, and smell them. In fact, you might look a bit weird, but smell the products. Virtually everything in store has a scent, usually after rubbing it!!
Also, if you have seen a product online, or you are looking for something specific, ask the staff to point it out to you. As Smiggle stores are small and so colourful, it can be difficult to pick a specific item out. Make sure you ask for help, especially if you have no idea what you’re looking for (like me!!)
For complete and open transparency, for attending the event, we were given a small number of Smiggle stocking fillers. Oh and a mini muffin, which seemed to go down very well!!
With Heidi about 2 1/2 years old, this has been the first year where we have tried to get her “into” Christmas. Previous years, it has gone over her head completely, but this year has been different.
Heidi has been taken to many Santas this year just to build her up and to make her feel comfortable with the Big Man! This has meant that she has started to understand that Santa is and in fact, it is a special occasion at a special time of year.
The Santas who we have seen have been your traditional grottos in the usual places (garden centres etc) and there is nothing wrong with that at all – you know what to expect!
However, Baby Rave/The Grotto, Leeds have done something a little different – Breakfast with Santa! Hosted in the ground floor of the Corn Exchange in Leeds, we headed down on a Sunday morning for our pre-booked session (pre-booking is highly recommended!)
If you have never been into Leeds City Centre, sometimes it isn’t the best for parking, particularly down that end and so we got the train (aka Polar Express/Northern Rail!) and did a 10 minute walk. (There are loads of bus stops nearby as well!)
Upon finding where breakfast was being served, there was a really simple but clever thing – a mini bouncy castle, just so that the little ones could burn off some energy and kill a few minutes without stressing out their parents!
Anyway, the breakfast was a very intimate session, as there was only 10 children and so it was nice for the children to get close but not being put on the spot with a one-to-one conversation but the kids could strike up a chat if they wanted to. The looks on the children’s faces was priceless when they saw Santa coming into the room!
As there was only 10 children in the room, it really did feel special and heart-warming and nothing felt rushed, nothing felt forced and it just flowed right (and no child had a tantrum!)
After 15-20 minutes of being sat with Santa during story time, there was an opportunity for photos with Santa and any combination of parents/children you want! Photos were uploaded onto Facebook and they were brilliant quality! (as always!)
I should actually mention the breakfast itself…the breakfast is only for the children! Also, we found that food was the last thing on Heidi’s mind – after all, she was a yard away from Santa!!! It might be an idea for the little ones not to arrive on an empty stomach as they might not feel like eating!
As Santa was finishing off his hundreds of individual photos, a side room was opened for the kids to run and play with toys etc with the usual Baby Rave vibes/music!
Once everyone had done their photos, Santa came back into the room for some dancing, bubbles and “snow”!! This worked absolutely perfectly for Heidi and will do for similar aged children as if they had to spend longer eating with Santa, they would have got bored and the edge would have been taken off it, but by having the opportunity to run, play and dance, it broke it up nicely.
A couple of things:
1) in the break out rooms, the lights are dark and changing, therefore difficult to take a good photo (I have never taken a good photo at a Baby Rave event!) As a result, the best photos are in the breakfast room!
2) there is no gift. For some this might be an issue, but the gift is a child who has just had a wonderful experience! (as well as a breakfast!)
3) all in all, it lasted about 45 minutes, just about right!
It was such a wonderful experience and in future years, this will probably be the only Santa that she gets to see, as it was so good and so special – next year it will be quality as opposed to quantity and this was of the highest quality!
It would be wrong of me to fail to mention that there is a whole host of other Christmas activities going on at the Corn Exchange, from traditional grottos, to Elsa/Spiderman workshops – which sound really cool and will be explored next year (I am probably too old for the Spiderman one!) Probably the best place to find out is to Facebook “The Grotto, Leeds”