The 'best toy shop in the world' where everything is absolutely free

The 'best toy shop in the world' where everything is absolutely free

It is a scheme everyone wishes there was no need for, but there are thousands of happier children as a result. Toybox takes unwanted toys and gives them - for free - to families and groups in need.

Such is demand that in the four years since the scheme started it has grown to help around 350 children a week with people attending the twice-weekly appointments to fill their baskets, for absolutely nothing.

Four years ago, James Morgan was in a meeting at the GP surgery where he works as a manager in Cardiff north when a health visitor told him a new family was coming to the area. The single-parent family was moving to north Cardiff with a four-year-old child. The only toys the child had was a Coke bottle filled with rice and a deflated football.

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"I just thought 'this is on our doorstep, in Cardiff' and as a parent to three kids, I went home and it upset me." A self-admitted "problem fixer" he said. When he spoke to his wife, he told her he "needed" to do something about it.

As most parents know, there is a huge environmental impact linked to toys but also the quantity kids accumulate. He also found charity shops themselves are often overwhelmed by donations and can't accept any more. But James also had a very personal reason for wanting to help. "Growing up in Cardiff, unfortunately I was one of those children where my family struggled. It was a single parent family, the early 1990s and we had to make do and mend," he said.

The Toy Box project's warehouse in Bedwas, Caerphilly
The Toy Box project's warehouse in Bedwas, Caerphilly -Credit:WalesOnline/ Rob Browne

He had started working on an idea but then Covid hit and his hours at work ramped up to help with the pandemic response. "Fast forward a few months and I thought 'I need to do this for my own mental health, I need to do something positive'. The number of families put on our radar at work and the impact on people's mental health through the cost of living crisis and people losing their lives, it all just started to crumble. There was a need for Toybox prior to Covid but in Covid we knew we needed to do it so I made a start".

He started off on his own, getting free toys from people in his local community or from Facebook Marketplace. He'd check them over, clean them up, and health visitors at the surgery would match them up with who was in need. But within a very short space of time, his spare room was too small for the scheme. "It grew very quickly, so I went and got a grant to pay for a shipping container for about seven or eight months and provided toys via the school and NHS to around 700 children. Then he got another grant, taking over a shop and recruiting volunteers which allowed it to grow yet again, with 2,000 children being helped within two years.

James has helped thousands of children
James has helped thousands of children -Credit:WalesOnline/ Rob Browne
-Credit:WalesOnline/ Rob Browne
-Credit:WalesOnline/ Rob Browne

Last year they helped 9,000 children and are now providing toys for up to 350 children a week. "Statistically though, we know we're not even scratching the surface," he said. They now help people from Brecon to the Vale of Glamorgan and Bristol to Swansea.

"Since day one, because the problems are only increasing, from day one we knew we needed a warehouse and a team of volunteers and the only way it could work was to scale it up. I wanted to be able to help as many people as possible." For the latest politics news in Wales sign up to our newsletter here.

In February 2023, they moved into a two-storey warehouse in Bedwas, Caerphilly. There are now 35 volunteers involved and a network of drop off points across Barry and Caerphilly, something they want to expand.

They open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to those in need, which can be individuals, families, health visitors, carers or teachers collecting on behalf of families or those from schools, charities and third sector groups who need toys. They have toys for newborns to teenagers from action characters to cars, dolls, baby toys and sensory toys as well as books and arts and crafts.

When he does a pick up, James said he flits between the joy at getting the toys, but wishing he didn't have to do it. "It's a tough of war with emotions. People are amazing and it's mind-blowing when families come in who are struggling and their children pick the toys they want off the shelves".

Two weeks ago, a single mum arrived at the warehouse with her two sons. "His words were 'this is the best toy shop I've ever been in'. Their mum said they could pick five things each and I told them to fill their baskets and 'take whatever you like'."

It is all grant-funded, mainly through Lotto, but their monthly running costs of rent and electricity are £2,100, so any donations are welcome, but not needed by those who visit. If they were able to secure longer term funding, then they want to expand their opening hours. You can find out more including the drop off points, what can be donated, and a fundraising link, on Toybox's website.