I first got the idea for Leith Toy Hospital from my own childhood bear, Lovely Bear, who had numerous treatments from my Mum when I was a child. I asked her to tell his story.
“I bought Lovely Bear from a school fair in Creigiau, Cardiff as a present for a friend’s child, but Mari (aged one) spotted me wrapping him up and it was love at first sight. She cried so pitifully when I took him away from her that I persuaded Santa to put him in her stocking at Christmas. When she saw him she cried “Lovely Bear!” and that has been his name ever since. For the last twenty-nine years, Mari and Lovely Bear have rarely spent a night apart. His original ‘fur’ was a pink- and blue-spotted Liberty Lawn, which was loved into holes after seven years: the situation became critical when I stupidly put him in the washing machine and he came out in bits! mari was distraught, so I gave him a complete skin graft. Mari chose the new fabric, nad has done so for every subsequent remake. I recover him every few years when his fabric wears through: but Mari still insists that his original covering stays in place underneath. Out of his chrysalis he comes, to emerge as a very different bear. He has modelled navy and orange tie dye, pale turquoise and yellow paisley lawn, a pink and orange fern-patterned lawn, a very bright pink cotton and a red cotton with orange spots; his current reincarnation is a multicoloured patchwork fabric. Somehow, although my daughter runs a toy hospital, Lovely Bear is always my job! He wasn’t only dressed in a new skin periodically: he had a whole wardrobe of clothes. Mari’s favourite was the school uniform I made for him (complete with a tie) to match her own, for a ‘bring your bear to school day’ when she was six. The realisation that many people didn’t have the skills to renovate their special toys led Mari to the idea of starting the toy hospital.
Mari has many memories of Lovely Bear. He has travelled everywhere with her, and still shares the bed with her and her boyfriend. She just can’t sleep without him. Mari says “When I was in hospital when I was 18 he kept falling on the floor and I had to keep ringing the buzzer to get the nurse to come and pick him up, and the nurse said “Oh for goodness sake” which I think was a silly thing to say!”