AS families spent more time at home over lockdown, demand for traditional boardgames, jigsaws and crafts soared.

And now as we move towards the ‘new normal’, trends in the toy world are also changing with the likes of bouncy balls enjoying popularity again as more people take to the outdoors.

The Hexham Courant launched a campaign in April with the aim of celebrating businesses going above and beyond, identifying their special efforts by crowing them Trader of the Week.

And this week, the bearers of the crown are Austin and Lindsey Birney, of Mr Wolf toy shop, who have been on hand to keep the district’s youngsters entertained throughout the pandemic.

After closing the doors to their shop on Hexham’s Market Street in March to limit the spread of the virus, the couple have since made their long-awaited return to the high street.

Lindsey said: “It’s going absolutely brilliantly. We were so worried about reopening and waited, but we can’t complain. It’s been great, everyone is playing their part.”

The couple set up the business in 2014 after struggling to find toys and gifts for their own children that didn’t require batteries or use screens.

And while current government guidance has meant that the business’ ethos, which is to play with and enjoy the toys, has had to change, shoppers have been undeterred and abided by the rules.

“It’s a different world”, Lindsey said. “We thought it would be a nightmare, but we’re getting into the swing of it now and its becoming second nature. Everyone has had their masks and followed the rules.”

During the lockdown the shop offered a personal shopping service and free doorstep delivery to addresses in Hexham.

They also took the opportunity to do some in-store improvements and develop a Mr Wolf own label range with the help of designers.

The couple, who have a second Mr Wolf outlet in Newcastle city centre, said they have been overwhelmed by the level of support from locals, with messages flooding in for the popular shop.

Lindsey said: “People are so lovely, to have sat at home and thought of us, we couldn’t ask more for a business and we are so grateful.

“To encourage people to shop local, you’ve got to have something the big guys don’t - we offer a personalised service.

“The only good thing about coronavirus is that it’s shown people how valuable the local area is, it’s like being discovered all over again. No advertisement could have achieved this and it’s given us a chance to prove ourselves - no big guy could have competed over lockdown.

“Through all of this, we hoped other businesses had the confidence we had. We knew we’d be fine, Hexham always delivers.”

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