County Durham boy, 5, lands dream job as chief toy tester for new family business

Jack Slee has been helping out with his parents’ new toy making business over the past 12 months. Credit: NEBIC

A five-year-old child has landed his dream job as a chief toy tester after becoming the first employee of the family business.

Jack Slee has been helping out with his parents’ new toy making business over the past 12 months, ensuring their products meet the most stringent of standards in order to receive his seal of approval.

Andrew and Kate Slee from County Durham created their own toy company, The Heart of Imagination, to bring to market sensory, sustainable toys that help improve the learning experience and make education more enjoyable.

Kate used her 14 years experience in early year education to develop the idea and together with her husband Andrew, who has a passion for woodwork and experience of making toys, the pair launched the business from their garden shed in January 2021.

They have gone on to sell hundreds of products and expand into their own dedicated workshop at the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC).

Andrew and Kate Slee with son Jack Credit: NEBIC

Kate said: “I’ve been in the early years sector for 12 years now and have a strong passion when it comes to children’s learning and development. When we started our family a few years ago, it became apparent that my ‘career’ wasn’t something that I could just leave at work as I was so eager to put all my knowledge and experience towards my little one’s development and upbringing.

“So, after great discussion and having the opportunity to achieve our dream of starting a family run business that supports children’s curiosity, imagination and development, we approached the team at the BIC and our little business was born.”

Initially operating from their garden shed, the pair began producing toys and passing them to their son, Jack to test, as well as gauging the opinions of the children at the early year’s nursery where Kate spent her working days.

Jack has been helping out with the family business Credit: NEBIC

Fast-forward a year and the couple have since moved into their own dedicated workshop at the BIC, launched their own e-commerce store and have invested in a state-of-the-art CNC milling machine to ramp up and improve production output.

“With Andrew’s manufacturing knowledge and my experience of early years education, we have carved out a real niche for producing hand crafted toys and resources, each of which are carefully constructed to make them safe, strong and comfortable to handle.

“Then, once they’ve received the approval of Jack, I work with him to carefully package the toys up, making sure they reach our high quality checks and send them out to our clients. It’s a real family affair and we’re delighted with how our customers have responded to the products so far.”

Donna Surtees, centre manager at the North East BIC, said: “It’s been fantastic working with Andrew and Kate on the launch of their business and to see them continuing to grow their business at the BIC is testament to the fantastic eco-system we’ve built here that not only provides people with the knowledge to start and grow a business, but also the space and resources required to scale. We’d like to wish them all the best for the future.”