About us

Ian Butler showing a child how to make a toy

How we got started

The project has grown out of Ian Butler's travels to Africa to support his partner who is working there.

Being freelance and without an agenda but with a love for rural areas he travelled to remote areas of Ethiopia. The limited nature of the toys available for the children is obvious. For a healthy interaction he made spinning tops out of bottle tops, helicopters out of Ethiopian phone payment cards and made a lot of friends. The friends were not only children but also adults who had had limited opportunity to play and create and loved it.

Also, suprisingly, other travellers and westerners on volunteering adventures really enjoyed making and appreciated a non financial ways of interacting with local children.

When he returned home and searched the internet for ideas it provided very few appropriate practical toys for street environments and usually with poor, inflexible instructions.

The idea was born. An online manual for anyone who wants to be a basic toymaker.

Shortly afterwards Eddy Richards joined as project co-ordinator, and Fiona Thomson at http://www.picnmix.com  was recruited to build a suitable website. This has given tangible form to the ambitious nature of the project and allows us to have confidence in achieving our goal.

A chance meeting with Ashenafi, a locally born experienced charity worker with great connections allowed for an accelerated learning curve. Through his contacts we have tested out strategies in very rural schools and gained a good understanding of problems faced.

Further experience has led to the conclusion that people learn very well by watching and copying from a teacher, and struggle with writen instructions.. Barriers recognised are suprisingly similar across the different cultures. People rarely follow written instructions unless they have to. When they do pictures are easier to follow.  People do use written information when things go wrong and also to discover new ideas,

Ian Butler 

Ian Butler

Ian has been a professional toy maker and woodworker for over 30 years running Croglin Toys. Not being happy with a regular career or employment the making of wooden toys appealed greatly, and there was the singular advantage of continuing to play and hopefully make a living too. Just before his first child was born, he started a little business making toys in a little village in the Cumbrian hills called Croglin . As the family grew so did the business moving to a larger workshop. After 35 years he is still in the same village, his 4 children have grown and left and he is still toymaking, woodworking, gardening and dog walking. The eldest son Joe has been working in the business for the last 6 years and has now taken over the main workshop leaving Ian free to travel.

The trips have now evolved to testing out designs and looking for ways they can be developed or simplified. Now Ian has more reason to carry on making and playing and Joe can look after the sophisticated workshop which isnt nearly as much fun.

Eddy Richards

Eddy Richards - cool and handsomeEddy has been involved in development issues for many years, teaching through V.S.O. in Kenya for a couple of years before returning to the UK to work in development education.

With three children of his own he is very aware of the importance of playing and using the imagination, and views making toys cheaply from easily accessible materials as vital for children's development.

Whilst poverty is still widespread sometimes practical solutions are at hand!


Ashenafi originates from a rural part of the Kaffa zone and knows just about everybody. In 2015 he established a new charity SWCO https://swcoweb.wixsite.com/swco-org  with the aim of improving the quality of life in the most deprived areas of Kaffa. He has a sociology degree from Jimma university and works part time as a lecturer in sociology. He is married to Nigat who works full time as a psychology lecturer in Jimma university. They have two young children.

He is a classic fixer and when he is involved progress is made.  ashumikael@yahoo.com