Next month sees the Radisson Blu Hotel play host to a special Corkonian edition of Brickx Club, a regular event for Lego lovers of all ages with its roots in education and therapy. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-founder Kathy Lambkin ahead of the event.
Whether you’re an old-fashioned six-prong bricklayer, a Technic connoisseur, or a current-day youngster engrossed in seeing your pop-culture heroes recast in an infinitely destructible world, there’s little denying the cross-generational appeal of Denmark’s number-one cultural export: the humble yet seemingly ubiquitous Lego. An institution that has thrived over the years from the simple idea of allowing children and adults to develop their coordination and push the boundaries of their imagination, it’s little wonder that the line has stood the test of time. From down-to-earth playsets, allowing children to fabricate castles and police stations, to providing the building blocks for satire in many official film and TV spin-offs, Lego has moved with the times, and provides a perfect happy medium for generations of families at playtime.
It’s this time that former teacher Kathy Lambkin shared with her young son that led her to innovate Brickx Club, and put the pieces together on a social space geared toward developing trainee builders’ skills and perceptions. “I’ll tell you, I fostered a little boy named Leo. He has a club foot, so he couldn’t do anything ‘physical’, so we had to find some entertainment, and that happened to be Lego. I was a montessori teacher at the time, and whatever I did with him, I did at school, and they just loved it. And when they went on to primary school, and I’d meet them, they’d go, ‘oh, nobody ever does any Lego with us’. So, I said, ‘d’you know what, we’ll try it’, and I set up a club in Trim, at the school, and it was jam-packed from the minute I opened the doors. Then I had various friends approach me to say ‘whatever you’re doing, this is good’. So I trained a few of them up and they went off to their own areas. I went and did a Start Your Own Business course, because it was getting that way, and I now have twenty-eight running their own, a licence kind of thing. We try and keep it ethical, and make sure that as many people as possible have children, and many of them have children with autism. So, it means that they can have a job, run clubs, have a few quid and (balance that with family).”
From a single primary-school club to training in twenty-eight coaches around the country, it’s been a period of rapid growth for Brickx Club. Lambkin explains the process of laying foundations for aforementioned growth and how people can empower others in the process. “What I did was, I went over to Copenhagen and trained, I did a thing called Lego Serious Play. It’s a whole system of Lego that teaches people to think for themselves, and problem-solve. It’s for everyone, a lot of the people there were businesses going team-building, but I adopted it montessori-wise. I also went to the UK and did Lego therapy, with a girl over there who’d done a PhD, Dr. Gina Gomez. It’s for kids on the spectrum number one, but now it’s huge, I use it to help advance language skills, speech therapy. It’s so good, a very simple approach where you break it down, back to its basics. I teach kids how to put bricks together. I had a session there yesterday where I showed the kids how to make a basic tower. Sometimes it takes a few sessions, but you see it, and they really, really learn properly, y’know.”
The same school of thought applies to the idea of Brickx gathering around the country as destination events – creating a format, looking for venues and garnering momentum behind extracurricular Lego play presented challenges, but none that couldn’t be overcome by the medium’s inherently social nature, and the impetus to raise funds for wider causes. “I have two kids that we fostered, so we’re used to shenanigans, and we’ve been to refugee camps in Greece, giving Lego mini-figures out ‘cause we heard they had no toys. I run a charity called International Orphan Aid Ireland. We’re going twenty-six years now, we work to bring medical and dental treatment over to (rural areas and islands there). So we’re raising money for that, and for local charity Bumbleance. It’s a good way of fundraising, as it involves fundraising, and we’d have a huge contingency of kids from the special schools come as well, in the locality. It’s a great weekend out, and there’s a huge adult community, brick.ie, and it’s a great showcase for them.”
This August 25th and 26th, the Radisson Blu Hotel plays host to the Brickx Club Festival, with ten ‘zones’ set up for kids to get to work on, from tables and classic playsets to literal Lego pits, into which kids can hop and get started. Even on this aspect of setup and production, the thought and consideration required is quite something. “All those Lego guys, they’re a separate package, find out who’s going, and we provide them a room, look after transport, etc. Brick.ie are charitable as well, so we host them, have a night out, etc. They’re serious, and need a whole day of set-up, there’s going to be a big turnaround, and we’ll be ready. But in my home, I have a store room, full of Lego, and I have it set up in a way that we’ll have several vans pull up in the drive and take away containers of Lego, sorted into, y’know, Ninjago Lego, architecture Lego, etc. all divided up, and tonnes of bricks for the pits. We’ve done it a few times now, so we’re well able for the set-up!”
A native Corkwoman herself, with a penchant for coming home to spend family time on Fountainstown beach, Lambkin has made the effort to reach out not only to families and Lego social groups nearby, but also the known community of adult Lego enthusiasts, in order to showcase their creations and pass on their experience to enthusiastic young builders. When asked for the scoop on their show-stealing creations, however, Lambkin tells us that they’re keeping schtum. “They’re reluctant to talk about them! A lot of these people don’t like bringing the same thing twice, so a lot of these would be new builds. They’d send me a press release with a few words and a picture, perhaps. But there’s a very big community in Cork! We’ve quite a lot of teenagers. I work in Castlemartyr, Bandon, all over the place, and there’s a good mix of people out there, a big population involved in Lego.”
The event is priced for groups and families specifically, with tickets going five-for-40. It’s a staple of event marketing: get the kids, you get the parents. But what is the importance of family participation in the event? “It’s a family event, and we have drop-off workshops. But we find parents that will come in, have a cup of tea, we’ll turn around and five minutes later they’ll be on the floor playing with Lego (laughs). Every big event like this, they have to be for families. They love it. We have one family that comes to everything we do. They come from Palmerstown in Dublin, and they plan out everything around these events. I have tonnes and tonnes of (specialist) bricks that some of these builders just love to get their hands on!”
After a period of rapid expansion, the bricks are coming into place for the Brickx Club, with business about to pick up exponentially. Lambkin takes a breath before going into the details. “We’re going bigger in September. I have two girls with me now that are going to help us go countrywide. We’ve all these people and we’re hopefully going to take on another thirty. We know we’re ready. If we can keep it… we know it’s commercial, but the plan is for people to work in special schools, we’re kind-of all inclusive, and that’s the way we want it. That each person would do a bit of charity work, or special stuff in their own area.”