Brighter Futures Foster Care needs you

Brighter Futures Foster Care piggybackHappy New Year, and welcome to our first Brighter Futures Foster Care blog of 2015.

Well, we began the New Year as we left 2014, with a national shortage of approximately 8,000 foster families. When we started Brighter Futures Foster Care some seven years ago, it was our shared vision to develop a child-centred service which would attract people who wanted to develop their commitment, parenting skills and love for children into a skilled and professional approach to parenting somebody else’s children.

I was reminded of why we wanted to run a service such as ours when at one of our three panto’s I met with some of the fantastic children and young people, their Foster Parents, families and family friends. A great time to share smiles and laughter, even if a bit of the action is ‘behind you’!

A few comments from young care leavers puts it all into perspective; such as:

‘If I cannot be with my own family, then I want the opportunity to experience family life, and be cared for by people who provide a nice place to live and are there for me, to listen to my problems and help me sort them out, just like my Foster Parents’

And also:

‘My Foster Parents gave me a little grasp of a different way of life…I was very lucky to live there’.

Foster Parents really do make a difference, even, as in your own family, it does not always feel so at the time.

We are lucky enough to be attracting some great new people to our experienced, wonderful Foster Parent workforce. We are about to launch our new training and support plan to give our Foster Parents the chance to develop their specialist skills.

We’re looking to recruit more Foster Parents across Hampshire, so it would be great to hear from you or anyone you know who may be interested in fostering. We can also arrange for a chat with one of our experienced Foster Parents, or alternatively we have some planned open days and events. Attending one of these will give you the chance to ask the questions face to face with staff and Foster Parents. Please do get in touch with us and we can let you know the dates and venues of these events nearest to you.

Brighter futures foster careSo, please this year, if you are not one of our great Foster Parents already, make 2015 the year that you explore the possibility of really making a lasting difference and think about fostering.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a Foster Parent with Brighter Futures Foster Care, please get in touch; we’d love to hear from you. Our phone number is 01992 800 078, and you can email find us on Facebook.

This is a guest blog post by Brighter Futures Foster Care.


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Great Little Trading Company – Cavendish Play Kitchen: A Review

DSC_0906At some point around the time that your child turns 2 or 3 you will find yourself shopping for a toy kitchen. The draw of play kitchens is not to be underestimated and both my children have spent many a happy hour playing with them.

It’s a question often asked on the Mumsnet forums - which play kitchen is the best? Well, to help you narrow down the choice, here’s my review of the latest offering from the Great Little Trading Company – the Cavendish Play Kitchen.

Beautifully designed, it comes in a pleasing American Diner style colour palette of red and blue. It’s counterpart, the Portobello comes in pale pink, should you be of the mindset that your child must have things in pink.

DSC_0908First things first. This is a flat pack product which comes in a smallish box, with the pieces wrapped carefully in bubblewrap.  The instructions are printed on one sheet of paper and of the diagram variety.


By virtue of living close to an Ikea, as you can imagine, I am quite the expert at flat pack construction and so I set to with gusto.  The kit comes with an Allen key but you will also need a small Philips screwdriver.

DSC_0910All went well until I reached the kitchen shelf, whose pre-drilled holes were just out. Matters were resolved by use of a drill and two new holes were created, though no doubt had I asked, I could have had a new shelf shipped out to me to replace it. Shelf issues aside, the instructions were clear, but execution fiddly. You will need two people, one to hold the pieces and the other to wield the screwdriver.


As you can see from the pictures, this is a very attractive play kitchen. Once put together it is sturdy and stable; the door works easily, and the knobs turn with a pleasing clicking noise.  My son was immediately drawn to the clock, salt and pepper rack and the utensil hooks and he spent some time exploring those before he even realised there was an oven and dials to investigate.  The kitchen comes with salt and pepper pots with removable lids and three wooden kitchen utensils.  You can also purchase a number of very attractive looking saucepan sets from Great Little Trading Co to go with it, which mix and match.

DSC_0977 Also known as  ‘destructo-boy’ or ‘Bam-Bam’, my son will find a weakness in any toy almost immediately. I’m happy to report nothing has been broken or pulled off, and believe me, he has tried.  Further trials have revealed that the kitchen sink is removable and also doubles as a hat and casserole dish.

DSC_0979Another bonus to this kitchen, compared to others I have experience of, is how light it is. I can pick it up and move it to another room with ease, no help required.  Given my son likes to be in whichever room I’m in, being able to move his favourite toy is useful.  It’s just the right size for a toddler, big enough, with enough features to be interesting and not so big that it dominates a room. The very fact that it is such a lovely design and colour is a bonus in itself, meaning I am not silently resenting it taking up space in my house. The finish is good, with no rough edges and the paintwork is pristine. There are no flimsy or easily breakable parts at all.


Sink bowl being utilised as a casserole dish in the oven

If you wanted a bigger kitchen with more features, perhaps for a slightly older child then there are several other models available.  You could try the Superstar Play Kitchen featuring microwave and washing machine or the Superchef Kitchen with fridge freezer.

This kitchen is priced at £95 with free delivery and can be ordered through the Great Little Trading Company website. The perfect gift for a toddler, this kitchen is good value for money, and likely to be played with for some time to come.

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The Hampshire Santa Special

MN Santa SleighI’ve put together a list of great places to go to meet Father Christmas or Santa Claus in Hampshire. Some need booking in advance, others are first come first served, some can be booked on arrival so do check the details ahead of your trip.

The pricing structure and opening dates for some of these is very detailed so I’ve left the pricing and specific dates off and you’ll need to click the highlighted words for more details. This list is by no means exhaustive and I might add to it as I find more great grottos and experiences!

Andover Garden Centre, Andover – Visit a traditional Santa’s Grotto.  Booking necessary, available from the 5th December 2014, check website for dates.

Andover Garden Centre, Andover – Eat breakfast or  tea with Father Christmas, decorate  cookie and receive a gift.  Teas available from the 5th December, breakfasts from the 6th, booking necessary.

Baffins Pond, Portsmouth – Santa visits the community garden on the 20th December 2014, includes gift, refreshments available and bouncy castle depending on weather.

Bumps to Tots Christmas Fayre, Andover – Range of stalls, pre-loved baby, child and maternity items, refreshments, children’s activity corner and Santa’s grotto. Takes place on 6th December, no need to book, just turn up.

Bursledon Brickworks, Swanwick – Christmas at the Brickworks – Gala day on the 30th November  with a seasonal fair, seasonal food, children’s activities, trains and of course, Father Christmas will be dropping by – but if you want to see him in his workshop you’ll need to book to see him on the 7th December 2014 and this will include making a Christmas decoration, receiving a present, and a Christmas trail around the museum.

Cadnam Santa Arrival

Cadnam Santa Arrival

Cadnam Garden Centre, Cadnam – See Santa arrive in horse drawn carriage on the 27th November and thereafter visit him in his grotto or book breakfast with him on various dates throughout December from the 6th.

Cascades, Portsmouth – See a truly magical Narnia like snow scene with snow, frost and animated creatures in a woodland setting.  The animal display is interactive and will play for you when you press the button.  Visit Santa in his igloo made of wrapped presents and receive a gift. Online booking is available and recommended. Opens on the 20th November to coincide with the Commercial Road Christmas lights switch on event.

Eastleigh santa special

Santa Special, Eastleigh Lakeside Steam Railway

Eastleigh Lakeside Steam Railway, Eastleigh – Come and ride on the steam train to see Santa. 1st Class carriages will be in use.

Children and adults receive a present from Santa and can enjoy seasonal refreshments. Pre-booking essential, various dates from the 13th December 2014.


Fair Oak Garden Centre , Eastleigh – Have Breakfast or Tea with Father Christmas, decorate a tree cookie and receive a gift from Santa. Available from 22nd November – pre-booking necessary.

Fareham Shopping Centre, Fareham – The Grotto will by run by, with all proceeds going to, the Hampshire East County Girlguides. Grand opening on the 27th November and open on various dates from then to Christmas Eve.

festival placeFestival Place, Basingstoke - Give your children a Christmas they’ll remember with a trip on a magical train ride through Porchester Square to visit Santa.  You can purchase tickets on the day or book ahead to guarantee a timeslot.

Finkley Down Farm Park , Andover – Visit the Nativity Barn with your Santa Passport which is stamped at each activity on offer, including cuddling a Christmas Rabbit, grooming one of Santa’s little ponies and finish up by visiting Santa in his Magical Grotto. Opens on the 28th November 2014. Pre-booking not necessary but it is cheaper if you book online.

Gosport Discovery Centre, Gosport – An introduction to museums for young children and a chance to meet Santa with lots of hands on activities with a Christmas theme for the under 5s. 18th December 2014, free, but booking essential.

Groundlings Theatre, Portsmouth – Meet Santa and the cast of Cinderella for some great stories and kids activities – all free! No need to book, event takes place on 7th December 2014 at 2 pm.

Havant Garden Centre, Havant – Eat breakfast or tea with Father Christmas, decorate a cookie and receive a gift.  Must book in advance, available from 1st December 2014.

Hawk Conservancy Trust

Hawk Conservancy Trust

Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover – Father Christmas will be dropping in for breakfast ahead of Christmas on the 6th and 7th December.  Book early for this one.

Hinton Ampner, Alresford – Father Christmas will be dropping in to tell a Christmas story and deliver lots of presents.  Includes a gift and facepainting – no booking necessary, just drop in. 13th and 14th December 2014.

Keydell Nurseries, Horndean – Visit Santa at Keydells, every weekend and Wednesday and Thursday evenings in November and every day in December to Christmas Eve.  Visit the grotto and receive a choice of unwrapped gift.  No pre-booking, purchase ticket and book timeslot on the day.  If you would like to pre-book, you can book a place at the Elves and Frozen Characters tea parties  which include a visit to Santa on various dates from the 3rd December 2014.

Little Pickles Winter Extravaganza, Southampton – Festive day out, meet Santa in his Grotto, and enjoy an appearance by the Frozen princesses Anna and Elsa, lots of children’s activities, and demos for the whole family to enjoy.  No need to pre-book.

Longdown Christmas BarnLongdown Farm Christmas Barn, Ashurst – See the peaceful nativity scene, watched over by donkeys, look out for Father Christmas’ tractor sleigh parked outside the farmhouse grotto, and see Father Christmas himself inside the grotto to receive a gift. No pre-booking available. Open from 6th December 2014.

Manor Farm and Country Park , Southampton- Have afternoon tea with Father Christmas, and bring along your letters to post in the special farmhouse post box. No need to book.  From 29th November 2014. Or pop along to the Christmas market on the 6th and 7th December 2014 and children can visit Father Christmas in the stable.

Marwell Zoo , Nr Winchester – Join the elves in their magical woodland and be enchanted by Mrs Clause as she reads ‘The Snowman’.  Create a festive cracker and then meet Santa in his sparkling Grotto to receive a gift.  In the evening sessions you can also include a train ride. Opens 22nd November 2014. Pre-booking essential, this is very popular.

Milestones Museum of Living History, Basingstoke – Traditional grotto in the Victorian Railway Station waiting room.  Various dates from the 13th December 2014, booking essential.

Paulton's Park and Peppa Pig World

Paulton’s Park and Peppa Pig World

Paulton’s Park and Peppa Pig World Winter Wonderland , Romsey-  includes entrance to the Winter Wonderland experience, meeting Santa, receiving a gift, a 4D film experience at the Show Street Cinema, all the Peppa Pig and Paulton’s theme park rides and attractions and see the beautiful birds and animals including penguins and meerkats. Booking in advance highly recommended – already open at weekends, follow link for dates.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth – See a traditional Father Christmas (dressed in green) at the fantastic Victorian Festival of Christmas, and enjoy their largest ever Christmas market, Dickensian-style snow covered streets and a wonderland of Victorian Characters and entertainment. Pre-booking essential.

Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Horndean – Father Christmas is back in his grotto with gifts, a festive nature trail, tractor ride and children’s craft session.  Various dates from the 6th December, booking is essential.

Rake (Country Gardens) Garden Centre, Petersfield – Have Breakfast or Tea with Father Christmas, decorate a tree cookie and receive a gift from Santa. Available from 22nd November 2014 – pre-booking necessary.

Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley – Visit Father Christmas in his Grotto or book the Santa Special for a ride on the Steam train – both available from the 13th December 2014.

Staunton Country Park, Havant – Enjoy festive fun around the park, make seasonal crafts in the Elves workshop, see the animals in the Nativity scene, have a go at the Christmas trail and visit Santa to find out if you’ve been naughty or nice!  Book ahead, visits commence on the 6th December 2014.

Santa at Spinnaker Tower

Santa at Spinnaker Tower

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth – Come along and meet Santa who will be flying in on select dates from the 6th December 2014.  Meet Santa on the view decks 100 meterse above Portsmouth Harbour and tell him what’s on your Christmas wish list. Santa visit included in the usual ticket price, no need to pre-book.


St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington – A fun and festive opportunity to meet a Victorian Father Christmas (dressed in green not red!) and have a vintage photo taken with him. There will also be a Victorian Christmas tree decoration workshop.  One day only on the 22nd December 2014.

Tudor House, Southampton – Arts and crafts, Victorian Costumes, festive mini-trail and an chance to meet Father Christmas.  Father Christmas visits must be pre-booked.  Available 6th and 7th December 2014 only.

Uppark House, Petersfield – Make a very special visit to see a very special person – National Trust members free entry except children visiting Father Christmas.  No need to book. Various dates from the 6th December.

Santa SpecialsWatercress Line, Alresford – See Santa on a steam train as you take a one hour round trip through the scenic Hampshire Countryside. Includes gifts for all passengers and festive refreshments. Book ahead – available from the 6th December 2014.

West Quay, Southampton – Free visits to see Santa and a free gift for each visitor to the Ice Palace, various dates from the 13th December 2014. No need to book.

Whiteley Shopping Centre, Fareham – Father Christmas will be visiting the centre every Thursday and Sunday from the 4th December up til the 21st December 2014.

Wickham Lights Christmas Switch On - Come along to the festivities in Wickham to see Father Christmas arrive by horse and carriage.  Enjoy music and morris dancing before taking the children to Father Christmas’s grotto in the Kings Head. No booking necessary.

Winter Wonderland at Funland, Hayling Island – Take a breathtaking walk through Wonderland with Santa’s Elves, meet Santa Claus and receive a gift. Thereafter board the Funland Express and take a journey through an enchanted forest, rounding the trip off by meeting Santa’s reindeer. Opens on the 23rd November, pre-booking necessary.

With so many to choose from, hopefully you can find the perfect experience for your child. Happy Christmas everyone.

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Mr Organic – free from additives, packed with taste

mr organic logoI was recently sent a box packed full of Mr Organics’ products to try, including an organic tin of baked beans, Basil Pesto, Bolognese Sauce, Basil and Tomato Sauce and Italian Organic Ketchup.

The products are low in salt, organic, gluten free and suitable for vegetarians and vegans which ticks a lot of boxes for me.  Being keen to cut the salt intake for my family, products low in salt is good news, along with their no added sugar stance. It’s refreshing to find a producer with a strong ethical stance – they aim to keep their carbon emissions to a minimum – no air freight for them. A sustainable tomato production base next to the farms who supply them has the added benefit of meaning their food is processed within 5 hours of harvest and each tomato can be tracked back to the field in which it was grown.

Of all the products I tried, the clear favourite was the Italian Organic Ketchup –  an Award Winner in the The Great Taste Awards, this is a rich tasting ketchup without the sweet aftertaste you get from more mainstream brands. After extensive testing, I can confirm this tastes good with just about anything, but is particularly good on burgers.

Mr organic ketchup

I used the basil pesto in the traditional way, stirred into pasta. Had I not been aware that it had come out of a jar, I might have mistaken it for pesto from the chiller cabinet it had such a lovely fresh taste.

I’m not a fan of baked beans generally and so I couldn’t really review these honestly but according to my 6 year old, the A.A. Gill of her generation, they passed muster, which is high praise indeed.

The Bolognese sauce has a rich tomato taste which again, was unmarred by the addition of unnecessary sugar, and the basil and tomato sauce tasted just as it should, of basil and tomato and nothing more, rather proving the saying, that less, is more.

If you’d like to try these products (and everyone needs to try the ketchup in my opinion), you can purchase them from Ocado, Abel & Cole, Whole Foods Market, Budgens, Planet Organic, Amazon and Booths.


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Review: The Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories

Mumsnet Book of Animal StoriesThe Mumsnet Book of Animal stories recently landed on my doormat, and I’ve been reading a story a night to my daughter who is 6.  This lovely book is the result of a competition for Gransnet and Mumsnet members, and each was carefully chosen by a panel of judges including former Children’s Laureate, Anthony Browne, Miriam González Durántez, Lucy Mangan and Justine Roberts.

Brought to life with charming illustrations by talented new artists, each story focuses on a different animal and we have enjoyed tales of wolves, bats, meerkats and elephants to name but a few. From comic tales to re-imaginings of old favourites, the standard of writing is high and the range of stories make it an ideal bedtime story book, with plenty of variety to choose from.  Children from 3 -8 will enjoy either having this book read to them or reading it independently.  Beautifully presented, it would make a lovely gift for a new baby, christenings, birthdays or Christmas.

My daughter loves it, and I am quite sure I shall be reading stories from the book for a long time to come yet.

If you’d like to order a copy you can do so from Amazon or from The Hive who will deliver it free to your local independent bookshop helping you to support shopping locally. (If you’d like to know more about how that works - read up here).

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We review Charlie and Lola’s Best Bestest Play – Nuffield Theatre

Charlie & Lola mumsnet MPU_NEWNestled in the grounds of Southampton University, you will find the Nuffield Theatre, and it’s where I found myself today, trying (for quite some time) to find a place to park with two over excited children.  Today we saw the first performance of Charlie and Lola’s Best Bestest Play.

To fans of this popular television programme, Charlie and Lola hardly need any introduction, but for the uninitiated, Charlie has this little sister, Lola, who is small, and very funny…  But will Charlie ever get Lola to sleep, even though she is not sleepy and will not go to bed? It won’t be easy – the Tigers want their bedtime milk, the Dancing Dogs have borrowed Lola’s pyjamas and Lola thinks there is an ogre hiding in the wardrobe!

But how do you bring an animated television programme to life for an audience of the toughest critics going, a auditorium full of children? By the use of very clever 2D puppets, excellent puppeteers and a fantastic set with all the texture and fantasy sequences you have come to know and love from the original programme. The puppeteers work the 2d puppets of Charlie, Lola and the supporting cast with all of the nuance and movements you get from the animation, so well in fact, you do tend to forget that the puppeteers are there for a moment, until suddenly they are performers in their own right again, dancing with the scenery for set changes and encouraging the audience to participate.

With falling butterflies, bubbles and disco lights throughout the performance there is plenty to delight your children and you will be left with an enormous sense of well being and a desire to see more children’s theatre at this lovely venue. You can also purchase Charlie and Lola books, toys and swimbags in the foyer, very handy just before Christmas.

The play is suitable for children aged 3+ (although I did risk taking my nearly 2 year old and was delighted that he was engaged by it). You can book tickets through the Nuffield Theatre website or by calling the box office on 023 8067 1771.  Shows will take place at 11 am and 2 pm today, Thursday and Friday and 11 am, 1.30 pm and 4 pm on Saturday 1st November 2014.

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Enjoy 50% off this Half Term with South West Trains

swt_logo for 3rd PartiesEnjoy 50% off standard off-peak day return tickets everyday until Friday 31st October when you book in advance with South West Trains!

The best news is you can travel ANYWHERE across the South West Trains network!  So book your ticket online today and start exploring!  You can also book your tickets at ticket offices or by calling 0345 6000 650.  Remember you must book your ticket a minimum of 24 hours before you travel to receive the discounted fare!


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