A magical new attraction has opened its doors in Northumberland…! Cultural Enterprises Trustee Matthew Henderson meets with Tracey Blenkin, Retail Manager and Buyer at The Alnwick Garden, to take us behind the scenes at Lilidorei, and discover how an immersive retail space has been created with imagination at its heart…

Lilidorei at The Alnwick Garden has just opened to visitors – a magical, mysterious village full of play which is home to nine clans who worship Christmas. The new attraction includes the world’s biggest play structure and encourages children of all abilities to leave their mobile phones behind and enjoy both physical and imaginary play, immersed in a magical world of sound, storytelling, myths and all round fun!

Whilst the fairies and trolls were preparing to open Lilidorei to the public, a small team made up of internal staff and external support set about creating an immersive retail space as part of the commercial offer. Lilidorei is operated by The Alnwick Garden Trust, an independent charity and it was key that retail reflected the experience within the attraction whilst providing income to enable the charity to further its valuable community and education work, including offering free school visits for Primary and First Schools in Northumberland.

As Retail Manager and Buyer at the Trust, Tracey Blenkin (pictured) was part of the team responsible for creating the new shop. “We knew we wanted to create a truly immersive shop – one where children and adults would be amazed and be able to take the Lilidorei wow factor home with them. The attraction centres around imagination and having fun through play so we wanted the shop to be part of the experience, not just a shop on the way out.”

The clans that inhabit Lilidorei prepare for Christmas all year round so the team focused on the attraction’s USPs by creating shop fitting, props, visual merchandising techniques and products that centred around the magic of Lilidorei, its residents, and of course Christmas.

“The majority of products in the space are bespoke to Lilidorei. We worked with Matthew Henderson (Consultant and Trustee of the Association for Cultural Enterprises) to create more than 150 unique products over a two month period. We’d meet as a team weekly to essentially play online Dragon’s Den with different range ideas and concepts. We’re launching with a huge selection and have more on the way including a snow globe and a children’s hat, both of which are based on the hat on the giant play structure! I’ve sourced complementary items to go with the bespoke items too.”

From goblin soap to handmade wands, Lilidorei baubles to gingerbread fudge, the buying strategy for the shop allowed the team to create fun, immersive products that appeal to various age groups whilst prioritising locally made and environmentally sustainable products.

One key feature of the shop is the “Snots and Lollies cavern” which has been designed by Arantxa Garcia (Visual Merchandiser) to display the bespoke lollies, chocolate, fudge, magical sweets and ice cream, all of which are bespoke to Lilidorei. The design from the bespoke confectionery packaging has been included in props and signage within the space and the team hope it will be a wow moment for visitors.

The team even worked with a local ice cream manufacturer to create bespoke tubs of “Troll Snot Ice Cream” (sour apple flavour really!) which, along with other intriguing flavours, will be sold in the shop and from branded ice cream bikes across the village, as part of the wider commercial operation.

Testing the Troll Snot Ice Cream!

Asked which products or shop features are her favourites, Tracey said, “I have a different favourite every day, I’ve had tears in my eyes seeing how amazing it looks. I particularly love the repeat pattern range which features elements from across the village, we’ve used that not only on products but as props throughout the shop – it really gives a sense of what Lilidorei is.”

The Lilidorei shop is like no other, it is an Aladdin’s cave space which feels warm, welcoming and magical. Speaking ahead of the opening, Tracey said, “I can’t wait to welcome everyone to the shop, we’re so excited to see what visitors make of the shop and our product range. I’ve had queues of our staff wanting to buy products already so hopefully that’s a good sign – I must admit, a very cute Lilidorei bear might already be pride of place in my house! I previously worked as a teaching assistant with children with special educational needs, so to know we have created such a magical shop in our region, feels very special.

“I live Christmas all year round anyway, I love it but I’m really grateful to everyone who has had Christmas and fairies as part of their life for the past few months as they’ve supported the project. They include Paul Ogburn (Consultant), Arantxa Garcia (Visual Merchandiser), Matthew Henderson (Consultant) and my managers Victoria Watson (Strategic Head of Catering, Retail & Hospitality) and Richard Evans (Director of Lilidorei at The Alnwick Garden). Along with my dedicated retail team, skilled craftspeople and the suppliers and designers who have brought our ideas to life – especially Anya Kirkby (Designer) who has spent hours designing troll snot packaging!”.

Tracey and the team are looking forward to welcoming Cultural Enterprises members and visitors to their new shop at The Alnwick Garden.

Find out more about Lilidorei at the Alnwick Garden.

Matthew Henderson
By Matthew Henderson
Matthew Henderson is a Freelance Consultant and Trustee of The Association for Cultural Enterprises.
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