Real Life

How this former art teacher created a business based on Lego

The former art teacher's built her business brick by brick and her educational pit is quite the hit!
Robert Trathan.

When her daughters were younger, Clare Thompson spent thousands of hours playing Lego with them – a pastime she didn’t get to experience herself as a child.

“We were too poor to afford Lego, but I’m a teacher by profession, and my kids basically taught me how to play and how to engage and learn,” tells Clare, 53. “So I bought them as much Lego as we could afford.”

With her children Imogen and Petra now teenagers, those days of endless play together have passed, but Clare finds herself spending more time – and money – on Lego than ever before after amassing a huge 100-kilogram collection to start The Brick Pit NZ.

‘It’s nostalgic and it takes you to a happy place’

The unique venture sees the former art teacher take her Lego into workplaces for corporate events, where she custom creates and hosts workshops challenging participants to expand their imagination and get creative.

It’s meant stepping away from the classroom to share her love of Lego instead, but Clare says it’s all been worth it to see adults immerse themselves in play, which otherwise can be missing from their lives.

“Lego is the universal language of creativity and play,” she smiles. “It doesn’t need language and it crosses all boundaries.”

It was while travelling through Finland and Denmark with her partner Suze Moller and their children in 2017, when Clare’s inspiration was first sparked after visiting international Lego attractions and education centres.

Where Clare first had the idea of a Brick Pit.

As she lay down in a life-sized pool of Lego, marvelling at how much could be created with the tiny bricks, Clare knew she had to find a way to bring something similar to Aotearoa.

“It was pure joy to be swimming in Lego,” she remembers. “And that was kind of the beginning.”

Overflowing with ideas, Clare returned to New Zealand and began collating her collection while simultaneously introducing The Brick Pit NZ concept to her students at school.

“No one was absent on Tuesday afternoons and we worked out it was because that’s when I did the Lego workshops,” recalls Clare, adding it took nine months to source the huge haul locally and abroad. “Every child loved it.

“I spent a small fortune – sold a house. I had to fund the business and bought about 100kg of white Lego!”

From her shed at the bottom of the backyard, Clare can escape into her Lego world.

Her first experience introducing it to adults came in 2019, when she was approached to collaborate on a competition for 10 architectural firms, titled Modern Citizen Show.

“I was the only one with enough Lego,” laughs Clare. “It was 50 people of various ages and backgrounds in Parnell, and it was so successful. There were 60-year-old guys not wanting to drink beer because they just wanted to play with the Lego.”

It’s a sentiment shared by many who have experienced one of her events and Clare loves how it provides an alternative to the traditional drinks culture of corporate team bonding.

“TV show Lego Masters has really helped promote the concept of play for adults and the stress relief we can get from it, opposed to gin or beer or wine at the end of the day,” explains Clare.

Since that inaugural competition, she has worked with a multitude of companies, from engineering firms to physiotherapists, Auckland Zoo and salmon producers.

A hugely successful initiative with Auckland Maritime Museum during the school holidays saw children building waka and ships, with the museum’s visitor numbers skyrocketing 500 percent.

For Clare, it doesn’t matter who she’s hosting, there’s always the immense joy and satisfaction as others get to experience her vision.

“When I give them a brief to build something, no one knows what it’s going to look like when they finish,” tells Clare. “They have at least two hours, but it often feels like 20 minutes. Time is irrelevant when they’re too busy trying to outdo each other.

“It doesn’t matter what industry you come from, you remember what you felt like when you played with Lego. It’s nostalgic and it takes you to a happy place.”

It’s been five years of hard work, but Clare is immensely proud of the end result, and says her children and Suze have been behind her every step of the way.

“They cannot believe I started with a very small idea and built it up to now hanging out with architects in beautiful buildings.

“Our world is changing so quickly, we need to adapt. I gave a up a 30-year career as a teacher to make this happen,” says Clare, who continues to also run workshops in primary schools. “There’s heaps of research on the therapeutic nature of Lego.

“Some people have the gym, some people have gin, some people have God and I have Lego. It’s my happy place.”

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