Thousands of youngsters across Gwent are spending hours weaving loom bands. FRAN GILLETT investigates the craze.
IN playgrounds and front rooms across Gwent, thousands of children have been quietly weaving together small, multicoloured bands.
And shop managers in Cwmbran and Newport have been forced to order in emergency deliveries as boxes of loom bands sell out in record time.
Unlike other childhood crazes of the past, loom bands look as if they are to stay a little longer, with both boys and girls and even parents going potty for the fad.
Loom bands are small elastic bands which, when linked together, can be made into anything from friendship bracelets to duvet covers.
Using a loom hook, the so-called 'loomers' can weave the bands together in a variety of designs including a fishtail, dragon scale or more complicated inverted hexafish.
Sales reportedly soared again after the Duchess of Cambridge was spotted wearing a bracelet made of the tiny elastic bands on a trip to New Zealand.
Anne Webster-Blythe, head teacher of Llantarnam Community Primary School in Oakfield, Cwmbran, said the bands are extremely popular and, unlike other crazes, have not caused any disruption in class.
She said: “Pupils are always doing the bands everywhere, all over the yard and all the time. They’ve even made skipping ropes out of them.”
“I haven’t noticed any danger. They certainly don’t disrupt lessons so I can’t say they are interrupting education at all.”
According to Mrs Webster-Blythe, the bands, which are most popular with primary school children, have provided entrepreneurial opportunities for her pupils.
She said: “We had a mini enterprise week earlier in the year where pupils came to me with business plan and I lent them money from the school funds. Some pupils made the bands and sold them and used the profit to buy ice creams on their school trip. It was a profit of about £30 to £40.”
On July 5, Cwmbran Shopping Centre held Loombran, the first loom band mini-festival in the UK after centre manager Paul Rich’s nine-year-old daughter sparked the idea.
Despite originally ordering in 60,000 loom bands to give away free at the Loombran festival, father-of-three Mr Rich said he had to purchase a further 40,000 because of increased demand.
Out of the outlets in the shopping centre that sell the loom bands, two doubled their sales target and one exceeded sales by up to 50 per cent.
Mr Rich, manager of Cwmbran Shopping Centre, said: “A couple of the outlets sold out of the bands. We would 100 per cent do the event again and next time go bigger and better.”
Sam Wall, manager of Hobbycraft in Newport, agreed the sales have been astounding.
He said: “We’ve had huge sales and we’re having emergency deliveries of the bands every week. We had two boxes of them delivered on Saturday and had to order in more immediately as they sold out.
“The bands have exploded onto the scene and the popularity has been really steady since.
“It’s a welcome relief from all the technology and computer games children play with. It’s bringing back crafts.”
Perhaps parents and adults are so attracted to the bands because of the quiet creativity they encourage and suggest a move away from computer games and an over-reliance on electronic screens.
Hilary Kennelly, curator and co-owner of the Museum of Childhood in West Wales, certainly thinks so.
She said: “Some kids are getting too technological. Thankfully when we get schools come in to the museums the children are still interested in toys.
“Years One and Two are good with playing with things, but as they get older I think peer pressure puts it on children to have the latest gadget.
“I think the loom bands make a refreshing change, cheap and cheerful and creative.”
Mrs Kennelly said unlike other crazes of the past, loom bands are cheap, safe and do not encourage competition.
She said: “I think they are rather good. A lot of the other crazes are very competitive or they are potentially dangerous. Marbles are one of the oldest things but then a child falls over and they are banned.
“I know some schools have banned them but I think they are rather nice and creative. It seems to be a relatively cheap toy, definitely a pocket game.”
Mr Rich, Loombran organiser, also commented on the tranquil atmosphere at the festival because of all the concentration going into weaving the loom bands.
He said: “I didn’t once hear a screaming child or witness boredom. I did, however, experience good camaraderie, friendship and recognition from fellow loomers.”
“It’s always a challenge for parents with kids going to shopping centres but there were not any screaming children in sight.”
Mrs Kennelly agrees loom bands is a craze that promotes harmony and positive qualities in children.
She said: “Many children are making them and selling them for charity which I think is rather nice. I know some schools have banned them but I think they are a creative game.”
But what makes the craze so attractive to children? Nine-year-old Caoilfhinn Rich, from Cwmbran, said it is the variety and different possibilities which make the bands so great.
She said: “I use Youtube so I can copy the ideas in the videos. A lot of creative ideas are posted online and I can watch them and start to build my own versions.
“I also love the different colours and variety of the styles and the thought of creating something new.
“Sharing with friends is also fun as I can make special bracelets for special people and each one is individual.”
The price is also what may have given adults, as well as children, the looming bug. For just £3 parents can buy 1,000 bands which can then be reused – a perfectly cheap way to keep children entertained for hours on end.
And loom bands are constantly in the news now - a "multi coloured dress made from loom bands" in north Wales sold in an online auction for more than £170,000 this week after receiving 137 bids.
But like all school playground fads, surely this one must also come to an end?
“I think it will be around for a while. I’ve seen the craze evolve through my daughter and have seen it really take off. People are now making duvet covers and I have a funny feeling the craze will be here to stay for a while yet.
“I think it will be sustainable until Christmas at least. Because the bands can be made into so many different things, they are full of variety,” said Mr Rich.
“You would think the concept would be limited but it just seems to go on and on with more innovative and colourful ideas.”
Mr Wall at Hobbycraft in Newport agrees. He said: “They don’t seem to be dying anytime soon.”