Crouch End’s independent shops launch festive trail with grotto

Mannequins of children in a shop window, in front of a Christmas trees with colourful lights

Christmas decorations in the window of Mini Kin in Crouch End. - Credit: Amanda Jones

Crouch End’s independent shops are taking part in a Christmas Trail which promises to be an adventure for children and parents alike.

Organised by children’s creative arts group Little Imaginations, who ran a Halloween Trail last month, the trail centres around a naughty elf, who has stolen bits of Santa's map.

Two children in fancy dress - one as a skeleton and one as a shark - smiling into the camera.

Two children, Leon and Luna, on the Halloween Trail in November. - Credit: Nicola Barney

Children must find the scraps in each shop to reassemble Santa's map and return Christmas spirit to shopkeepers.

Little Imaginations founder Nicola Barney told this paper: “I’m a big advocate for children’s immersive adventures and play-based drama.

“Little children have this ability to imagine they’re somewhere they're not, and it’s such a shame not to nurture it and enhance it as much as possible.”

“It’s important for confidence, vocabulary, critical thinking and the arts, [which] are always diminished and undermined by our government.”

A woman crouching on the floor, wearing bunny ears, and next to two stacks of toilet roll.

Little Imaginations founder Nicola Barney. - Credit: Nicola Barney

The Musical Theatre actor recently toured with How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, and ran Little Imaginations alongside 12 shows a week.

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Pre-lockdown, the creative arts group saw 100 children every week in classes, nurseries and parties.

“It took us two years to get going, and to have that ripped away in a week was really hard,” Nicola said.

“It’s a bit like riding a storm, and the best thing to do is adapt and do something slightly different to before, and when things are better we can get back into the classes.”

Trail participant Arancha Heredero, who co-owns children’s shoe shop Windmill with Kirsty Cunningham, said: “It’s lovely we can be part of something organised locally, and it’s really nice to give a little bit back.

“It’s a way of our community coming together.

“After the second lockdown, everyone’s feeling a bit lonely and tired and I think it’s a great opportunity to see familiar faces and have a chat.”

Children’s clothes shop and hairdresser Mini Kin owner Amanda Jones said: “I really immersed myself in the Halloween trail, and the children got a lot out of it.

“It has been a crazy, crazy year and at the moment, I’m quite anxious.

“This Christmas, people should shop local, and I can’t wait to see everybody!”

A smiling woman in a light green top and with black hair.

Mini Kin owner Amanda Jones. - Credit: Ashley Bingham Photography

A brightly lit shop with children's products on the shelves.

Mini Kin in Crouch End. - Credit: Ashley Bingham Photography.

The trail ends with a Covid-secure Santa’s grotto at Crouch End’s Pickled Pepper Books, where children will not sit on Santa’s lap and one family will be admitted at a time.

The book shop’s small theatre space is usually used for children’s parties and interactive school events with authors.

Owner Urmi Merchant, who has run Pickled Pepper Books with husband Steven Pryse since 2012, said the theatre accounts for 25 per cent of the shop’s income.

She added: “It’s usually such a busy and dynamic space, and this is how our shop functions in such a competitive environment.

“We need to ensure it remains in community use, and that our customers remember it.”

Urmi said the bookshop has lost their entire staff team of six, through redundancies and part-time workers finding more stable jobs during lockdown.

She added: “I’m on a mission now to ensure that places like Crouch End are not overrun by chains.

“It just shouldn’t be allowed to happen, it’s outrageous.

“I’d like to see a national initiative where independent businesses are supported, because there’s been no support for us since we opened in 2012.”

A man laughing while holding an open book, in front of shelves of books and a wall of posters.

Urmi's husband Steven Pryse. - Credit: Pickled Pepper Books

A woman behind a counter next to shelves of books.

Urmi Merchant, owner of Pickled Pepper Books. - Credit: Pickled Pepper Books

The mother-of-three launched @businesscrouchend on Instagram, which highlights independent Crouch End businesses.

Cllr Bull, Haringey Council's cabinet member for local investment and economic growth, said: “We’re proud of our local businesses and are really pleased to support the Christmas Trail project, a wonderful activity for families to look forward to over the festive period, after weeks of national restrictions.

“It’s also a way for us to support businesses that have been hit hard during the pandemic, I encourage the community to please show some support by shopping local where they are able to.”

The Christmas trail is £10 per child, with Haringey Council subsidising £5 for every ticket sold.

Tickets can be found here:

Find out more about Little Imaginations at