Toddler group creates books based in Edinburgh

Author Rory MacLeod with son Jake and daughter Molly. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Author Rory MacLeod with son Jake and daughter Molly. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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For most children, being read stories is a huge part of growing up – but for kids in Portobello it has just become even more exciting.

That is after parents at the Portobello Toddler Hut – which is thought to be the UK’s oldest independent child care facility – got their thinking caps on and came up with their own tales based around the seaside neighbourhood.

Their two books, Stand Off at Straiton Park and They All Tell a Story, have been written by dad-of-three Rory MacLeod, 36, whose kids attend the renowned facility.

He has even featured his daughter, Molly, eight, as the main character in the first book, described as “a must read for any dad who sees a bit of Clint Eastwood in their parenting style”.

“It’s been done as a Western but part of the idea was that we include local places such as Straiton Park – all of the stories have a link to the Portobello area,” Mr MacLeod explains.

“I wanted it to be like that so the kids would have their own set of stories that other parts of the country might not – it was fun doing them.”

They All Tell a Story is also inspired by the area, based on local tattoo artist – and fellow father – Paul Slifer, who created the pictures to accompany the story.

It tells the story of a little boy who asks his grandad to explain the tales behind each of his fascinating tattoos.

“I had an idea for a story and then lots of parents were saying, having read lots of stories too, that they could do better – so we did,” says Mr MacLeod.

The books have simply been printed off, with illustrations children can colour in themselves at home, yet some of the best “finished” ones have been produced professionally and are kept at the club for users to enjoy time and time again.

And it seems even celebrity dads are getting in on the storytelling action with – thanks to some useful connections – Glasgow actor Cal MacAninch, who has appeared in TV dramas such as Downton Abbey and as Mr Thackery in Mr Selfridge, agreeing to make an audio book for the club.

The Portobello Toddler Hut, on Beach Lane, is open on weekday mornings for children aged between two-and-a-half and five years old and has been going since 1929. The current facility is considered past its best and parents are working to generate much-needed cash to build a new facility.

Money raised from the sale of the books will go towards the cause.

Plans for the new building have been designed by award-winning architects Konishi Gaffney, on Constitution Street, and it will be built in the same spot as the old hut.

Kieran Gaffney and his wife, Makiko Konishi, are heading the project after their seven-year-old son, Kazma, attended the club.

They spent a year designing the building, which is due to cost around £300,000, and are now working with parents to help raise the funds.

All the parents take it in turns to run the club along with two staff for around 15 children in each session.

Mr MacLeod’s son, Luke, five, currently attends, while his youngest son, Jake, one, is on the waiting list.

The arrangement is “a lot cheaper” than the majority of private nurseries, Mr MacLeod insists.

“The Toddler Hut is a lovely group – it’s a brilliant place,” he adds.

Talking about the effect the books have had on the children Mr MacLeod says: “It’s great and it encourages them to read, but I must admit I did it for selfish reasons because I wanted to try to have a go at writing a book and it seemed a good way to do it.

“It’s nice for the kids though. My kids enjoyed doing it and they enjoyed the fact that they knew a lot of people in the stories and had connections with them.”

But that does not mean parents who are not part of the club cannot get their hands on the stories as they are available to download from their website for a donation to the rebuild fund.

You can also buy other stories written by parents, including Bath Street Dash and The Biggest Sandcastle in the World from the Toddler Hut itself or from Cove on Portobello High Street at a cost of £6.

And parents are also encouraging others to get involved.

“If anyone has an idea for their own story we will try to make it – even if some people look a bit worried when we say that,” says Mr MacLeod.

To download a copy of the books, access the audio versions or find out more about the rebuild, visit