Whether you’ve been to market, stayed at home, had roast beef – or had none – you’re in the right place for the tale of the Little Piggies – now at home in the heart of Bognor Regis town centre!
Little Piggies Soft Play and Café opened its doors in June 2021, and you’ll find them in Bedford Street in a (previously!) quiet corner opposite Morrison’s supermarket.
We met with owner Jess who explained how, in less than a year, she progressed from her clear vision of what Little Piggies would be like and how she wanted it to serve the community to delivering a successful reality … which is already growing in unimaginable ways! Jess explains:
‘The best way to describe Little Piggies, is a “soft play café”, but it would also be a kind of ‘hub area’ as well, because I’ve also got baby groups and other groups taking place. I’m trying to incorporate everything surrounding children and families and parents and make it a sociable, meet up area, and accommodate as many people as I can.’
Little Piggies offers a fantastic range of experiences for parents and children of all ages, with regular workshops and groups (including hypnobirthing sessions, child-focused first aid, and crafts for older children) and, of course, soft play sessions for children aged up to six years old. A private tutoring service also operates from the upper floor. Jess enthusiastically updates us on a new play opportunity they’re now able to offer:
‘On Sundays we’ve started to open exclusively for a charity called PACSO (Parents and Carers Support Organisation) which is for all children with mental or physical disabilities, because a lot of times I’ve had people come in to use the space who aren’t fully confident about doing so and might be worried that something may happen. So I’m delighted that PACSO contacted me, as it means parents and children can enjoy the soft play area and café with the assurance that they’re in safe hands and can also mingle with other families.’
Driven by the desire to bring something unique to Bognor Regis, and to offer a place of community and refuge for new and first-time mums, Jess’s dedication and enthusiasm is infectious! Her story has already attracted a lot of attention and is clearly inspiring other people:
“I’ve had a few people contact me from Bognor Regis and further afield who’ve been following my story and have asked how I’ve done it. It’s been really nice to hear from people who are happy something like this has come to Bognor Regis, and to also hear how my story has inspired them in some way.
In sharing her ‘why’ for opening Little Piggies, it clearly comes down to one thing for Jess: her family. This warmth and family-focused mentality adds to the warm and welcoming atmosphere in Little Piggies. With the support of her partner, brother and dad, Jess’s dream has become a reality for her. Whilst admitting the hard work involved, and the huge learning curve she’s been through, it’s evident it’s a journey she’s immensely proud of.
Keen to know how Jess managed to deliver her bold vision in the middle of the pandemic, we asked her to share both the journey she went through, and any support she received along the way. She explains how advice from both the Bognor Regis BID and Arun District Council’s Economic Development Team enabled her to access grants and funding streams and connect with other people that could help. But it’s clearly been the unending support of her family – her brother, dad, and partner – who confidently invested in the business proposal – that gave her the greatest support.
With a positive eye to the future, Jess used her time in lockdown to continue market research and make connections with local groups online. By actively sharing her story, Jess was able to build up an engaged and supportive community, eager to visit Little Piggies as soon as it could open its doors in real life! She tells us:
‘I didn’t want to open and just have an empty shell and not really go from anywhere. So all of the baby groups and everything like that came from the conversations I was having for a few years prior to opening, and everyone got on board straight away. And then as soon as I got in here, it just blew up, it went massive! And I honestly couldn’t believe it. I then went on to social media, and I was creating like a bit of a parent hub online, offering online classes and what was available and things like that. So I was very much promoting local businesses, then. When I eventually posted about Little Piggies opening, the post reached up to 30,000 people! It just shows that there has always been a need for this type of thing in Bognor Regis.’
Little Piggies has breathed new life and created a real buzz of activity in a previously neglected corner of Bognor Regis, next to the Community Gardeners’ base. Jess’s commitment to supporting the local community is clear when she talks about setting up her business:
‘The Community Gardeners have been amazing, they really care for the planters outside, and take care of the planter which my dad made. We love the new planters and bright slats, and I think it’s a great place to be located. We’re immensely proud to be here, and what we’ve achieved.
I try to keep everything as locally sourced as possible. In our café we use coffee from Edgecumbe Tea and Coffee Ltd in Arundel, our cakes are all locally baked by Chunky Bakes by Rosie – who also set-up her business in lockdown. We have vegan produce from a lady in Littlehampton, another lady makes all our other pastries like sausage rolls and cheese straws, and we use Davis’s Greengrocers. Our beautiful artwork inside and out was done by artist Chloe Dowsett, who is just amazing at what she does! Her work is freehand, and she is absolutely amazing to work with.
All the work carried out inside the centre has been by local businesses – in fact, it’s only the soft play equipment which isn’t local as you have to have specialists come in to install it.’
Jess’s commitment to the community extends to her team of staff – all young people from the local area. Recruiting through her social media channels, Jess explains it was an enlightening process:
‘I was absolutely inundated with people, and all different types of people. It was very sad to see how many people had lost their jobs due to the pandemic and lockdown, and I wanted to help everyone. However, I wanted to give young people who might be fresh out of school or college an opportunity. I remember how difficult it was when I was 18 unable to get a job because I didn’t have any experience – but how do you get experience if no one gives you a chance? I would encourage the hospitality industry to give young people a chance, as they may not have the experience you’re looking for, but you are giving them experience which they can then take with them when they leave to go to college or university. It does mean a quick turnover of staff, but I feel it’s important to give the next generation of Bognor Regis that helping hand as they start out.’
As the only soft play café in the area, Little Piggies attracts visitors from both the local community and much further afield. And it’s Jess’s passion for Bognor Regis underpins her drive to bring more people to the town:
‘We’re getting visitors from Chichester, Littlehampton, Arundel, Worthing, and even Billingshurst. They’ve followed my story and wanted to check Little Piggies out. It’s been great to receive feedback, and see that people are travelling to Bognor Regis as they haven’t got anything like Little Piggies where they live. I think here, people are set in their ways and don’t see the transformation happening in Bognor Regis! It’s a nice place to come and visit, and this is the feedback we are getting.’
Jess epitomises a savvy indie business leader who understands the real value of working in a community, supporting local people. She’s a fantastic example of a person with a big heart on her sleeve who, with the support of her family, is part of the indie revolution driving transformation of our town centres. Jess’s journey shows that, with support and determination, you can do what you love, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.
You’ll find Little Piggies Soft Play and Café on Bedford Street – opposite the entrance to Morrison’s supermarket – or visit their website to see and book events and soft play: www.littlepiggiescafe.com