New kids on the blocks: Lego is the new mindfulness
First it was colouring-in books, now adults are turning to plastic bricks to unwind
My wife is standing over me, shaking her head. She has just returned home from a two-day business trip to find that I’ve not made any dinner, and the house is a mess. “Talk to the hand,” I tell her, holding up a crescent of yellow plastic. “I’m in the zone.”
Earlier that afternoon I cracked open a box of Lego. Crack is the operative word – after four decades of abstinence I have realised that Lego is addictive. “I’ve become an AFOL,” I explain to my wife. “Yes, you have,” she says, mishearing me.
Not so long ago, few wanted to admit to being an adult fan of Lego (AFOL). But Lego is now riding the mindfulness wave, as adults turn to it as a form of nostalgic creative expression. Its website has an adult section where AFOLs can buy complex kits, costing up to £650.
The community has its own meetings and internet forums. They build models of the Titanic, and create full-sized, fully functioning slot machines. They have their own charity, Fairy Bricks, which provides Lego for children in hospital. They even have their own ambassador, Jeremy Wright, the UK culture secretary.
Some AFOLs never stopped loving Lego. Others, like production manager Jack Daubey, 29, have rediscovered it, after becoming disillusioned with video games. “Games are violent and destructive, whereas you physically create something with Lego,” he says. “You start with a pile of bricks and end up with the Statue of Liberty.”
He also enjoys the social side, and is part of The Brickish Association. “I have a 14-month-old son now, so it’s difficult fitting Lego around his schedule,” he adds, “but my wife is into it too, so after he goes to bed we spend time on it together.”
AFOLs can be divided into three tribes: set builders, free builders and those, like Jack, who do a bit of both. Set builders buy the boxed sets, ranging from tiny vehicles with fewer than 100 pieces, to feats of engineering such as the 6,000-piece, £350 Hogwarts Castle.
Peter Mordecai, 29, is a solicitor and a set builder. Currently, he is tackling one of Lego’s most iconic sets: the 7,500-piece Millennium Falcon, which cost a mere £650. “I have a stressful job, so after a long day I build Lego,” he says. “It can be 10 minutes or a couple of hours. I have to limit myself, though. It can take over your life.”
And your house.
Free builders design their own creations, which are displayed at conventions and on Instagram. Stock controller Daniel Jarvis, 37, has a “build room” in the loft of his Wiltshire home, where 1.5 million bricks are sorted by colour and type. “I’m not as organised as some,” he admits, “because I still enjoy rummaging through a box, looking for a specific piece. I find it relaxing.”
This is a recurring theme among AFOLs. And the Lego Group – which, in March, reported its first drop in sales and profits in more than a decade – has been quick to capitalise, launching Lego Forma sets, specifically designed to help adults “disconnect from the stress of life”.
I was ready to be cynical about Lego’s apparent mental health benefits. But then I spoke to James, a teacher from Surrey. “Four years ago, my wife and I lost two children through miscarriage,” he tells me. “I supported my wife and bottled everything up. Then, out of nowhere, I became ill with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. To try to calm down, I reached for the Lego I used to play with as a child.”
It worked. “It gave me a break from what was going on in my mind,” explains James, now father to an 18-month-old.
As a child, I remember happily building for hours. My son, Lucas, 11, is also a Lego fan but rapidly reaching the same age when my love affair ended – replaced by music and girls. I turn to him for advice. “You need to be patient and pay attention to detail,” he says. “It can be frustrating when you realise you’ve missed an important piece.”
For him, the benefit is two-fold: “I get a sense of achievement and a toy to play with.”
As I look at the pieces in front of me, with the sound of my wife cooking her own dinner in the background, I realise I need to build something else. Lone Lego isn’t for me. Instead, I vow to sit down with my son, so we can enjoy the Lego effect together – while we still have time.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited