Coffee shop helps tots to mind their Welsh language in weekly story sessions

Young children and their parents take part in Welsh story and rhyme session at Starbucks Coffee shop at Eagles Meadow in Wrexham. Pictured: Emma Burton - Cymraeg i Blant (centre) reads to Gemma Ashton, Morgan Ashton, Rhian Parkings.

A community-minded coffee shop is helping to brew up interest in learning the Welsh language from the earliest possible age.

Starbucks at the Eagles Meadow Shopping Centre in Wrexham is hosting weekly sessions where tiny tots and their mums or dads can hear stories and join in with nursery rhymes all in Welsh.

The Wednesday morning gatherings take place in a cosy area specially set aside at the front of the shop.

Young children and their parents take part in Welsh story and rhyme session at Starbucks Coffee shop at Eagles Meadow in Wrexham. Pictured: Emma Burton – Cymraeg i Blant (centre) reads to Gemma Ashton, Morgan Ashton, Rhian Parkings.

They are attracting a steady stream of toddlers whose parents are eager for them to get an early grounding in the language in a relaxed and informal setting where a cup of coffee is also close to hand.

The Story and Rhyme sessions, lasting for just an hour from 11am, are being run by Cymraeg i Blant, a project set up to make parents aware of the bilingual journey available for them and their child by choosing Welsh medium childcare and education.

Emma Burton, its Wrexham county development officer, said: “We’re funded by the Welsh Government and the project is co-ordinated by Mudiad Meithrin, a voluntary organisation which is the main provider of Welsh-medium early years care and education in the voluntary sector.

“Our project is part of a nationwide drive called Cymraeg 2050, which has a target to achieve one million Welsh speakers in the country by that year.

“We believe that as soon as children hear the Welsh language – or any other for that matter – the more chance they have of attaining it later in life.

“That’s why the sessions at Starbucks in Eagles Meadow and elsewhere are aimed at very young children from babies to two years old.

“The stories they hear, the rhymes and the songs are all delivered in Welsh and they have every opportunity to join in.

“We also aim to share with parents the advantages of bilingualism and information to make decisions in choosing a Welsh-medium education.”

Emma added: “The sessions are proving very popular, attracting up to 15 children and parents each week.

“We usually move on from one place after six weeks but these have been so well attended that we’re making it one of our core groups.

“Starbucks have been very supportive and we find this is the perfect venue for the sessions because it’s in a high-profile position at the heart of the shopping centre. It’s also informal and safe and has a very welcoming atmosphere.”

One of the mums delighted to be part of Story and Rhyme is 33-year-old Gemma Ashton from Wrexham who has been coming along with her 14-month-old son Morgan since the sessions started.

She said: “I like them because they are very accessible and are held in a warm, safe place where you can also get a nice coffee.

“I’m not a Welsh speaker myself but my other son goes to a Welsh-medium school in Wrexham and I wanted Morgan to have the same advantage.

“Morgan loves coming and listens to the stories and joins in with the rhymes and songs. It’s all very inter-active and I’m going to keep on bringing him.”

It was the same story with another mum, Hannah Platt, 24 and also from Wrexham, who regularly turns up at the sessions with her five-month-old daughter Nix.

“We started coming after they had had been running for a few weeks but I’m glad we did,” she said.

“I want Nix to learn Welsh because Wales is our country and I think she ought to be bilingual. Starting them with the language at such as young age is a great idea.

“The sessions are also good for me because I’m alone with my daughter for most of the day and I like to get out and socialise with the other parents.”

Starbucks manager Claire Edwards said she was delighted to be hosting Story and Rhyme.

“It’s fantastic to have the parents and toddlers here and lovely to hear the little children saying Welsh nursery rhymes,” she said.

“My own daughter Kayla, who is 13, is at a Welsh-medium school in the area and fluent in the language, although I don’t speak it, which makes me think it might be an idea in future to have Welsh lessons for adults here.

“The sessions have become more and more popular since they started and are part of our strong relationship with the local community.”

Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley was delighted the team at Starbucks were doing their bit to promote the language.

He said: “We are very much a community oriented shopping centre and there is no better way of learning Welsh than through the enchantment of storytelling.”