THE imminent arrival of the Barbie movie into cinemas may have many people rummaging around in attics for their beloved but forsaken dolls.

But what happens when such cherished objects get damaged – be it by time, neglect or accidents?

The Sunday National took a trip to the Leith Toy Hospital to find out.

The Doll Doctor

A hammock bulging with plastic legs, arms, heads and torsos is suspended from the ceiling of the workshop. Porcelain and rubber baby dolls in various states of decapitation sit upon shelves observing Charlotte Abbott, manager of the doll department, as she meticulously mends the fractures, bite marks and broken limbs that toys are so often subject to.

“Before this, I used to work building wind turbines,” she said.

“It sounds a bit insane but a lot of things I do in the doll department involve plastics, which is what I was doing at my old job just on a bigger scale.”

After funding for a wind turbine prototype project she was working on ran out, Abbott was referred to the Toy Hospital by a colleague to fill the gap in her employment while she applied for jobs.

The National: A hammock full of doll limbs inside the doll department of Leith Toy HospitalA hammock full of doll limbs inside the doll department of Leith Toy Hospital (Image: Ross Hunter, NQ)

“I just stopped applying for jobs,” she laughed. “I thought it was such a great place to work.”

‘It’s very rare that we can’t do anything’ Leith Toy Hospital officially opened in 2017.

It is one of the few places left in Scotland that accepts repair jobs for almost any type of toy: from teddy bears and Barbies to model ships and puppets.

Abbott estimated they repair around 1500 toys every year – a figure limited not by demand but by the capacity of the small staff.

The hospital is already booked up for teddy repairs until at least after Christmas.

“If we have the expertise, we’re happy to try and fix it,” said Abbott.

“We’ve literally had dolls come into the studio in pieces or been handed teddy bears shredded by dogs.

The National: Barbies awaiting repair in the doll workshopBarbies awaiting repair in the doll workshop (Image: Ross Hunter, NQ)

“People often think there’s absolutely no hope of saving them but it’s very rare that we can’t do anything.”

Coping with the weight of emotional attachment clientele often have to their toys is part and parcel of the job.

Because while some customers are kids whose toys have suffered some unfortunate fate, many others are grown adults seeking to ensure the future of an object inextricably tied to their childhood memories.

“Nowadays, children’s toys are so cheap that people aren’t willing to pay much money to have them repaired,” said Abbott.

The National: A close-up of Barbie dolls needing repair (and perhaps a comb) inside the workshopA close-up of Barbie dolls needing repair (and perhaps a comb) inside the workshop (Image: Ross Hunter, NQ)

“But with the older generation you often find that it was the only doll they had as a child because toys were much more expensive.

“We have people come in with dolls that have been broken for decades that they’ve managed to keep hold of in the hope one day they might find someone who could repair it.

“It’s just so clear how much love they have for it, which is lovely but also a lot of weight on your shoulders.”

Barbie, Action Man and…Brooke Shields

The nature of plastic (and many other materials) also poses its own challenges.

Workers at the toy hospital find themselves reattaching heads, moulding new limbs, sewing new clothes and even weaving fresh hair into the bald patches of Barbie’s, Sindy’s or any other kind of doll.

Indeed, tumbled out from a bag of miscellaneous dolls comes one resembling Brooke Shields and another slightly manic looking Marie Osmond.

“One thing I love to do with Barbie’s is repainting their make-up on. It’s such tiny, intricate work.

“The older Barbie’s and Action Men are actually easier to repair, too. Everything used to be much more modular and replaceable.

The National: A selection of dolls inside Leith Toy Hospital. Can you spot Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond?A selection of dolls inside Leith Toy Hospital. Can you spot Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond? (Image: Ross Hunter, NQ)

“With older Action Men all you have to do to repair their limbs is boil them in a pot, pull the old one’s out and pop the new one’s in.

“But with new ones you can’t really do that. They’ve made them much harder to repair.”

As Scotland strives to create a society where things are repaired or reused rather than thrown away, businesses like the Toy Hospital serve an important function.

But aside from the practical benefits, there’s also a certain magic inherent in returning lost lustre to toys.

And it is that magic that results in streams of thank you cards and gift boxes arriving to the workshop.

“I love doing Pedigree Dolls which were quite common in the 1950s,” said Abbott. “There’s one I fixed recently with short curly hair and I just loved the transformation.

The National: Baby dolls (and a monkey) watch over the doll department workshopBaby dolls (and a monkey) watch over the doll department workshop (Image: Ross Hunter, NQ)

“A lot of hard plastic dolls can fade in the sun. So, where they would have had rosy cheeks and a peachy complexion, they end up this slightly sallow, yellow colour. It’s a bit terrifying, actually.

“But with new hair, some blusher, eyebrows and a bit of lipstick they end up looking like a brand-new doll. People can’t believe it when you hand it back to them. They’re so grateful.”

Whether it’s out of sustainability or sentimentality, the world seems a better place when toys are valued and treasured rather than carelessly discarded.

The National: A workspace inside Leith Toy HospitalA workspace inside Leith Toy Hospital (Image: Ross Hunter, NQ)

So, perhaps think about whether that crooked looking Barbie languishing in a drawer could do a with a fresh face of makeup.

“There’s no age limit here,” added Abbott. “Every repair comes with a form which says the toy is fit to go back to work – no matter how old they are!”