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A Miniature House Party Inside Norfolk's… minihouse club

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In Great Yarmouth, there’s this imaginary city -- or, rather, an imaginary world. Everything in this world is in miniature. There’s a miniature house fire in a miniature home. There’s miniature Morris dancing and miniature baptisms. The details in each figure in this world is life like, but shrunken, so ¼ an inch represents about a foot. It’s the Merrivale Model Village. Kris Turner is a member of the North Norfolk Minihouse Club.

“You can do in miniature what you can’t do in real life,” Turner said.

Members of the club meet once a month in Bodham to create their own miniature worlds. Unlike the worlds in the Merrivale Model Village, members mostly make work for themselves. At a meeting earlier last month, Turner cut up strips to make a cardboard insert for a house. Turner doesn’t know how she became such a miniature enthusiast. But she says it happened sometime in the 70s or 80s. Back then it was an almost unknown hobby. Then, all of a sudden, the miniaturism world suddenly became much larger. It exploded with the launch of the Kensington Doll Festival in 1985, where those who make miniature worlds still meet every year to show off their work.

“I arrived at 11 o’clock and you could barely get through the door!” Turner said. “There were so many closet doll house makers trying to find company. It was absolutely marvelous.”

About twenty years ago, the Minihouse Club was launched in Norfolk after it broke from the Norwich Doll House Club, which is different. Not everyone in the Minihouse Club plays with dolls.

“I wasn’t interested in dolls or anything,” Turner said of her time before the Minihouse Club. “I was a working girl.”

Then one day she found herself inside a miniature shop in Bath. “I had never been inside a miniature shop before in my life,” Turner said. “But the detail on all these beautiful little things...every time my husband went to a bookshop I’d go in this shop and have a look around. And the sales woman said, ‘Can I help you?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m just interested. I wouldn’t have a doll’s house at my age.’ She said, ‘Oh, this is not children’s stuff.’”

Then, on the way home from work one day, she read an article about Judi Dench. Apparently Judi Dench has a thing for doll houses, too.

“And I thought, ‘Well, if it's good enough for Judi Dench it's good enough for me,’” Turner said.

And now her own house is full of doll houses she’s working on. Recently she made her own miniature wash room with an old fashioned mangle. It’s got a line of washing outside, and it lights up in the back. All the furniture is about the size of legos. She put in all the tiles one by one.

“I've never sat idle. It's just an addiction that perhaps I shouldn't have started but I'm quite pleased I did,” Turner said. “It’s kept me off the streets for a long while.”

In another part of the room, Caz Hemmings. is building a silver platter so her doll can have her mail delivered like royalty.

“We're making a tray using that as a template and using the old food tray so that we can make hundreds really cheaply, free, even,” Hemmings explained. “So you just keep going with this until you get the tray.|

Her first doll house was built by her uncle. “He built real houses,” Hemmings explained. “He woke up and thought, ‘Oh, I fancy making a doll’s house.’”

But most of the members of the Minihouse Club are women. Some of their husbands make miniature trains with tiny, candy-sized engines inside of them. When it comes to miniature world-making, it’s oddly traditional. But for Hemmings, doll houses are still her form of rebellion.

“I’ve always wanted a doll house ever since I was little,” Hemmings said. And now, finally, she’s got a doll house. In fact, she’s got over sixty.

The original Minihouse manifesto declares that when members of the Minihouse Club get sick, a member must visit them. It’s that kind of thing that makes the Minihouse Club Hemming’s’s life-sized community -- her sized home.

When I lost my job a year and half ago I was able to come here. I've been coming here ever since,” Hemmings said.

Around the room, the women are hard at work. In one corner, a group of five works on sewing a mini-hand bag for a doll to hold. Some grunt impatiently. In another corner, women are starting to design rooms for houses just big enough for leap frogs to feel comfortable inside. Some are building cabinets fit for dragonflies to store their groceries within. When the women are finished with their latest projects, they’ll look down below at the miniature worlds they’ve created. Sometimes, we all need to feel a little bit bigger than we actually are.

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