Page last updated at 07:02 GMT, Wednesday, 10 June 2009 08:02 UK

Children's parties still thriving

By Tim Jenkins
Business reporter, BBC World Service

Amanda Frolich at one of her children's parties (from Amanda's Action Kids website)
Amanda Frolich says children's parties are unaffected by the recession

Got everything you need for your youngster's birthday party? Cake? Candles? Sandwiches?

Professional TV crew... Stretch-limo... Full size funfair… How about Batman roaring up in his (working) Batmobile and taking your five year-olds for a spin?

While a lot of us are tightening up our belts because of the economic crisis, it seems most parents are reluctant to spoil their children's anniversary, and some are still splashing enormous sums of cash, on hosting spectacular birthdays.

"It's a huge industry," says Amanda Frolich of Amanda's Action Kids. "People spend an absolute fortune on their children's birthday parties and fortunately the recession hasn't affected our business."

Indeed it hasn't. Amanda's starting a franchise to sell her concept: children's birthday parties focused on lots of games and physical exercise. She has also produced a CD of jolly party songs, a gym bag full of party props - and she's just come back from a sales mission to China too.

Amanda charges up to £250 for a two-hour party - but the sky's the limit.

In fact, if there were 700,000 new babies born last year in the UK, and we spent just £50 on a party for each of them, that's £35m we've spent as a nation, just on our one-year-olds. So imagine the profits to be made hosting the more extravagant birthday parties.

"Some parents are feeling under pressure, wondering whether they should keep up with the next-doors," says Justine Roberts. She runs Mumsnet, which offers advice and a feedback forum for British parents.

Members have been letting off steam about some of the more elaborate parties their youngsters have been invited to.

Party 'arms race'

"You do really wonder whether a one-year-old is going to remember that the canapes were handed out by Minnie Mouse," says Justine, "and what those parents are going to do when that child reaches 18, to make the day special."

Justine thinks that this is often as much about what the parents want to see at a party. Like a coffee cart serving fresh lattes to the gathering adult friends. A string quartet providing the music for pass the parcel. Or the goodbye party bags - from Tiffany. All examples she's come across.

For those that can afford the hundreds or thousands of pounds that it costs to take a troop of children to the football - or the ballet - it's largely up to them, of course.

But their fellow parents may feel trapped in a kind of arms race, competing with each other to provide something ever more sparkling - and having to throw money at the problem.

Of course, it doesn't have to be that way.

"I think you can do a lot by doing it yourself," says Justine Roberts. "A few well-judged games, a treasure hunt and a grown-up dressed as a pirate will give the kids a great time."

"And maybe a cheap bottle of wine for the mums and dads too - that goes down well!"

Of course, the ultimate customer for the commercially organised, or traditional, party is the birthday girl or boy.

So I consulted three-year-old experts Hugh, Max and Jack.

They confirmed that parties are very important to get right. Loud estimates varied as to whether they attended just one, or 100 parties in a year.

But they all agreed that the ideal party features trains, dogs, cats - and most of all: "Cake!"

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