TWO mums with a wealth of experience as primary school teachers have invested in a prime location for their businesses supporting the development of babies and toddlers.

Kate Lawless and Karen Cromey-Hawke have taken over a large section of the ground floor of Darlington Arena as the base for Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense.

Although the businesses operate as separate entities, they run alongside each other, with Baby Sensory catering for babies, and Toddler Sense focusing on children from 13 months to four years and 11 months.

The Northern Echo: Little ones having fun at Darlington Arena

“We’ve come together with a shared vision to provide a safe, bespoke space to run a programme dedicated to the learning and development of babies and toddlers in the area,” said Kate.

Karen added: “We’re passionate about what we do, and we bring huge experience – as mums and former primary school teachers – so we’re excited about what we can offer parents in this area.”

Mum-of-two Kate, from Aycliffe, was a primary school teacher at the Federation of Abbey Schools, in Darlington, for six years before leaving to start a family. In 2019, she decided to embark on a new challenge and launched Baby Sensory, using community centres in Darlington and Aycliffe.

Mum-of-three Karen, from the Yorkshire Dales, has 25 years’ experience in primary education, including becoming a deputy headteacher.

“I reached the stage where I wanted to try something new and stimulating,” she said.

“I saw the opportunity to launch Toddler Sense in the Darlington area and was put in touch with Kate. We immediately had a connection, and a shared vision and passion for the development of babies and toddlers.”

The Northern Echo: Kate Lawless, right, and Karen Cromey-Hawke

Between them, they already have more than 250 families as customers, so they decided to look for a shared permanent location. Darlington Arena proved to be the perfect solution, with ample ground-floor space and free car parking next to the A66 bypass and close to the town centre.

“New housing developments are going up opposite the arena, so we can cater for those families in the immediate location, as well as it being easy to reach by car,” said Kate.

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The space started as a bar in the days of Darlington Football Club and was most recently used as a boxing and martial arts gym. It has now been transformed into a spacious area, with safe matting and the latest play and developmental equipment.

The arena is celebrating its 20th anniversary as the home of Darlington Mowden Park Rugby Club, and has developed a diverse enterprise cluster, with 14 businesses using its facilities, and room for more.

Danny Brown, head of operations, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense to the Darlington Arena. It’s something different for us, and Kate and Karen have worked hard to turn it into a fantastic facility, which we’re sure will grow in popularity.”