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Former aerospace engineer now creates paper toy kits for kids

HE’S the engineer from Ashurst whose work has ranged from designing wings for multi-million-pound passenger planes to bringing to life some of the best-loved children’s pop-up books.

From creating in steel for British Aerospace, Keith Finch now specialises in paper, dreaming up build-your-own kits, books and unique creations – including playing a part in childhood favourite The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

In the digital age of flat screens, pop-up books are something many might have thought would become redundant.

Keith Finch with one of his kits
Keith Finch with one of his kits

But Keith, a father of one, says: “Children just adore them. I think they really do bring a book to life.”

His career began at British Aerospace where he was involved in designing wings for the 146 and the A320 Airbus.

He went on to become a draughtsman for another engineering company before a friend invited him to help create a range of pop-up books.

Fast forward to today and he is head engineer at Paper Engine, a company he founded which works on pop-up books and a range of build-your-own cardboard toy kits.

These were inspired by Keith’s love for creating things when he was a boy – and years later seeing his own son, Tom, miss out on that fun because all his toys were plastic.

Keith said: “I was always being told off by my dad for pulling things apart, like the radio, for instance. I loved to see how things worked and re-building them.

“My uncle had a printing business in London which I would visit as a boy. That gave me my love of print and paper.

“My dad nurtured my creative side by always getting him to help him make things, including a huge railway set.

“But I noticed that Tom’s toys were all plastic.

Keith with some of this team from Paper Engine
Keith with some of this team from Paper Engine

“I decided to try to create a paper toy from him. I made a paper telescope, and we were both thrilled to discover it actually worked.”

As a paper engineer Keith has worked on pop-up books for decades, including the Mini-Beasts series, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Paddington Pop Up London.

His company also created a special promotional pop-up to be used by TV star and author David Walliams to launch new attractions at Alton Towers next year which have been inspired by his children’s book.

Keith laughs about his roots in aeroplane design leading him to his current work, saying: “Yes, they are two very different careers, although they have similarities.”

He adds: “I have always had a love of building things. What I love seeing is that same love when children are using one of our kits.

“It so nice in a world where everyone seems to live their life on a flat screen, to watch children actually creating something.

The pirate ship kit
The pirate ship kit

“They also learn so much from working on them, and it is a very family friendly product too as everyone can get involved.”

Keith uses the Copythorne Scout troop to try out his latest toy kits on, along with his own family.

He said: “They are brilliant at giving feedback.

“What I really love is when a child sends in a photo of a kit they have completed saying, ‘I’ve made this.’

“They are so proud and it really makes me happy.”

Paper Engine’s Build Your Own range includes £9.99 small kits to create insects and animals like ladybirds, dragonflies, stag beetles and a rhino.

Larger kits include pirate ships, pinball machines, periscopes and even a marble run.

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