Michelle Thompson has presided over Birmingham’s Legoland Discovery Centre as Master Model Builder since the attraction first opened over three years ago. While the past year and a half has forced the venue to adapt to lockdowns and social-distancing restrictions, one thing that hasn’t changed is Michelle’s love of Lego.

“We did have a bit of a pause because of Covid,” she reveals, “but I’ve been able to make some plans so that we’re going to have even bigger and better builds coming along. 
“I’ve always been a positive person, and I’ve been able to bring that with me and stay enthusiastic about Lego - which is very easy to do. It’s such a wonderful medium to work with, and I still love building and creating, even if it’s just drawing up designs.”

Michelle beat off the challenge of thousands of other applicants to land her current role as Master Model Builder, and plays a vital part in the curation of the Discovery Centre. As well as decorating the attraction with exciting new Lego models, she leads creative workshops and is responsible for maintaining the existing builds around the site. This includes Miniland, a Lego replica of Birmingham made from over five million bricks, complete with iconic landmarks such as Bullring, The Mailbox and the library in Centenary Square.

Before the opening of the Discovery Centre, Michelle worked in HR, so the move to her current role was quite the career change: “Being a Master Builder encompasses so many different areas, and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. It’s certainly a very different environment, but it’s all part of the journey.”

Despite the learning curve, Michelle is happy to confirm that the role is more than living up to her expectations: “It’s definitely a fulfilling role, because I see the impact I can have on children. They enjoy the builds that I do, and I’m able to give them inspiration to do bigger and better things themselves, and to use their imaginations more.

“The greatest compliment I can receive is when children get enthusiastic about my work, and then they go off and make something that maybe they didn’t feel confident enough to do prior to talking to me.”

Michelle also reveals that parents often ask to buy her builds. While the pieces she puts together are not for sale, it’s no surprise that people want to get their hands on her one-of-a-kind models. She’s put together some elaborate pieces in her time, and enjoys paying homage to Birmingham through her work: “There are so many projects that I’ve loved building, but I particularly enjoyed the Aston Fire Station. It’s such a beautiful heritage building, so it was great to try and replicate it and do it justice.”

Recently Michelle has been focusing on a new build - a Lego replica of the Birmingham Primark, which recently went on display. Covering over 160,000 square feet and spread across five floors, Birmingham’s Primark is the largest fashion retail store in the world. Michelle feels that it was only right to incorporate it into Miniland: “Because we have the biggest Primark store here, we thought it would be a good idea to have the smallest too,” she explains. “The opening of Primark was a big launch for Birmingham, so we wanted to mirror that. 

“The new build will have an interior and exterior, and it will also light up. I like to get all the little details into my builds, so there’s been a lot of taking it apart and putting it back together again to get all of the fixtures in.

“I haven’t been able to order anything from Lego because of the time schedule, so it’s all made from Lego I already had in my workshop. It’s made the build difficult, but it’s been quite a good way to do it, because it challenges me a bit further. I’ve just had to work with what I’ve got and make the best of it - which is never a bad thing.”

Complete with a Disney Café, a nail bar, a hairdressing area and the unique façade of the Birmingham store, the new project is an intricate and impressive replica. 

While the Primark build has been a time-consuming project, it hasn’t stopped Michelle from thinking about what she’d like to build next: “I’ve drawn up plans for a three-foot-tall Godzilla for Halloween next year, which I’m excited about. I’d like to have some sort of monster mash-up, so I build them really big. But I’d also love to do a poll and find out what people want to see in our Miniland. I think that would be really interesting.

“Now that Christmas is just around the corner, we’re hoping to build a life-size fireplace that lights up, so that Santa can sit next to it and greet all the children. It’ll have some interchangeable sections so we can use it for different seasons too, because I always like to make sure that we can use our big builds more than once.”

Michelle certainly isn’t running short of inspiration, and she’s keen to stress that nurturing the same imagination in children remains the primary focus of the Discovery Centre. “Encouraging creativity is so important to children’s development, so this year we’ve launched a play squad, which is an activity for pre-schoolers to get involved in. 

“I’m hoping that soon we’ll be bringing in activities for older school children as well, because in schools at the moment I think there’s a very clear right-and-wrong system. It’s great to see that Lego are looking at the experience children are having during the school day and encouraging creativity, because with Lego there’s no wrong answer - the sky’s the limit.”

Legoland Discovery Centre is sited at Utilita Arena, King Edwards Road, Birmingham, B1 2AA.
For opening times and to book, visit: legolanddiscoverycentre.com/birmingham