What was it like growing up hearing lions roaring next door?

Jo Cunningham shares the magic of growing up by Bristol Zoo, where dad looked after Wendy Elephant. We caught up with Jo, fabulous Principal of Tin Drum Nursery

Thank you so much for joining in with Unicornfest!  Can you tell us, what do unicorns mean to you?

Well I’ve got youngish children myself, and I had a conversation about unicorns recently with my youngest child. It is just that magic that they bring, like a real excitement. It’s the happiness that they make children and adults feel.

Activity 1: Can you tell us where you’re from?

I was born in Bristol, and my family are mostly all in Bristol. On my Mum’s side we go back 5 or 6 generations in Bristol! And then my dad’s side were Welsh, so I’m half Welsh.

My dad worked for the Bristol Zoo. He moved here from Wales to work there. So I grew up very near Bristol Zoo. I live in Brentry and I have also lived in Redland, around Cotham.

Activity 2: Recipes

The second Bridging Histories activity is to share a recipe, and I know you often cook and bake with kids at the nursery … can you tell us about why you like to get kids cooking?

They enjoy making lots of different things, especially baking. They recently made bread, alongside reading Little Red Hen. They make pies, biscuits … We try to encourage lots of independence, so we have a recipe book that they can look through and choose what they’d like to have a go at. They chop up vegetables and enjoy doing it and talking about what’s going on. It’s a big part of learning life skills, and also it is about having those conversations about where the food may have come from, where is may have grown, what it tastes like. They also like watching Caroline, our cook. They often sit in the school room having a conversation with her about what she is doing, how she’s doing it, what’s for lunch, and that’s a big part of the day as well.

As for me, here is a recipe I'd love to share.

Activity #3: Street History

Is there a street that means something special to you in Bristol?

The street I grew up in is right next to the zoo. You could hear the lions and other animals! We got to go with my dad to the zoo at night and do night-checks on the animals. Looking back I realize what a big deal it was but for us at the time is was normal.

What, you’re telling me you got to do night checks at the zoo? Like with a torch? Was there ever anything out of place?

Sometimes if there was an animal that needed feeding overnight or something, my dad would bring that home. One time we got to bring home a baby sloth!

A baby sloth! How big was it?

Little! We got to help feed it.

Activity #4: Family Histories

Okay the fourth activity is family history. You’ve told us you’ve got connections to Wales and long-standing links in Bristol?

My mom has a fairly big family. She’s one of 4 and my uncle and great uncle, they’ve taken an interest in family history and traced it back in Bristol 5 generations or so. My grandfather was in the postal service. They were Easton based, and some of my family now are Cornwall based. On my dad’s side in Wales, my Grandfather was in the War for a while. When he was poorly my grandmother cared for him, and I know she also worked. My dad went into working at zoos and got moved to Bristol. My mom and dad met at the zoo, because my mom also worked there, in the office space. My dad used to look after Wendy the Elephant and the zoo was a massive part of his life.

Activity #6: Changemaking

Oh that’s amazing, great story. Okay, the final question I want to ask is about changemaking. What is something you’ve done that you’ve been proud of? And what advice would you give young people to inspire them?

To inspire young people, I would tell them: Believe in yourself. Have that self-belief. Not everything works out, of course, but lots of things do. And if you don’t try, then you’re not going to know. Something I’m proud of myself is my work, here at Tin Drum Nursery. We are a strong team, and we want to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and I think we do. The feedback we get from parents and from children over generations… we sometimes get visited by siblings and by parents who have started to come back who were here as children themselves. So that’s really inspiring and lovely.