Feeling festive!

treeI normally find having to think about Christmas too early spoils some of the magic, and as a shopkeeper you have to start thinking about it much too early…I’m the sort of person who puts up their tree on Christmas Eve, and apart from an Advent calendar doesn’t want to think about it too much before then.  But I am feeling festive early this year, thanks in part to our wonderful Christmas tree.  I had seen photos of these on the internet and often thought I would like to have a go at making one, but when a friend offered to come and do it, I jumped at the chance – I’m not very practical when it comes to being creative, lots of ideas but no skills!  So Clare came on Friday afternoon and built us a Christmas tree, helped by Will (who also played jazzed up versions of Christmas carols on the piano while Clare worked – it was fab!).  Lights arrived the next day, and the whole thing looks amazing – lots of comments online and in the shop about how lovely it looks.

Last year we had a wonderful papier mache tree in the window, made from pages of worn out books, made by the excellent Vicki, and I was heartbroken that it accidentally got thrown out earlier in the year – I don’t think Vicki was too happy either!  So it’s lovely to have another tree, also made by someone in the wider Tree House community, though I still miss Vicki’s – would have been amazing to have both!

But that’s sort of the story of the Tree House – ups and downs, mistakes and triumphs, and through it all a wonderful group of people contributing in all sorts of ways.  We have made it to the end of another year, always close to the edge financially, but with more support than I know how to respond to.  Thank you Vicki, thank you Clare and Will, and thank you to whatever force in the universe keeps us going.  I have a sneaky feeling it’s Warren Ellis, our patron, whom I plan to put on top of the tree…well, a picture of him, at least.

I’ll write an annual review soon, but in the meantime here is one of my heroes and another of the bookshop’s household gods – the man awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, and my favourite Christmas pop song of all (he didn’t write the lyrics to this).

Urgent appeal!

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We need to raise at least £1000 urgently.  It’s been a difficult few months, as you’ll have gathered, not helped by me not being too well, and we have debts to clear.  I’ve set up a fundraising page – options for both locals and non-locals – do have a look, and even if you can’t help, spreading the word would be wonderful. If you can give just £3, that would help so much – or check the other options for spending a bit more – books, book vouchers, monthly schemes.

And here’s our lovely video made by Lewis Smith of one of our Tree House Sessions to give a flavour of why we’re worth supporting! So many friendships made here, so much to offer the town in terms of books, the arts generally and a place to come together.

Volunteering

cropped-cropped-treehouse-header.pngThe Tree House was not intended originally to be volunteer-run, but the realities of survival on the high street mean we have had to be.  It does add to the sense of it being a community venture, about people and reading and promoting the arts more than about commerce, but it is also a challenge.  I run the place full time, but have not been able to earn anything since we moved from our old premises.  So I need to find other ways to earn money, if I am to carry on running the Tree House.  This in practical terms means I need a bit more time away from the bookshop.

So I am looking for one or two volunteers who would like a regular commitment and have half a day or a day a week or a fortnight to spare.  We currently have one person who works every other Wednesday morning, and it’s a godsend – if we could find someone to do the afternoon on the days she works, that would be even better!  It would also be good to have Friday afternoons covered, as I have some opportunities to work elsewhere then.  But any days or half days would be welcomed.

You need to be confident of being at the bookshop on your own – though if we have enough suitable applicants, we can pair people up.  You need to be able to engage with customers and keep up to date with what’s happening at the bookshop.  There is always work to be done in terms of tidying and stocking the shelves, but if you have computer work to do or even want to spend some time reading (!) you would be able to do that too.  Some are keener to be physically busy than others – and the main thing is to keep the bookshop open as much as possible and be there for customers.

So if you are interested, do get in touch and we can talk more about it all – what’s involved, what level of availability you have and so on.  Email victoria@treehousebookshop.co.uk or call into the bookshop to arrange a meeting – I can’t always stop and chat then and there, but we can fix a time to discuss things if I am busy.

I am also always looking for evening help – at music events, film nights, etc – so if you are interested in being involved in those, I would love to hear from you too.

Further thanks

bookshopInevitably when you thank a large number of people, you forget someone.  Or more than one.  I think these people should take it as a compliment – it means they are so much a part of the furniture that life is unthinkable without them.  (That sounds better than being taken for granted…)

There are three important people that I left out of my ‘thank you’ post, and as compensation they get a post to themsleves.

So – huge thanks to John Shaw, Andy Jones and Michael Burdett.  John contacted me when he first heard I was thinking of opening the Tree House, and we arranged an assignation by the door to the clock tower…no trenchcoats or brown envelopes, but the start of an extremely supportive relationship between John and the Tree House.  He has helped in all sorts of ways, including buying Tree House vouchers for his friends for Christmas (a great idea, in case you’re stuck for ideas!), selling his own secondhand books through us in the old shop, chatting through lots of ideas, and frequent contributions when we were nearing crisis points.  He also comes to lots of our events, which is wonderful.

Andy Jones was our neighbour in the old shop when the wonderful Town & Country Furniture was at Abbey End.  Our existence is unthinkable without him.  There is not much else to say, but he still calls in regularly, still helps out with practical things when he can, and while I miss his daily visits and having him as a business neighbour, he is at least still around to cheer us on our way.  He is part of the fabric.

Michael Burdett called in one day because I was following him on Twitter – he is the genius behind the Strange Face Project, and as  Nick Drake fan, I was fascinated by it.  He was on his way to Coventry, I think, and called in to see if I’d be interested in hosting his Strange Face talk.  He left us with a poster of Billy Bragg listening to Nick Drake to put in the window, came back to give his talk some weeks later, and has now given it three times.  It makes me cry every time. He takes no fee for it, and so supports the bookshop in a practical way, and has become a lovely friend, calling in occasionally on his way through, keeping in touch, and always generous on many levels.

These three typify the spirit of the support the Tree House gets – they all see it as something worth supporting, and support it in their different but equally practical ways – as well as being lovely people to have around, which is also crucial.  It’s lonely running a business, and these guys help combat the loneliness!

Thank you to them, and continued thanks to those who are still with us, behind us, beside us, even in front of us – we’re surrounded by supporters, looking out for our interests and making the Tree House the magical place it continues to be, against all odds.

As you were…

gigAs most of you will know by now, the recent changes I referred to a couple of blog posts ago have fallen through.  Sometimes it becomes clear that things are not going to work out, and business is often a risky thing, especially on the high street.  Things are unpredictable.  While the recent change may have seemed a good solution to our crisis a few weeks ago, it was clearly not meant to be – and we have unexpectedly been given another chance to carry on with what we’ve always done at the Tree House: focus on building community through books and the arts.  This seems a very positive thing despite the difficulties!  I am meeting with the landlord on Monday, and all being well, we will carry on and the support during the last week has been fantastic – loads of books donated, and good book sales each day.  We will start regular evening events again very soon, but I want to get the books sorted first – those who have been in will know that there are lots of empty shelves and books everywhere, it’s very similar to when we first opened!

It is not easy running a small, independent, high street business – especially when the heart of that business is not commercial.  We do need to strengthen our commercial activity, but not at the expense of the more important things – making books accessible and affordable and offering great quality cultural events to our town, bringing people together and cementing friendships.  Community, for us, means sharing experiences and exploring ourselves, our humanity, our place in the word through the arts.

It’s so exciting to be given another chance, however daunting the finances.  We still have an imminent crisis – we have only two weeks of the month in which to raise the rent and rates, due on 1 September – that’s £1700.  There is a little left in the bank from before the recent brief takeover, and we’ve had a good first week since we regained the business, but it’s going to be touch and go.  However, I will do my best and there is certainly no lack of support!

If you wish to support us with a donation, however small, we have a fundraising page; if you are local and have books you are going to get rid of, we always need donations – DVDs too; and we have a programme of amazing music and exciting performers coming up in the next few months.  First up is the wonderful Mark Harrison, blues singer/guitarist and a very engaging guy, this Friday, 26 August.  I know it will be a great night.  Tickets are just £10, online or from the bookshop, and there are just 12 tickets remaining – see our Events and Buy Tickets tabs for more details.  Live music is such an amazing experience, especially in an intimate setting such as the bookshop, so I hope you can join us.

It’s not going to be easy, but life rarely is.  Certainly things that are truly worthwhile rarely are.  I believe we have something a bit different, something life-enhancing and even a bit magical to offer at the Tree House, and I am hoping we can take it forward and strengthen the foundations of what we have begun.

Thank you, thank you

th2As the Tree House enters a new era, I want personally to thank lots of people who have made it possible for us to survive as long as we did as a non-profit venture.  It is three years since we opened our doors for the first time, and it’s some achievement to have provided the kind of place we have for that long in a difficult time for small high street businesses, and that’s thanks to a lot of people.  I hope I don’t forget anyone!

Thank you to a fabulous team of volunteers.  Tom the Philosopher and Pauline have both been part of the Tree House from the start – both discovered us when I had a stall at Kenilworth market, before we opened, and are still very much at the heart of things.  Tom has sorted and shelved books on a weekly basis, Pauline set up Nifty Needles (still going strong) and used to help out on Saturdays before a hugely busy life and growing army of grandchildren took over.  Angela came to our opening night jazz concert – her son Ben helped me to set it all up in the first place – and has also been part of the team ever since, invaluable on so many levels.  Vicki joined soon after, as a member of Nifty Needles initially, and then as a fantastic volunteer at the shop, and also organising the monthly craft fairs.  In the new shop, Geraldine, Janet and Ginny have been helping out on a weekly basis, supportive in all sorts of ways including giving hours to work in the shop.  Paul has been amazing – always willing to lend a hand, providing bookcases and furniture, including the chairs we use for our events, and helping in too many ways to mention – a true stalwart.  He and Andy – another constant source of help – moved all our books when we had to close, and Paul stored them in his warehouse.  John has been a star, doing various DIY jobs, providing lovely touches to decorate the place, and helping out sometimes to give me a couple of hours off.  Kim has helped sort out and keep the children’s section tidy and well stocked.  Andrew has put bookcases together.  Thank you so much to all of them – I am missing having this team around me!  Not that they have gone anywhere, of course.

Thank you to Lewis and Charlotte, who came to see me saying they would like to set up a regular open mic event, the Tree House Sessions, to support the bookshop.  It was a success from the start, and is still going strong, pretty much fortnightly, and has brought amazing people to the bookshop (including Lewis and Charlotte themselves!).  We have such a great night, never knowing quite what to expect, but always so supportive, congenial, fun.  Next one is on 30 July, come and see for yourself – audience members always very welcome!

Karen came on board early on to help me with the business side of things (a thankless task!) and was a rock, and then and since has given very generously of her time and energies.

Emma painted our fascia sign, which we brought with us from the old shop and still hangs over the door.

Thank you to amazing musicians who have graced the bookshop, and often helped out financially by generously working with our financial limitations.  The fabulous Ange Hardy donated a free gig to help us when we re-opened in the new venue, having already given us a generous deal on her gig at the old venue.  Daria Kulesh, Sarah McQuaid, Steve Kershaw (with Leonid and Nick Vintskevich) all compromised on fees when we needed that – I don’t take such generosity lightly. Daria even worked in the bookshop for a couple of hours to allow me to escape!  Romany Pie have given two free gigs, Andrew Sharpe and his colleagues – Amy Kakoura, Harriet Guy, Lana MacIver, the Somerville Gents – have played for much less than they deserve.  Jez Hellard gave an amazing gig for next to nothing.  Thank you to all the musicians who have played, in both venues, it’s been an honour.  It was when we recently had to cancel our first music gig, the wonderful and incredibly supportive Red Shoes, that I realised things really were starting to get a bit too difficult.

Many I can’t thank by name, but you know who you are – all those who have contributed financially, right from the start, via crowdfunding, donations, patron scheme – faithful supporters who I hope will see that although the ethos of the bookshop has changed, it will continue and all because of the support you have given that has got us this far.  My family have provided vital support when things got tough financially!  I have rarely been paid out of the bookshop takings, and making ends meet has been a challenge, but family and friends have been extremely generous.

And of course to those who have donated books through the three years – our bread and butter.  I hoped to get to the point where I could buy books and improve the stock we had, in terms of trying to make sure we had all sorts of things that people asked for, rather than only relying on what we were given, but in fact that’s partly what made the old Tree House what it was.  Hit and miss – or eclectic! – never knowing what you’d find in the bags and boxes people delivered to us, loving it when unexpected treasures (not financial ones, but things we loved to sell!) were discovered.  To the cake providers too – especially Tamsin, who has not yet had a mention, but regularly brought us the most amazing homemade cakes and biscuits.  Her custard creams are to die for.  Blessed are the cakemakers.  Tamsin has also been a supporter from the market stall days, and made origami roses and all sorts of lovely things.

Thank you to our current landlords at Berkeley House, who took a risk on us and have been more supportive than any commercial landlords I could imagine.  They are genuinely great people.

Thank you to Warren Ellis, mighty musician, who responded with enthusiasm when I tentatively asked if he might consider being our patron.

So it’s been a huge team effort, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten people…I will add you in if I have!  Thank you to everyone.  We are carrying on, with a new owner for the bookshop – the wonderful Astley Book Farm – so we are in much more secure hands as a business, and we will still be able to host events in the evenings to keep building community around the cultural treats we have to offer.  I am working on a new programme of events, taking a couple of weeks off as it’s been all-consuming and stressful for a long time and I’ve been quite tired!  But from August we will have things back up and running again in the evenings.

The newly-revamped bookshop will be amazing – it will take a few weeks to get it sorted (you’ll notice some changes already), but is going to be a huge asset to Kenilworth.  A huge (inadequate) thank you to Viv at Astley Book Farm for coming to our rescue at a critical time.  Viv has long been a supporter – she came across the day we opened in the old shop with a bottle of champagne, amazing!  And I hope the evening events will continue to be an asset too.

Thanks so much, everyone – hope to see you at the bookshop very soon!

 

Secure future for the Tree House

bookshopA lot can change in a week – this year has certainly shown us that.  It’s no different here at the Tree House: a couple of weeks ago we found ourselves at a point where survival seemed impossible, but last week salvation came in the shape of the fabulous Astley Book Farm near Bedworth, the largest second-hand bookshop in the Midlands, and a popular haunt for some of our volunteers and regular customers.  Owner Vivienne Mills (we even have the same initials!) appeared on the scene like some sort of angel and offered to take on the bookshop.  It was too good an offer to refuse, especially as I will be able to carry on working here (three days a week) and will still be able to run our evening events.

It means the Tree House will no longer be a Social Enterprise – in other words, it’s no longer a non-profit community venture, but will be run as a commercial second-hand bookshop.  Vivienne has been running Astley Book Farm for 12 years and it is thriving, so we are in very good hands!  It is a huge relief to know that the bookshop is now much more financially secure.  Things are already changing in terms of the stock, and it will be an excellent second-hand bookshop – something in itself of real value to Kenilworth.

The community side of things will continue via our evening events, and I will have more time and energy to focus on organising those.  We are having a bit of a break at the moment, but I am putting together a new programme of music, lectures, films and literary events, and will publish those soon.  For advance notice and earlybird tickets when available, you can subscribe to our mailing list (see the tab above for this).

So there is still lots of potential for us to continue to bring people together through literature and the arts, and to bring live music and other wonderful things to the people of Kenilworth.  This is all thanks to Vivienne and Astley Book Farm.  Hurray!

Book donations: We are no longer taking donations of books – we now buy books, so if you have books you are getting rid of, call in on a Tuesday or Thursday and have a chat with Vivienne, or bring them to her on those days.

Tea/coffee: We have also stopped offering tea and coffee – this was always an informal arrangement, and while refreshments will still be available at evening events, it is not possible to carry on providing them during the day.

It’s all very exciting, I hope you will continue to follow us in this new chapter and call in whenever you can.  I have a lot of people to thank for getting us this far, but will do that in a separate post.