Love comes on a wing

IMG_2640A few days ago I mentioned some excellent people who have helped to keep the Tree House on track through recent wobbly times, and they are continuing to do so.  I’m also hugely grateful for the suggestions from lots of people about ways to make things more viable – bombarded with ideas, now just need to put some of them into practice!

But there are a few others who have been behind the scenes for a while now and whose support has been invaluable.  I have had the most wonderful business adviser in Karen Heap, who I contacted in the autumn as she was then an independent business adviser; not only has her business advice and encouragement been a major help, but she has put in lots of her own time in all sorts of practical ways, even roping her family in to sort, tidy and do odd jobs in the shop.

Geraldine Jones has been helping run the Facebook page for several months.  The vast majority  of those lovely quotes and pictures of bookish and book-related things are her work, and they have helped to make the Facebook page a lot livelier and drawn in a lot more people.  We now have over 500 likes and regular activity, and that is largely due to Geraldine’s efforts.  She’s also been a great supporter of our events and a constant source of encouragement!

Karen and Geraldine have also been great at spreading the word about the bookshop, which is always invaluable – word of mouth remains the most important publicity tool we have!

And I would also like to mention Andy Jones of Town & Country Furniture, my business neighbour, who has been amazing since before the shop opened. He is always on hand to give advice as a fellow small business owner and is brilliant at doing various jobs such as replacing strip lighting, repairing cupboard doors, lending the tables for the books outside the shop and all sorts of other important practical things.  He visits regularly, always cheers us up and frequently brings Daim bars, so we like him.

It’s still too soon to say what is happening to the shop, but there is so much positivity around – I couldn’t hope for more in the way of determination to keep it going!  I just need to find a way that makes my own lifestyle feasible – the bookshop itself is now pretty well established and has created its own community of regulars as well as constantly drawing in new customers and making new connections with other groups and businesses in the area.

Thank you to everyone who is involved!  From the people who drop in a couple of books as they are passing to those who have invested financially and in terms of time, and a host of contributions in between, this is what makes such a venture a success, and that, more than financial security, is both the reason and the motivation to try to keep going.

One thing that will need attention if we do stay open is the programme of events.  We would love to keep offering some really good live events which surely can only be of benefit to our town.  There is lots of potential, and lots of ideas, so that’s the next thing to look at carefully in terms of practicalities and the best way to do things.  More of that in a later post!

In the meantime, keep checking our Events page here for what’s happening, and thank you to everyone for the wonderful support we receive constantly and in various ways.

Community is amazing but vulnerable, relationships are amazing but vulnerable, life is amazing but fragile – something Nick Cave understands better than most.

Slightly longer opening hours

children's areaWe have started opening at 10am on a Tuesday rather than 2pm – if we have more daytime lectures, that might change, but for now we will open all day on Tuesdays.  That means we are now open Tuesday-Saturday, 10-5 – easier to remember!  We are working on Monday opening…

There has been a major surge of practical support since the announcement that we were closing, and some of it is promising in terms of keeping the Tree House going.  There are changes that I personally need to make if I am to carry on myself, so it’s all still in the balance, but the shop itself is doing OK and there are lots of ideas for things we could do.  Some practical input into events (organisation and manual labour rather than performing!) would be great, but we are thinking of calling a meeting to see if there is anyone who would like to be involved in any way.  Let me know if you’d be interested in knowing about the meeting!  I’ll announce it here in any case.

Thank you so much to all who have expressed determination to see the venture continue – if I can find a way to make my own life sustainable it may be possible to carry on – I’m trying to believe in miracles!

Bank holiday opening and half term

tree house windowWe will be open today – we’re not usually open on Mondays, but as I was planning to go in and do various bits and pieces, we might as well open the doors!  So if you are out and about, do call in.

All through half term we have a buy-one-get-one-free offer on all children’s books.  So if you are looking for an inexpensive activity for the children this week, come and visit our children’s section.  There is paper and crayons for anyone who wants to draw pictures, you can read on the comfy chairs, or older children can be left to browse while you have a cup of tea.  The books are cheaply priced as it is, so children can come and spend their pocket money, or you can stock up on bedtime reading for little ones!

Many thanks to Karen Heap who tidied the children’s area and took these photos.  I don’t expect it to stay this tidy for long, of course!


Not dark yet…

IMG_3056People are thinking and working hard to find ways to keep the Tree House going.  It’s encouraging, and the best bit about the whole venture is that strong sense of community spirit that has developed within the pretty shabby walls of the former Job Centre at Abbey End.  Some really great people.

I’d particularly like to highlight the fabulous work done by two very regular and hardworking volunteers, Vicki and Angela.  Vicki you have already seen, in Elizabethan dress and also making a papier mache tree…she did huge amounts of work on the organisation of our lovely Shakespeare Festival, has opened the shop numerous times when I haven’t been able to be there, and is a regular stalwart with pricing gun and gap filling.  Angela comes every Tuesday afternoon and generally Gets Things Done.  She has an eye for what to put in the window, she does all the boring things like washing up, cleaning and hoovering, she whips me into shape when I spend too long having a tea break, and she brings fabulous homemade cake.

There’s also Tom the Philosopher who regularly drops in and spends the afternoon sorting, pricing and shelving books.  Marvellous, as he would say.  There is Andrew the Military Man who comes to see what we have in the way of military history, drinks tea and often unpacks a few bags of donated books and sorts them.  There are four Duke of Edinburgh pupils from Kenilworth School who come weekly and just do whatever needs doing, quietly and efficiently.  There is Paul, our answer to Bradley Wiggins, who has just cycled from Gibraltar to Kenilworth for the hell of it, who drinks lots of lemon and ginger tea and imparts countless bits of advice and brings us strawberries.

And there is Nifty Needles, the needlecraft group that meets weekly at the Tree House.  Angela and Vicki are part of that crew, along with Pauline, Lesley and Naomi, and they are my long-suffering committee, a sounding board for ideas and help out practically when they can, with much giggling along the way.  Plumping cushions will never be the same again.

So we are not dead yet, and all these people are the main reason why.  I wouldn’t have survived this long without them, and if I do find a way, it will be because all these people make it possible.

The title of this blog post is a Bob Dylan song – a song about ageing, though Bob’s songs are never about any one thing – and as ever, he gets to the heart of life.  ‘Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain…’  Never truer than at the Tree House.

Tree House to close

tree house windowWell, it’s been a while since I wrote anything here – mainly because we’ve been so busy!   Which makes it all the harder to have to tell you that we will be closing our doors in July.  Things will carry on as normal to the end of June, then we will clear the stock and furniture during July, staying open as long as we can.  This is mainly because I cannot carry on running the business on my own – I have some excellent volunteers who offer regular, brilliant practical help, but the strain of running the business alone and not making enough money to pay myself a wage has taken its toll.

But I would still like to fill you in on the last few weeks, and tell you about our lovely week-long Shakespeare Festival, which despite low numbers for some events was wonderful – two truly excellent talks, Elizabethan dance classes for all ages, fabulous drama workshop for children drawing on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and four stunning films, each one very different.  It was particularly lovely to end the festival with Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, as Ken has done so much to refresh our understanding of Shakespeare’s plays and his language; on a personal note, it was seeing him in the very same play in the West End in about 1990, opposite Samantha Bond as Beatrice, that showed me how Shakespeare’s extraordinary language could be at once completely natural and sublimely poetic.  The man is a genius.  (Ken, I mean, though obviously Shakespeare is too.)  The night before we had watched Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa’s incredible retelling of Macbeth transposed to medieval Japan, a film of great beauty as well as power; earlier in the week, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.  The three films together scratch the surface of the universality of Shakespeare’s brilliance (the fourth film was Shakespeare in Love, hugely enjoyable and wittier than I remember, despite having to cope with Gwyneth Paltrow, but the adaptations of the plays were much more rewarding).  Midweek, Thomasin Bailey had explored how even Shakespeare’s seemingly outdated view of women is still something that can illuminate our own thinking about the world we live in today.  This talk – the best attended event of the week – also showed the desire locally for events such as this: a discussion of around 45 minutes followed the talk, with questions and comments from a clearly engaged and knowledgeable audience lapping up the opportunity to have such a discussion.

The wondrous Vicki Mansfield, volunteer extraordinaire and main organiser of the Shakespeare Festival.  She made the dress herself - 20 years ago!

The wondrous Vicki Mansfield, volunteer extraordinaire and main organiser of the Shakespeare Festival. She made the dress herself – 20 years ago!

The following week we had one of my favourite events since the Tree House opened.  Michael Burdett, a composer based in London, had noticed me retweeting his tweets about his Strange Face Project: adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording, and called into the shop one day to chat about the possibility of giving a talk based around the project.  Some of you may have seen the Billy Bragg photograph he lent us, which was displayed in the shop window to advertise the event; only ten people came, but it was a fabulous evening, the combination of Nick Drake’s genius (that word again) and Michael’s warmth, wit and fund of great stories.  It’s a shame there were not three times as many people, but I hope he has a bigger audience when he now takes the talk to the Edinburgh Festival!  The Tree House heard it first.  And we thus followed a week celebrating Warwickshire’s greatest son with a celebration of another Warwickshire genius, the matchless Nick Drake.

Strange Face

Billy Bragg, who finds Nick Drake’s music a little too pastoral but still recognises the talent: ‘The great thing about Nick Drake is that you have to meet him half way. You’ve got to lean in to hear what he’s saying.’

We have also had two fabulous live music events, a couple of days apart – Inlay and Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra were two quite different bands, but united in their folk-based roots and brilliant musicianship.  They were also delightful company, all of them – two wonderful evenings.

We have something happening most evenings, which is partly what makes it unsustainable for me; but our events have been poorly attended, with a couple of exceptions, and that’s a shame – we’ve had some wonderful things at very reasonable ticket prices.

The books have been selling very well, though – we have had, and continue to have, amazingly generous donations from many people, and have some really good stock, which is being appreciated, clearly, by booklovers in and near the town.  The chief purpose of the shop is to promote the importance of books and literature, and we still have plenty of work to do on that front, but the bookshop side of things has been very successful.  Just not enough on its own to pay anything beyond rent, rates and bills, which add up to around £1600 a month.

But the best thing about the Tree House has been the people.  We have a core of regulars who call in frequently for a cup of tea and a chat, or to spend a few hours sorting and shelving books, and who have got to know each other and helped to create a real sense of community.  Others who come in weekly to see what new stock is on the shelves.  Others still who make a one-off visit and express their enjoyment of their visit.  So many people seem to love the place.

So it is sad to reach the point where I have to give up.  I have been thinking it might be possible to continue, but the reality is that with things as they are at the moment, it’s not possible to go on.  I am not a natural businesswoman, and have had some serious personal setbacks in terms of the creative input into the venture, and the combination of these things has ultimately led me to this decision.  I can’t continue indefinitely without some sort of income.  If there is a philanthropist out there who would like to inject some cash (so that we could employ a bookkeeper, for a start!), or anyone who can offer voluntary business expertise (in terms of the financial and legal stuff mostly), we’d love to hear from you by the end of June!

If we really do close, which looks more than likely, I am making plans for ways to continue some of the spirit and achievements of the Tree House without fixed premises.  But I do also need to get my life back!