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  Midweek, Thomasin Bailey had explored how even Shakespeare’s seemingly outdated view of women is still something that can illuminate our own thinking about the world we live in today.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!

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