The Tree House is thriving on its own terms – selling books, creating marvellous friendships, providing a friendly space to hang out in the centre of town, putting on lovely events that are very much enjoyed and occasionally well-attended… We have a full programme of films, music, craft group, reading evenings, mindfulness courses, art history lectures and more. The music events have been wonderful and packed out, our open mic events are also well supported, the mindfulness course this term is over-subscribed, the art history lectures get weekly audiences of 10-20 people, the needlecraft group is growing. The films are not well attended, but the few who come seem to enjoy them very much, and we’ve watched some wonderful films.
However, the finances are a struggle. Rent and rates are high – we need around £1800 a month to pay those two bills alone, then there are our utilities on top of that, occasional accountant’s fees and other expenses. I am working here six days a week and from three to five evenings a week, and really need to be paid to do that – only because I need to pay my own rent and bills too!
I would love to do the whole thing on a non-commercial basis – it is intended very much as a community venture – but that is not realistic. I keep it as non-commercial as I can (to the exasperation of some friends!), but we do need to meet our overheads if we are to survive. We are constantly in danger of not meeting them, despite the way the venture as a whole is growing and strengthening in terms of community and bookselling and promotion of the arts as a means of enriching our souls and our communal lives.
That’s the basic thrust of what I want to say. If you want more detail, read on; if you just want to see how I am suggesting you might be able to help, jump to the How can you help? bit! There are simple things people can do, not all of which involve spending money.
The community that has grown up here, and continues to develop, is just fabulous. More and more people are coming in and discovering us and are often surprised to find such a lovely place. There are seats to sit in if you’re tired, an ever-chuntering urn for making tea and coffee for just £1, and an atmosphere of calm in these bookish surroundings, with occasional music or cricket commentary or Radio 4 Extra to add some excitement.
We are now struggling with the finances, though, which may just mean that our venture is not viable, or we have to change it to something more commercially focused. We are in the process of trying to change our status to a social enterprise, or Community Interest Company, which would bring some financial benefits, but we have an immediate need if we are to pay the rent over the next couple of months.
This is not so much a begging message as a way of being open about what’s happening and suggesting ways that you can help if you feel you would like to. Some are simple and don’t involve you spending any money, others do involve a bit of financial expenditure, but we have always worked on the principle of lots of people giving a little as our main means of functioning.
We are not a charity, but when we can afford to we give what we can to charity. After much deliberation, we will be supporting the Alzheimer’s Society and Mind, as charities that do so much to enrich the lives of those suffering from mental illness, disability, impairment and degeneration which is such a dark side of our society, and something which literature and the arts can do a lot to help with.
There is lots of potential. On the strength of the success of the art history courses, I would like to set up a sort of Lifelong Learning programme of short courses, dayschools and one-off lectures on other arts subjects as well as art history (literature, film, philosophy, history, etc) and am seeking out suitable people to teach. We still want to bring more in the way of literature to the town – we’ve had some lovely poetry evenings, which we will continue, and have plans to do more with fiction and other forms of writing, including nature writing. We are hoping to be very involved in next year’s Kenilworth Festival, which will have a clear focus on the arts. We can branch out into some literature-related cards and gift items if we find the right products. We are going to set up online book selling, which we should have done ages ago, but there is only so much time in the day. There are now more people regularly involved, which will make all these things – and more – easier; and will also make coming up with creative ideas easier, as we pool our imaginative resources!
So…if you would like us to continue (yes, it is coming to that level!) and would like to support in some way, do read on.
How can you help?
- Spread the word about our events (as well as our books!).
- Share our Facebook posts if you are Facebook, retweet if you’re on Twitter, join our mailing list and read and forward our emails.
- Join our membership scheme – for any amount per month from £5 upwards, by standing order, you get a voucher (posted out to you) to spend on books for the full amount.
- Try one of our events – especially our films, which are lovely! And only £3 including tea/coffee. We have a mixture of old classics, foreign language films, music-based documentary type films (the kind of film that’s hard to categorise!), and some more general films but ones you don’t tend to see on television.
- Join our mail order book club or recommend it to a friend who doesn’t live in or near Kenilworth. Or buy a subscription as a birthday or Christmas gift. £5 a month for one book, £7 a month for two.
- Buy books! A paperback book is cheaper than most cups of coffee in a cafe, much cheaper than a magazine, half the price (or less!) of a pint of beer, and a book a week is a healthy habit to develop! And second-hand books make great presents and stocking-fillers. People shouldn’t mind if the corners are a bit worn – we are too fussy these days.
- Become a patron by giving £3 a month to support our enterprise. It will give you a lovely warm glow, worth far more than £3 a month.
Get in touch if you want further information about any of these things. If you have read this far – thank you!