If you live in Kenilworth, keep your eyes open as you walk around town…we’ve released some books into the wild! You might find one on a park bench or at a bus stop or who knows where. The books are free to take, and the slip of paper encourages the reader to pass the book on when they’ve finished, or rewild it! We’d also love to hear about any finds – there is a Books in the Wild page here for reporting back. We’re raising awareness of Kenilworth Arts Festival as well as just spreading bookish fun around the town. Happy hunting, happy reading!
The 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 email@example.com 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.
Today we’ve launched a very ambitious campaign – trying to raise £5000 for the bookshop in just six weeks… So many have given generously in the past, and I don’t want to ask the same people to keep giving, but we now have a lot of followers on Twitter and Facebook, and if everyone shares, and maybe their friends and followers share, we could have a huge reach and the potential for lots of support! The best way to support us is to keep spreading the word (as well as buying books, of course!), so if anyone out there is prepared to share, retweet, etc, that would be marvellous.
We are hoping for an injection of cash to boost our ongoing efforts to raise our game a little and make our regular income stronger. The crowdfunding is to help enable us to survive, and to provide funds for things such as producing some good publicity material (flyers, bookmarks, postcards and more) and a window graphic to make it clearer who and what we are, renewing our PRS and Film licences so that we can carry on playing music and showing films, improving the lighting (those who have visited know it’s a bit basic and there are several bulbs/lights that need replacing!), sorting out our hot water boiler to help with washing up, so that we can perhaps do more in terms of offering refreshments, and other things besides. If we raise enough, I want to go beyond these necessities and make the bookshop itself – the physical space – a lovelier, more magical place than it already is.
So please do have a look at the campaign, and please click here and share the link as much as you can. The link will stay at the top right of our homepage here, linked through the image of the bookshop, and you can share on various social media sites directly from the crowdfunding page. We get to keep whatever pledges we raise in the next six weeks, but if we can reach our £5000 target, that would be amazing! We have raised £90 in the first hour, so let’s see how far we can get… Thank you in advance! Every single share or retweet helps.
In the meantime, watch our Tree House Sessions video for inspiration!
We have launched two new ways that you can be more involved in and support the Tree House, whether you are a regular visitor or live far away – both work on a monthly standing order system. For locals, a voucher scheme, and for those further away, a surprise book club.
Here is how they work.
If you want to join the local membership scheme, for people who visit the bookshop in person, you can set up a standing order for £5 or £10 a month, and we will post you a voucher each month for your chosen amount. These are not dated and can therefore be used at any time. They are redeemable against books, tea and films – not, I’m afraid, against our music gigs, which we need to fund independently. Bring your voucher to the bookshop to spend; if you don’t spend it all, we will mark it with the remaining balance to keep for another time. Treat the bookshop as your club! Come and sit, drink tea, read…we sometimes have newspapers, when the lovely Jane donates her copy obtained free with her shopping from Waitrose.
If you are not a regular visitor and live in the UK – or live locally but enjoy receiving books in the post! – you can join our mail order book club. You tell us what sort of books you like and we choose books from our stock to send to you – so it’s always a bit of a mystery as to what you will get! You can give us feedback on what we send to help us refine our selections, and you can let us know favourite authors or series of books – we can’t guarantee any particular titles, but can keep an eye open for something if you desperately want it. However, part of the fun is getting surprises in the post each month. £5 a month gives you two books, £10 a month gives you four books – postage is included.
Go to our Membership page for the relevant information on how to join either of these schemes. Joining will help the Tree House in terms of regular income, will enhance our sense of community spirit by making the place feel more like a club, and hopefully will be fun for those of you who join.
What are you waiting for?!
…still in boxes, but they are in! And we have some bookcases – need more, but a good start. Here is a slideshow of the current state of affairs in the new premises.
Huge, huge thanks to Paul Seward at E-Warehousing who has very kindly stored our books and some other bits and pieces and heroically delivered them to the new shop yesterday, along with some bookcases and some other excellent furniture. And also huge thanks to Lewis, Charlotte, Tom, Vicki, Naomi and Andrew who have done fantastic work unloading, cleaning and helping in all sorts of ways.
We should be able to reopen quite soon, even before we have all the bookcases we need – as soon as books are on shelves we can start selling them! And showing films and offering cups of tea… We are also already planning a Mindfulness taster session and eight-week course and there will be an evening of entertainment on Friday 1 May to relaunch the Tree House officially – more news on all these things in due course.
The focus will be very much on books. We have a bit less space than in the other shop, so will be a little more restricted – and therefore selective – in what books we can put on display, and we have learned from the last shop what does and doesn’t sell well in Kenilworth. But we will generally make the focus on books even clearer than before – we would like more literary events, and the Film Club, the Mindfulness courses, lectures (on art, literature and history) and the live music will be the core of our evening offerings. We won’t be running craft workshops (though we will still have our Wednesday evening social group for needlecrafters) nor using the bookshop for other groups or sessions, and we won’t have wifi – we want to encourage books rather than the internet!
What we will have is a warm, inviting place, centred around books and the arts and with a concern for the environment. The generosity of all those who have contributed to our crowdfunding and the enthusiasm of the many who have called in or waved through the window over the last few days shows that the momentum within the community has not been lost and we look forward to continuing to offer a place where community can grow.
Happy Easter to everyone – as one of our regulars said, it seems appropriate that the Tree House is being resurrected at this time of year!
It’s been a rollercoaster of a week. Decent quantity of books, and a new trolley, stolen on Monday. Lease for the shop came through the same evening – that has been verified by an external adjudicator, signed and went in the post this morning. Strange phone call that has ended up giving me a good deal on electricity supply for the shop – I think! All sorts of people ringing me up, cornering me in the street, contacting me in various ways, warning me of all the pitfalls, criticising this and that, or hoping that I will be able to use the shop to benefit them in some way. Some of the latter I will think about, some I won’t! Hey, I’ve done all the hard work, it is, as someone said to me this morning, my train set, and while I am generally quite good at being a soft touch, I am working on how to say no!
But the main thing is the lease, which is now signed, and I have a shop! An address! I have already added the address to the Tree House website. Tomorrow evening a sofa is being delivered, thanks to Freegle and a friend with a van, and more furniture has been promised or suggested. Lots of fun things ahead, like buying a computer and a till (have always wanted my own till, since playing shop as a small child!), arranging the space and sorting the books, lots of non-fun things too like opening a business bank account. It’s a pretty steep learning curve, and at times feels terrifying.
But the day has arrived – I have premises, and all the ideas and dreams and plans now have a foothold in reality. The shop is 5-7 Abbey End – what used to be the Cats Protection shop, and the Job Centre before that – it now has the Job Centre sign over the window, that will be changed in due course!
There has been a fantastic amount of goodwill, encouragement, moral and practical support along the way, for which I am extremely grateful. A few special thank yous, though. First and foremost to my friend Ben, who started the whole thing off by asking me one day last autumn what I would really like to do with my life…and this is the result. He’s been a brilliant sounding board along the way, as well as providing practical help, and many of the ideas encompassed by the Tree House are his. To Richard Davies, now chairman of Warwick District Council, who responded to the online survey I sent out in November by arranging a meeting – once he became interested, the whole thing took off, as he provided me with contacts and all sorts of suggestions of where to look for help. He put me in touch with Zoe Court, town development officer, and Charles Smith, property adviser at Boston Fieldgate, who have both been fabulous. Andy Jones at Town & Country, who has been using the premises up to now as a showroom for his lovely furniture, has also been fabulous. I could not have got this far without these excellent people.
It is already a community venture – lots of people have given books, or have contacted me to offer help in various ways, people really rallied round after the news of the theft earlier in the week, and I know so many more Kenilworth people through all of this. The market stall has been a lovely experience, despite the hard work involved (I have now given that up to focus on the shop). I still can’t quite believe what’s happened, let alone what is about to happen, but somehow it is all true.
I am sure the rollercoaster will continue to roll up and down, but I’m getting a bit better at hanging on when it plummets downwards. Not a lot better, but a bit! I am not sure when the shop will open, it all depends obviously on how long it takes to convert the space and get it all ready, but you will see signs of activity in the shop if you are passing that way in the next few weeks. I’m starting to get some events lined up, and hope to transfer the Film Club there in due course, but for now I need to paint, put up shelves, sort out the utilities and stamp a lot of books. I like stamping things.
I love trees. (The one pictured is in our glorious Abbey Fields.) And not only because they provide the raw material for books, although I am supremely grateful to them for that! I especially love decidous trees, because they change with the seasons, which is a wonderful thing to watch. My favourite thing in the whole of nature is a mature oak tree. They are great for hugging – they have wonderful bark that is rough yet soft, and although you can’t get your arms around the trunk, that is wonderful too, as the tree gives back a comforting sense of being bigger than you in every way, stronger, protective. You may now be starting to write me off as a hippie kook, but while there is a litte hippieness in my heart and soul, I am simply someone who loves a tactile relationship with the things I love!
What does this have to do with secondhand bookshops? Well, I have called my planned bookshop The Tree House in part because it reflects how important I think trees are in our world – the world would not survive without them and the oxygen they produce. They are a crucial part of the ecosystem, providing habitats for all sorts of creatures, giving their leaves back to the soil, often producing food for humans as well as animals. And thinking about my bookshop as a community project, that is very much the atmosphere I want to create – a sense of something firmly rooted in the community, providing a sheltering space that then branches out into the unknown. That’s what a community hub can do, but more to the point it’s what books can do – that’s why I want to combine the two. We live in an age where intellectual activities are not celebrated – and by intellectual I don’t mean that these activities are dry or purely cerebral or just for people who are very clever, but I mean activities that demand that we engage our brains, and encourage and enable us to strive to reach our potential by focusing on what is below the surface and engaging with other people and the world around us in a more thoughtful way.
Books are not just a means of passing the time, they are lifechanging experiences – the good ones, anyway! They tell us more about what it is to be human, they feed our inner lives and our imaginations (another aspect of humanity that often seems a little underrated!), and make us more creative in our engagement with the world.
The tree is therefore a wonderful image for me of the heart of a reading community – deeply rooted, creating a sheltering and nurturing space, pushing us out into a richer existence as individuals and as a community. Reading can do this! And coming together around books and literary adventures is like planting a forest.
The government wants to sell off our forests. Our libraries are under threat. I see these two things as related – the very things that give life to our planet and our community are seen as superfluous when what is needed, supposedly, is to generate more wealth and get rid of spaces that do not do this. We need trees; we need a sense of community. We can all sit in our homes ordering books over the internet, or downloading them to our Kindles and Kobos and iPads, or we can protect our libraries and bookshops and share this fabulous experience of enjoying books and learning from each other. You can’t browse properly on Amazon – who knows what you might find next to the book you are looking for in a bookshop? You can’t savour an e-book, re-reading sections with ease and making notes in the margins. (I know because I own a Kindle, and I’ve tried! I am not against e-readers at all, they are jolly useful in some circumstances, but they do not provide the same experience and potential as reading a book.)
Well, in my opening post I asked if I was crazy, and decided I almost certainly was. You may now think the certainty is even greater! But I am passionate about books and reading and providing a space that focuses on books but also draws in, and reaches out to, the community in imaginative ways. I want to make this happen in Kenilworth – I would love to think the good people of Kenilworth would love to see it happen too!