5-7 Abbey End – the Tree House has an address!

tree house bag designIt’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.

A word about trees

treeI 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!

A new small business and community venture for Kenilworth

mier_prod-1 (2)Hello!

I am writing this on a day when a number of high street retailers have gone into receivership.  Doom and gloom abound regarding the future of books and bookshops.  Yet I am still excited about my new venture: to open a not-for-profit secondhand bookshop in Kenilworth.  Am I crazy?  Almost certainly, but not in a bad way.

What makes me think this is a good idea?  Well, I don’t for one moment believe that the death knell has been sounded for the supposedly humble book.  Yes, e-readers are offering a challenge – though I would say they complement rather than damage conventional books. The book is surely one of the greatest pieces of technology in the modern world.  Simple, easy to use, portable, aesthetically pleasing and more besides.  A book is a satisfying object on an intellectual, practical and emotional level.  What more do we want from technology?

There is still a vast number of books not available electronically, and also a vast number out of print that will probably never be available electronically.  I believe there is still a place on the high street for a good, quality-driven secondhand bookshop, and that is what I aim to set up.  A bookshop that stocks as wide and deep a variety of stock as I can get my hands on, offering a service to try to track down any book we don’t have.  A bookshop that promotes the intellectual and social benefits of literature and reading.  A bookshop that brings together all sectors of the community to enjoy these benefits.

I envisage a space that will draw people of all ages to come in and browse, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea as they do so, where they will want to spend time.  A space where the focus is very much on books and reading, but where we can host small scale community events – talks, readings, writing workshops, music events, films and more, by and for local people.  Storytelling afternoons for children, a space for people who want somewhere to write, competitions, raffles, quizzes for all ages, with prizes selected from other local independent retailers and businesses.  The ideas are still developing.  All profits once overheads and staff wages are met will go to local charities and events.

To start with, we are going to organise regular coffee afternoons, probably at Jubilee House (the council are giving me wonderful support and help!), where books will be on sale and different book-related talks and activities will take place to give a flavour of the enterprise and to establish ourselves while we find a suitable permanent site.  Please check back or follow this blog for details of these – they will be advertised elsewhere too.

Some of you may have filled in my online survey, and will notice that I have changed the name of the shop – I had thought of calling it Middlemarch Books, after Warwickshire-born George Eliot’s great novel, but felt it needed something a bit snappier.  My hope is that the shop will become a bit like a tree house – a flexible space that can be a sort of den, or a quiet space, or a community space, both a retreat and a social hub.  That may all sound contradictory, but with a bit of organisation and creativity it will be possible to enable customers to use the space as they wish.

I will update this blog as things progress, and with more detail about what I hope to achieve, as well as sharing literary bits and pieces I find interesting, and posting a few things about my own love of books and reading.  In the meantime, look at the blogroll on the right of this page for links to existing fabulous independent bookshops, and watch the Scarthin Books video to be truly inspired!