Secure future for the Tree House

bookshopA lot can change in a week – this year has certainly shown us that.  It’s no different here at the Tree House: a couple of weeks ago we found ourselves at a point where survival seemed impossible, but last week salvation came in the shape of the fabulous Astley Book Farm near Bedworth, the largest second-hand bookshop in the Midlands, and a popular haunt for some of our volunteers and regular customers.  Owner Vivienne Mills (we even have the same initials!) appeared on the scene like some sort of angel and offered to take on the bookshop.  It was too good an offer to refuse, especially as I will be able to carry on working here (three days a week) and will still be able to run our evening events.

It means the Tree House will no longer be a Social Enterprise – in other words, it’s no longer a non-profit community venture, but will be run as a commercial second-hand bookshop.  Vivienne has been running Astley Book Farm for 12 years and it is thriving, so we are in very good hands!  It is a huge relief to know that the bookshop is now much more financially secure.  Things are already changing in terms of the stock, and it will be an excellent second-hand bookshop – something in itself of real value to Kenilworth.

The community side of things will continue via our evening events, and I will have more time and energy to focus on organising those.  We are having a bit of a break at the moment, but I am putting together a new programme of music, lectures, films and literary events, and will publish those soon.  For advance notice and earlybird tickets when available, you can subscribe to our mailing list (see the tab above for this).

So there is still lots of potential for us to continue to bring people together through literature and the arts, and to bring live music and other wonderful things to the people of Kenilworth.  This is all thanks to Vivienne and Astley Book Farm.  Hurray!

Book donations: We are no longer taking donations of books – we now buy books, so if you have books you are getting rid of, call in on a Tuesday or Thursday and have a chat with Vivienne, or bring them to her on those days.

Tea/coffee: We have also stopped offering tea and coffee – this was always an informal arrangement, and while refreshments will still be available at evening events, it is not possible to carry on providing them during the day.

It’s all very exciting, I hope you will continue to follow us in this new chapter and call in whenever you can.  I have a lot of people to thank for getting us this far, but will do that in a separate post.

This week

red shoesThis week we have lots of music – see our Music page under the Events tab.  This is a brief post to let you know that fabulous folkies Red Shoes are here on Friday, and tickets are just £5.  So tell your friends, treat your friends, bring your friends along – but please book in advance, it helps us more than I can say.  There  is an online ticket link in the tabs above, or local residents can buy direct from the bookshop.  We will ask on the evening if anyone is able to pay a little more, to help pay the performers and support live music at the bookshop, but there is no obligation to pay more!

Red Shoes are Birmingham-based but nationally renowned, a well-established acoustic band who are a bit Fairport Convention in style – they have in fact played with members of Fairport over the years.  They are lovely supporters of the bookshop too, so I am thrilled they are coming.  Do come and enjoy an evening of wonderful live music at a bargain price!

There is also an informal folk session on Tuesday and contemporary jazz on Thursday – see the Music tab under Events for more info on those.

Meanwhile, here is a taster of Red Shoes. Lovely!

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

tree house badgeThis is a fairly desperate plea to see if you, our faithful supporters, can keep supporting us and maybe find more people to help with the support!

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!

This week at the Tree House

th2Our Events pages give more detailed information on what’s happening here at the Tree House, but here is a brief summary of what’s coming up this week.




Tuesday 11 August, 8pm: art history lecture on Rembrandt.  £6 inc tea/coffee.

Wednesday 12 August, 7pm: Nifty Needles, our social group for needlecrafters. £1 inc tea/coffee.

Thursday 13 August, 7.30pm: film.  Please ask for details.  £2 (£3 if you would like tea/coffee).

Friday 14 August, 7.30pm: Silent Reading Night.  £3, inc unlimited tea/coffee.

Lots more coming up soon, you can subscribe to our mailing list (see tab above) or keep an eye on our Events pages or Facebook page.

Hope to see you at something soon – and do spread the word!

Eventful times

abbey fields

It’s been a strange week – I blame the Strange Face!  Our wonderful event last Friday has been followed by a week of not feeling at all well, and the shop has been mostly closed as a consequence.  One thing I did was to sit in Abbey Fields for an hour or so, something I rarely get the chance to do, and the fresh air and the smell of grass and eating my lunch outdoors were wonderful – I love all the trees there, and the fact that they have left part of the grass to grow wild – hurray!

Huge thanks to Angela who opened the shop on Thursday and even made cake before she came, and to Ginny who helped out – it was quite a busy day, thanks to the warm weather and the market.  We’re back to normal from Friday – well, the bookshop is, not sure about me!

I have been thinking a lot about events since the amazing Strange Face evening.  We have only had a few events since we reopened, but they have all been fabulous – have a look at the Events page for a few photos.  I am going to try and get together an events committee, to pool ideas and contacts and spread the load of organisation.  If you’re interested in being part of that, do get in touch – we need both people with ideas and also people who can help put them into practice – they may not be the same people, but it would be great to bring a few people together!  Email if you’d like to get involved.

Our next event is on 17 July – wonderful singer Daria Kulesh will be singing for us, should be a fantastic evening.  More soon, but have a look at her website or find her on youtube.  Just £5 – tickets now on sale, advance purchase is always good!

Meanwhile here is a video I’ve been meaning to share.  We had the gorgeous Ailsa Tully come and sing for us with her electric cello a couple of weeks back – only about ten people came, which was a shame as she was *brilliant*, but those ten had a great time.  Ailsa’s boyfriend Joe filmed one of the songs and they sent me the video – enjoy.  And when we get her back at some point in the future, come and hear her live!  Come to all our events – they are wonderful.


Cancel your plans for Friday evening! You have a date with a Strange Face…

What are you doing this Friday?  You are coming to the Tree House to listen to a truly fabulous illustrated talk about Nick Drake, of course!  Why would you want to do anything else?

Warwickshire has nurtured three of England’s greatest writers in different centuries – Shakespeare, George Eliot and Nick Drake (for me, the greatest British singer-songwriter of all).  Before I opened the Tree House, when I was thinking of what to call our bookshop/community hub, I really wanted the name to be related to a Nick Drake song.  I thought of Five Leaves, Pink Moon, Northern Sky, Fruit Tree, River Man…none of them seemed right, even though I knew it would be so cool to have a Nick Drake-related bookshop name.  In the end I moved away from that idea and chose the Tree House for a number of reasons, but I still regret not naming it for him in some way.

I love Nick Drake’s music – those exquisite songs and equally exquisite voice.  He died before I even knew he existed, but he is in my top three popular musicians and I consider his record Five Leaves Left to be one of the all-time greatest records.  So I was intrigued last year to see on Twitter some references to the Strange Face Project – about one man’s adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording – and started following the Twitter account.   The project is about the finding of a tape with an unreleased Nick Drake song on it and the adventures relate to what the finder did with this.

The man leading these adventures is the very lovely Michael Burdett, London-based musician and composer, and one day he phoned me to say he had seen my interest and wondered about coming to give his talk at the bookshop.  He then turned up one day and we had an excellent chat, arranged a date, and he left – leaving some wonderful photographs behind.  We used the one of Billy Bragg listening to the recording as our window display for quite a while.

Strange Face

Michael came and gave his talk just over a year ago, and it was fabulous.  It’s hard to convey quite why it’s so fabulous, especially without giving too much away, but ultimately it’s a story about the power of a piece of music – the impact it has on individuals and the way it connects people.  The illustrated show was informative, funny, fascinating and very moving – the material is great, but Michael’s delivery is also fantastic.  He is warm, funny, engaging, generous and passionate.

He went on to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it (unsurprisingly) won the award for Best Free Show.

He has also become a friend of the Tree House.  He lives in London, but from time to time has appeared in the shop doorway bearing cake and good cheer.  When we reopened I knew I wanted him to come back and give the talk again, and am thrilled that he agreed to do so, and he wants it to be a means of supporting the Tree House.  He has revised and expanded the show, which he is taking to Edinburgh again this year, along with other festivals over the summer.

But he is coming here first!  This Friday, 19 June, 8pm.  You’d be crazy to miss it.

Tickets are £5, in advance or on the door, and included is a £2 voucher to spend in the shop.  We would love a really good audience for this – it deserves to have the bookshop packed to the rafters.  Please come, please bring your friends, please spread the word if you can’t come (or even if you can).  You don’t have to be a Nick Drake fan to enjoy this event, though if you are it will make it all the more brilliant an evening.  If you have friends who don’t know Nick’s music, bring them along – perfect opportunity to introduce them.

There are only 40 tickets available, so contact us if you want to reserve some.  More details in the poster below.

Whatever you do and whyever you do it, just come along – it will be a truly lovely evening at a bargain price (you can give more if you want to!), and you will be supporting the bookshop as well as having the best time.  What more could you ask for on a Friday evening?

Strange Face at Treehouse 2 new postcode

Mailing list

Ange Hardy at the Tree House, 22/09/2014

Ange Hardy at the Tree House, 22/09/2014

We have an email list for anyone who would like to be kept up to date with general news and, when we’re up and running again, our events.  If you would like to subscribe, there is now a page where you can either click on a link or use a QR code to sign up.  You can unsubscribe from the mailing list at any time using a link in the emails or by contacting me.

Taking it to the next level

Radio Warwickshire presenter Tamsin Rosewell sharing a cup of tea and a chat on the Tree House sofa with the lovely Lucy Ward.

Radio Warwickshire presenter Tamsin Rosewell sharing a cup of tea and a chat on the Tree House sofa with the lovely Lucy Ward.

We’ve had an amazing few days at the Tree House.  I wanted to keep our first anniversary celebrations low key, for various reasons, but it was lovely to mark the occasion, and we had an excellent tea party in the afternoon with all sorts of people dropping in, most notably our incredible team of volunteers, who brought cake, ice cream and lots of good cheer.  They even put the hoover round and put wheels on our new trolley while they were here.

Tom the Philosopher (a wizard when it comes to sorting, pricing and shelving books) reckons that now we are a year old, we need to go to the next level.  That could mean all sorts of things, but what it means mostly to me is live music.  That’s the area where I need to do a lot of work – bringing in musicians, creating a better ambience, organising things more efficiently, marketing events better.

One of the really lovely things that happened this weekend was that Radio Warwickshire folk presenter Tamsin Rosewell recorded a couple of interviews for her radio show (which is back in the autumn) at the bookshop – one with Lucy Ward, fresh from her performance at Warwick Folk Festival, one with Stevie Jones, so look out for those!  Her producer Tim, who manages bands and is generally a music industry wiz, said that the acoustic in the shop is just brilliant.  No wonder our Big Comfy Sessions have sounded so good (well, I imagine the awesomeness of the performers had something to do with that, but you know what I mean!).  So we are going to build on that.

We walk a tightrope financially, which holds me back a bit when I’m thinking about who I could get to perform here.  But this whole venture has been about taking one risk after another, and so I ought to feel ready to take a risk on this, in order to get the Tree House more established as a small, intimate music venue.  We have seating for around 30, can get 50 in if some don’t mind standing, perching, sitting on the floor or stairs.  Acoustic music has worked really well, we’ve had some truly wonderful gigs here, and some of the performers have said how much they’ve enjoyed playing here.  Amplification is not really needed, though I appreciate some groups use microphones to get the right balance – we don’t have equipment, but most seem happy to bring their own.  In due course, we can of course get what’s needed – with advice from those in the know!

So if you are a musician – acoustic, folk, jazz, classical – who fancies a small venue with an appreciative audience, do get in touch – 01926 856843 or, I’d love to hear from you.  Our general policy is to pay 75% of the takings to performers, but I’m happy to discuss any terms you might have.

We have re-established the film club; started informal socials on a Friday night (weekly, unless some other event is happening); we are launching a monthly Sunday Salon on Sunday 3 August in the afternoon for literary discussion; a new monthly book group on Monday 18 August in the evening; a new mindfulness course will start in September on Tuesday evenings; our Nifty Needles needlecraft social group on Wednesday evenings is growing and is great fun.  These are all wonderful, and I hope to increase attendance particularly at the films and socials – but live music is such a very special thing, and I do hope that by the time we are celebrating our second anniversary next year, we will indeed have taken the Tree House to the next level, creatively and financially.

The Tree House needs you!

mier_prod-1 (2)I have now ordered a rubber stamp for stamping receipts and things – so there’s no turning back, the shop has to open!  I love stamping things.

I have been thinking about what else the project will need.  There are things for the shop itself, beyond things like shelving, computer, etc. There are also the evening (and sometimes daytime) events I’d like to have, for which we need performers, etc.  (I must use etc less…I am not Yul Brynner.)  I have made a list.

1. Stock – donations of any kind of books, in good enough condition to sell, will always be gratefully received.  Any house clearances, etc, will be of great interest, so keep me posted if you hear of anyone trying to find a home for collections of books!

2. Armchairs – I want it to be a comfortable place!  I will visit the Lions store in Kenilworth, but again, offers of unwanted but usable armchairs will be welcome.

3. Volunteers – there will be various ways that people can help, from manning the shop so that I can go to the post office, etc, to reading stories to children in the afternoons, and all sorts of other things.  I have already had offers of help with sorting and cataloguing books, which is wonderful.  If you would like to be involved, do get in touch (details on the About page).

4. People to come and lead events.  People to give talks; people to give readings; storytellers; musicians; people to give craft presentations; people to lead writing workshops; people to lead debates; anything else you think would make an interesting event that people would pay a small amount to come and see!  These are intended to involve the community. to give people a performance space and to help raise some income for the shop.

5. People to spread the word.  Tell your friends, colleagues and neighbours.  Put up a small poster/flyer on your kitchen noticeboard, or leave a few at work. (I will be getting some printed.)

All of this is ultimately working towards enhancing a sense of community, and raising some money for local charities and causes.  The more money we bring in, the more we can give!  So whether you feel able to buy a share or two (see Investing in the community tab) or giving of your time or offering some kind of event, you will hopefully feel that you are involved in something worthwhile.

Kenilworth is full of independent shops and has a great sense of community – this is something to cherish and maintain and develop, and I would like to think this little venture will be part of doing just that.