Happy Birthday Bob!

A very happy 76th birthday to Bob Dylan, the single most brilliant, most influential, most indefinable singer-songwriter of modern times!  I will take no arguments on this.  One of the household gods of the Tree House, and a constant source of motivation, inspiration and sheer poetic beauty, which we all need in this troubled world.

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And no more shall we part…with your help!

**UPDATE:  GOAL £2300, CURRENT TOTAL £2326 – THANK YOU!**

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The title is a Nick Cave reference, as some of you will recognise…if you don’t, no matter, find the song on youtube and prepare to have your heart broken. But the Tree House can help to heal broken hearts!  (As can the music of Nick Cave, but that’s another story.)  We’ve had a strange year – perhaps every year seems like a struggle, but this last 10-12 months has been particularly tricky.  We always sail close to the edge, and it doesn’t take much to tip our finances into the danger zone.  We had some setbacks in 2016 that have put us behind with our business rates and it’s been impossible to clear that backlog.

But on a day to day basis, things are good.  Book sales are pretty healthy, we now have three book groups that are thriving, our live music events tend to sell out (the money from those goes to the performers, so those don’t bring many funds to us, but as long as we’re breaking even, that’s all that really matters), though we have had to subsidise a couple of them, our open mic Tree House Sessions are lively and wonderful, our craft group is still going strong after three and a half years, and there is such a great core community at the bookshop, with people discovering us all the time.

I feel we really do offer something a bit different to Kenilworth, something that embraces all sorts and ages of people, that promotes the arts at a time when we need their communal and healing powers more than ever.  I struggle with my health, which means I often lack the energy to do as much at and with the bookshop as I would like, but there is a great team of people who help to keep it all going.

Having decided – for health reasons as much as financial ones – that the strain was becoming too great, I decided I had to ask the landlord to find a new tenant for the premises, and that we would close.  A few days after that decision, various things happened to make it seem possible that we could not only stay open but develop in new ways to make the business stronger.  Our landlord at Berkeley House has been incredibly supportive, and so I made another decision – to launch an emergency fundraising campaign, as our backlog of rates and other expenses needs to be paid by the end of March to avoid further difficulty.

The response has been phenomenal.  We raised nearly £1000 on the first day, and in just a few days we have now raised around £1700.  What this shows more than anything is the fantastic level of support there is, a huge desire to see the bookshop continue.  We are not out of the woods yet, but if we can raise another £500 in the next two weeks, we will clear that backlog of debt and be able to continue.  From 1 April, our business rates will be reduced by a very significant amount.  Our wonderful landlords will sponsor us through their business.  We are planning some things that will enhance the bookshop both as a physical space and as a business (still in very early stages, so no details yet!), and we know now how strong the support is.  I genuinely believe that with these changes, the business will be truly sustainable.

If you would like to read about our fundraising campaign, click here – many of you have given in the past, and I don’t expect people to keep giving, but if you could share the campaign, that would be wonderful.  It’s not just the people of Kenilworth and regulars at the bookshop who have raised the money so far – through social media, people far and wide have supported it.  Every £1 helps, and some have given just that, others have given more.  We’ve had the support of our very lovely patron, musician Warren Ellis, and his followers are now retweeting and responding to the campaign.  Here’s a bit of Warren in action – his genius and energy and creativity inspire me every day.

You can donate via the button below, if you feel so inclined, but this post is mostly about sharing what’s been happening and asking you to help us by spreading the word so that we can get the final few hundred pounds that we need before time runs out.  You can, of course, just come and buy books or come to our events!  We have local folk group Romany Pie playing on Friday 24 March, an open mic on Saturday 25 March, a very exciting gig with The Little Unsaid on Thursday 30 March, and I’ll be putting on films and lectures in the next couple of weeks too.  But if you’re local and haven’t bought a book in a while, why not come and buy one – or two! – this week?  Our paperback novels are less than the price of a cup of coffee in most cafés, they are more nourishing, and the enjoyment lasts a lot longer!  They also make great accompaniments to a cup of coffee – today is a sunny spring day, what could be lovelier than sitting in a cafe with a book?  It’s my day off, so I will be doing that in a while.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us, in so many ways.  Thank you to those who have already given to this campaign, and/or have spread the word already.  If you’d like to see us not just survive but increase what we already offer, at a time when small independent high street businesses are closing or moving away, please consider getting us through this hurdle, and I know we can survive and grow if we can clear our debts.

And come and see us soon!

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I meant to include this in my earlier blog post – but will now give it its own space, as it’s wonderful!  Tim the Swim, one of our core customers since the early days in the old premises, found this lovely card, designed by Fiona Hart, and gave it to me as a Christmas card.  It is perfect!  I will get a frame for it.  We’ve been having fun deciding which character represents the regulars.  I think that’s me sitting on the balcony on the left in blue…though it looks more like Hillary Clinton.  Tom the Philosopher and Vicki on the right in yellow and red.  John Who Sang In Swedish with the telescope, though that may be a girl.  John could get away with a dress though.  India in the tyre swing, Angela sitting on the branch above her…  Tomorrow they’ll all look like someone else.

Anyway – Happy New Year!

 

The night John sang in Swedish

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Local music legend Will Pound playing our piano during the lead-up to the EU referendum.

There is always a tendency to take stock at New Year – to look both backwards and forwards, to be a bit reflective.  Though I have to say that I am pretty much always reflective about the Tree House, trying to work out what is going well, what could be improved, what isn’t working, what the best way forward is.  We have been in business for three and a half years now, which feels like an achievement – one friend says he gave us about three weeks when we started!

It’s always going to be tough financially.  We are not a very commercial outfit, and I am not by any stretch a natural businesswoman.  But finances aside, I think the achievements of the bookshop are enormous.  These are all to do with people – the regular customers and volunteers who are part of the place, some of them since the day we opened, and the growing community of followers around the world, the connections via social media, the fact that we are an easygoing space in a pressurised world.  That’s a direct result of not being commercially-focused…and yet we do have to survive financially, which is not easy.

Our customer-base is very varied in terms of age, background, nationality.  We really don’t have either a target market nor a typical customer.  Even an interest in books is not always a factor – partly because we do other things here, partly because sometimes people come just because they like the atmosphere.  One thing I love about it is how international our broader community is.  Lots of European nationals, especially, who are among the regular faces we see.  Being close to Warwick and Coventry Universities undoubtedly helps with this.  The day after the EU referendum vote, when many of us were feeling hollow and a bit desperate, some of these European nationals came to the bookshop to talk, be with sympathetic souls and generally try to find some sort of solidarity and sense of community with others.  We had made no secret of our desire to Remain in Europe, and we continue to promote a sense of Europeanness in what we do.

That’s why when, at a recent Tree House Session (our regular open mic sessions), John decided to sing Santa Lucia in Swedish, unaccompanied, I was fighting back the tears, not always successfully, and not in sadness so much as pride.  It was wonderful.  John is one of the most solidly loyal members of our community and a regular contributor at the open mics, usually with his own poetry.  He has lived in Sweden and has long been advocating that we create a more hyggelig atmosphere here – I know hygge is a Danish concept, but it is part of Swedish culture too.  I love all things Scandinavian – I am a true northerner, give me snow over sun-baked olive groves any day!

Anyway…we are now facing our toughest challenges yet, and who knows if we will get through them.  If we don’t, that’s fine, I will find a new direction.  But that moment on a dark December night at our open mic session summed up for me what is at the core of the spirit of the Tree House.  It is and always has been about people coming together through a love of the arts, especially literature but also music (very much) and film and a celebration of creativity.  But it’s also about deeper things, things we can’t always put into words, things that run through our collective identity as a community.  It’s one of my favourite things that’s happened at the Tree House, John singing unaccompanied in Swedish.

Volunteering

cropped-cropped-treehouse-header.pngThe 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 victoria@treehousebookshop.co.uk 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.

Further thanks

bookshopInevitably when you thank a large number of people, you forget someone.  Or more than one.  I think these people should take it as a compliment – it means they are so much a part of the furniture that life is unthinkable without them.  (That sounds better than being taken for granted…)

There are three important people that I left out of my ‘thank you’ post, and as compensation they get a post to themsleves.

So – huge thanks to John Shaw, Andy Jones and Michael Burdett.  John contacted me when he first heard I was thinking of opening the Tree House, and we arranged an assignation by the door to the clock tower…no trenchcoats or brown envelopes, but the start of an extremely supportive relationship between John and the Tree House.  He has helped in all sorts of ways, including buying Tree House vouchers for his friends for Christmas (a great idea, in case you’re stuck for ideas!), selling his own secondhand books through us in the old shop, chatting through lots of ideas, and frequent contributions when we were nearing crisis points.  He also comes to lots of our events, which is wonderful.

Andy Jones was our neighbour in the old shop when the wonderful Town & Country Furniture was at Abbey End.  Our existence is unthinkable without him.  There is not much else to say, but he still calls in regularly, still helps out with practical things when he can, and while I miss his daily visits and having him as a business neighbour, he is at least still around to cheer us on our way.  He is part of the fabric.

Michael Burdett called in one day because I was following him on Twitter – he is the genius behind the Strange Face Project, and as  Nick Drake fan, I was fascinated by it.  He was on his way to Coventry, I think, and called in to see if I’d be interested in hosting his Strange Face talk.  He left us with a poster of Billy Bragg listening to Nick Drake to put in the window, came back to give his talk some weeks later, and has now given it three times.  It makes me cry every time. He takes no fee for it, and so supports the bookshop in a practical way, and has become a lovely friend, calling in occasionally on his way through, keeping in touch, and always generous on many levels.

These three typify the spirit of the support the Tree House gets – they all see it as something worth supporting, and support it in their different but equally practical ways – as well as being lovely people to have around, which is also crucial.  It’s lonely running a business, and these guys help combat the loneliness!

Thank you to them, and continued thanks to those who are still with us, behind us, beside us, even in front of us – we’re surrounded by supporters, looking out for our interests and making the Tree House the magical place it continues to be, against all odds.

Thank you, thank you

th2As the Tree House enters a new era, I want personally to thank lots of people who have made it possible for us to survive as long as we did as a non-profit venture.  It is three years since we opened our doors for the first time, and it’s some achievement to have provided the kind of place we have for that long in a difficult time for small high street businesses, and that’s thanks to a lot of people.  I hope I don’t forget anyone!

Thank you to a fabulous team of volunteers.  Tom the Philosopher and Pauline have both been part of the Tree House from the start – both discovered us when I had a stall at Kenilworth market, before we opened, and are still very much at the heart of things.  Tom has sorted and shelved books on a weekly basis, Pauline set up Nifty Needles (still going strong) and used to help out on Saturdays before a hugely busy life and growing army of grandchildren took over.  Angela came to our opening night jazz concert – her son Ben helped me to set it all up in the first place – and has also been part of the team ever since, invaluable on so many levels.  Vicki joined soon after, as a member of Nifty Needles initially, and then as a fantastic volunteer at the shop, and also organising the monthly craft fairs.  In the new shop, Geraldine, Janet and Ginny have been helping out on a weekly basis, supportive in all sorts of ways including giving hours to work in the shop.  Paul has been amazing – always willing to lend a hand, providing bookcases and furniture, including the chairs we use for our events, and helping in too many ways to mention – a true stalwart.  He and Andy – another constant source of help – moved all our books when we had to close, and Paul stored them in his warehouse.  John has been a star, doing various DIY jobs, providing lovely touches to decorate the place, and helping out sometimes to give me a couple of hours off.  Kim has helped sort out and keep the children’s section tidy and well stocked.  Andrew has put bookcases together.  Thank you so much to all of them – I am missing having this team around me!  Not that they have gone anywhere, of course.

Thank you to Lewis and Charlotte, who came to see me saying they would like to set up a regular open mic event, the Tree House Sessions, to support the bookshop.  It was a success from the start, and is still going strong, pretty much fortnightly, and has brought amazing people to the bookshop (including Lewis and Charlotte themselves!).  We have such a great night, never knowing quite what to expect, but always so supportive, congenial, fun.  Next one is on 30 July, come and see for yourself – audience members always very welcome!

Karen came on board early on to help me with the business side of things (a thankless task!) and was a rock, and then and since has given very generously of her time and energies.

Emma painted our fascia sign, which we brought with us from the old shop and still hangs over the door.

Thank you to amazing musicians who have graced the bookshop, and often helped out financially by generously working with our financial limitations.  The fabulous Ange Hardy donated a free gig to help us when we re-opened in the new venue, having already given us a generous deal on her gig at the old venue.  Daria Kulesh, Sarah McQuaid, Steve Kershaw (with Leonid and Nick Vintskevich) all compromised on fees when we needed that – I don’t take such generosity lightly. Daria even worked in the bookshop for a couple of hours to allow me to escape!  Romany Pie have given two free gigs, Andrew Sharpe and his colleagues – Amy Kakoura, Harriet Guy, Lana MacIver, the Somerville Gents – have played for much less than they deserve.  Jez Hellard gave an amazing gig for next to nothing.  Thank you to all the musicians who have played, in both venues, it’s been an honour.  It was when we recently had to cancel our first music gig, the wonderful and incredibly supportive Red Shoes, that I realised things really were starting to get a bit too difficult.

Many I can’t thank by name, but you know who you are – all those who have contributed financially, right from the start, via crowdfunding, donations, patron scheme – faithful supporters who I hope will see that although the ethos of the bookshop has changed, it will continue and all because of the support you have given that has got us this far.  My family have provided vital support when things got tough financially!  I have rarely been paid out of the bookshop takings, and making ends meet has been a challenge, but family and friends have been extremely generous.

And of course to those who have donated books through the three years – our bread and butter.  I hoped to get to the point where I could buy books and improve the stock we had, in terms of trying to make sure we had all sorts of things that people asked for, rather than only relying on what we were given, but in fact that’s partly what made the old Tree House what it was.  Hit and miss – or eclectic! – never knowing what you’d find in the bags and boxes people delivered to us, loving it when unexpected treasures (not financial ones, but things we loved to sell!) were discovered.  To the cake providers too – especially Tamsin, who has not yet had a mention, but regularly brought us the most amazing homemade cakes and biscuits.  Her custard creams are to die for.  Blessed are the cakemakers.  Tamsin has also been a supporter from the market stall days, and made origami roses and all sorts of lovely things.

Thank you to our current landlords at Berkeley House, who took a risk on us and have been more supportive than any commercial landlords I could imagine.  They are genuinely great people.

Thank you to Warren Ellis, mighty musician, who responded with enthusiasm when I tentatively asked if he might consider being our patron.

So it’s been a huge team effort, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten people…I will add you in if I have!  Thank you to everyone.  We are carrying on, with a new owner for the bookshop – the wonderful Astley Book Farm – so we are in much more secure hands as a business, and we will still be able to host events in the evenings to keep building community around the cultural treats we have to offer.  I am working on a new programme of events, taking a couple of weeks off as it’s been all-consuming and stressful for a long time and I’ve been quite tired!  But from August we will have things back up and running again in the evenings.

The newly-revamped bookshop will be amazing – it will take a few weeks to get it sorted (you’ll notice some changes already), but is going to be a huge asset to Kenilworth.  A huge (inadequate) thank you to Viv at Astley Book Farm for coming to our rescue at a critical time.  Viv has long been a supporter – she came across the day we opened in the old shop with a bottle of champagne, amazing!  And I hope the evening events will continue to be an asset too.

Thanks so much, everyone – hope to see you at the bookshop very soon!