We are open again – back to normal hours of Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm. Donations welcome any time we are open – we take books (any), DVDs, CDs, maps and jigsaw puzzles. We also have some lovely greetings cards (including handmade ones), Tree House mugs and pens (Bad Seed Warren Ellis said our pens were ‘awesome’ and bought 20 of them!), some handmade bookmarks too. Come and see us.
23 March: one year today since the country went into the first national lockdown. It was a Monday, and I had decided to close my shop on the Saturday, having deliberated for several days about what to do for the best. I don’t think any of us realised that a year on we would still be in lockdown, albeit with breaks along the way. But the Tree House has been closed for over seven of the last twelve months. The government has given us grants so that the bills can still be paid, I have been furloughed so I can still take the few hundred pounds a month I earn from the shop, and I am grateful to a government I generally don’t like much for that. We would not have survived without it.
Ours is not a business that lends itself well to click and collect, nor even mail order, though I did send out some surprise books during one part of the crisis. So the decision to close and go on furlough was not a difficult one. I am actually proud of the tiny part we have played in helping to keep everyone safe, in not encouraging people to leave their homes, and I have stayed at home through much of lockdown. Not being able to walk has made that easier in one sense! Though an extremely generous friend offered me money to buy a mobility scooter just before the first lockdown, and my secondhand scooter has been a lifechanger and means I can get out much more easily. I still stay at home mostly though, sometimes venturing out somewhere people-free, and otherwise only going to the bakery or the library as necessary, once a week or less.
We are due to reopen on 12 April, as long as there are no further setbacks, and I am gearing up to that. But this year has changed me in all sorts of ways. It has taught me about the dangers of parochialism – a kind of nationalism writ small, and little repels me more than nationalism. There has of course been a wonderful pulling together in many ways in our community, with a quite brilliantly organised volunteer team which was set up quickly and has done amazing things – very well run and full of committed people. But there has also been a sharpening of a sense of individual rights being removed, which has led to people pushing the covid restrictions to the limits. Town has been busy, social distancing very hit and miss (more miss than hit), lots of shops open that I can’t see are essential, and discussions on social media that make me feel quite desperate. I am not interested in my own town beyond all others – I am lucky to live in a lovely place, but I find some of the attitudes very hard to take. Having lived in Bristol and London, and spent large amounts of time abroad, I find the introspection of small towns tricky. The lack of interest in wider issues, the shutting down of broader views, the focus on the small and close to home rather than the worldwide picture is disheartening.
The world is my community. I am sad we have left the EU, for all its problems, because I now feel less connected to that world. But the EU is a political institution, and I am still part of Europe, still part of the world, still free of national restrictions. The realisation of this over the last year – the year in which we left the EU as well as dealing with the pandemic and in which the world got rid of Trump as a person of power – has changed my thinking about the bookshop.
Alongside all the other things, my heart has been with musicians. We hosted a couple of gigs a month prior to the pandemic, and my heart is especially with those musicians – the independent touring artists who have always had to struggle to make a living but whose livelihood and identity was swept away overnight and who are still facing a deeply uncertain future. Not many locally have been interested in this, and yet it’s at the heart of what the Tree House is about.
I raised £2000 to pay those musicians whose gigs we had to cancel and then to give a small amount each to a number of other musicians. I give art talks via Zoom so that I have a little money to spend on buying music each month. I have been to lots of online gigs. I share whatever I see of musicians on social media, to try to keep their situation in people’s minds. Drops in the ocean, but something each of us can do. The musicians themselves have been amazing – continuing to find ways to make music, to make recordings even, to keep in touch with audiences and fans, to keep their world alive. And in fact out of it all has come some positivity – nothing replaces live music, but online access has opened up audiences a little, and surely streaming live gigs in future will be something to think about, to increase revenue as well as reach more people.
So when the shop reopens, it will have a slightly different focus. More outward-looking. I like to think we have been that anyway, but the focus will be on books and music – selling books in order to support the music industry as well as to keep books in circulation. The community hub aspect will be less of a priority – in terms of the events we host, for example, and getting involved in things at a local level. My heart is with the wider world. We will raise funds to support musicians – whether we do that via donations to Help Musicians UK or more directly has yet to be decided. Shop profits will go to this, as will events or initiatives through the year.
Ironically, I won’t be hosting much live music, to start with at least. We are very small, and there have always been problems with organising gigs, exhausting problems for me. I am rethinking that, but it is not in any case possible while social distancing is still in place. We have had INCREDIBLE gigs from so many amazing musicians over the last 7-8 years, and I am so proud of having brought so many fantastic musicians to Kenilworth. But it was always so hard to sell tickets and I was not the most dynamic host. So I will focus on books – my original dream was to run a secondhand bookshop, and I want to make it a better bookshop than it currently is. And that now has an extra aim, of raising funds to support the music industry. Our glorious patron Warren Ellis remains my daily inspiration; he has lost two years of touring, but remains a major creative force. (The title of the post is a quote from him, a word of encouragement to his great friend Nick Cave in the film One More Time With Feeling.) Warren reaches for the stars while staying completely grounded, and that’s how we should all be living. Exploring our creativity but staying focused on the world around us.
A long-winded post, I am sorry. It may annoy some people – that’s OK. None of us can please everyone. It’s been a tough year for every single one of us, in different ways, many of them unexpected ways. But as spring now starts and the clocks move forward this weekend, we at the Tree House will embrace the light and the warmth of each day as it comes, and work towards creating a wonderful bookshop that keeps the essential presence of the arts in full view and accessible, with standards of quality but aims of affordability, and we will do so by being creatively adventurous and being fully focused on the wider world. It will be great to see customers again and find ways to promote the joy of reading and of owning books, and through this to help to keep the world of live music afloat.
We need to raise at least £1000 urgently. It’s been a difficult few months, as you’ll have gathered, not helped by me not being too well, and we have debts to clear. I’ve set up a fundraising page – options for both locals and non-locals – do have a look, and even if you can’t help, spreading the word would be wonderful. If you can give just £3, that would help so much – or check the other options for spending a bit more – books, book vouchers, monthly schemes.
And here’s our lovely video made by Lewis Smith of one of our Tree House Sessions to give a flavour of why we’re worth supporting! So many friendships made here, so much to offer the town in terms of books, the arts generally and a place to come together.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
I am planning a few things for 2016, which hopefully will develop the community aspect of the Tree House as well as helping with our income.
I read recently that if you change your mind a lot, it is a sign of creative genius. If so, I must be on a par with Einstein. I always just thought I was indecisive and easily swayed…but I prefer to think I might be a genius!
In the first of a number of changes of mind from previous decisions, I have decided that instead of just supporting one or two charities we will have a charity of the month and raise funds during each month through events and promotions.
The Film Club will be moving to Fridays, and the range of films will change slightly, in response to a bit of market research I did to see if we could do something to build up our film audiences a bit. Another change of mind – I was going to have a month off in January, as it is quite a lot of effort, and not many people come, but we’ve had such a poor month financially in December that I need to press on with anything that brings in a few pounds!
Art History lectures will move to Thursdays, with some on Tuesdays too – both evening lectures. I will also be running some art history dayschools on Sundays. A few people have expressed interest in a course in art history, so I am putting one together.
The Mail Order Book Club is gaining members, and I will keep promoting that, as it is good fun, people seem to be enjoying it. If you live locally and prefer to choose your own books, you can receive a monthly voucher instead – details of both schemes above.
We have lots of great music booked, and the open mic evenings – the Treehouse Sessions – are going really well and will continue, and I am starting to book a few speakers to give a bit of variety from my art history talks! Keep an eye on our Events pages.
We now have Tree House mugs, as well as our badges and fridge magnets, and I will be working on more merchandise as our fab logo, designed by paper cut artist Lisa Richards is worth exploiting!
More details of all these things – and hopefully more – in due course. I am also planning to change the status of the Tree House from a limited company to a social enterprise, as this should help us financially as well as making our non-profit, community aspirations more transparent.
What won’t change is the great stock of books and the chance of a cup of tea or coffee while you browse or read! Hope to see you at the bookshop soon.