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!

If you feel like singing a song…

Tree House statement design v2Some of you already know this, via Facebook and/or Twitter, but in the light of much moral support and the green light from the landlord, I have decided to keep the Tree House open.  It’s not going to be easy – for me personally or financially – but it seems the right thing to do, and sometimes I find myself capable of doing the right thing!  Not always…but I do think this is the right thing.  I could spend weeks weighing up the pros and cons and not achieve a rational answer, but I’ve always been someone who goes with their heart, and while it often gets me into trouble, it is simply who I am, and I’m slowly – painfully slowly – learning to accept that.  Others may have a harder time accepting it, and I fully understand that!

We have a great little space in the heart of Kenilworth, and now that the decision has been made, I am thinking hard about how to make the most of the Tree House as a venue – more on all of that later.  I need to be bold, I think.  One of the things that decided me that the Tree House needed to continue was the Big Comfy Sessions that have been filmed there (a few more in the pipeline too).  These are a temporary feature, until Michael McEntee opens his Big Comfy Bookshop at Fargo Village in Coventry at the end of September (very exciting!), and the Tree House has just been the venue for the recordings, but they have shown me the potential for cool and groovy things that the Tree House has.  We need more cool things happening!  Musical or otherwise.

I will also resurrect the Film Club, which has languished since my right hand man in that venture left in January.  There is still a huge void there, as I am a bit rubbish when it comes to films, and I miss the input of a knowledgeable, passionate, energetic person (who also had a great collection of films to share with us!) – but I have a longish and pretty varied list of films I plan to show (from Mary Poppins to Les Amants du Pont-Neuf with all sorts in between).  We can’t afford to renew the licence yet though, so that’s the next target!

I also have offers of help with poetry nights and open mic music nights, and am working on getting some more musicians to come and perform.  But I also want to shift the balance a bit, and start some more literary things.  The focus of the bookshop needs to be bookish – it was set up to counter the anti-intellectualism I see in society, and I want to find creative ways to do that.

We are also increasing our commitment to charity.  We are non-profit, but we haven’t made any profit yet, so have not been doing much in terms of giving to charity!  But we had a coffee morning for Helen Ley Care Centre earlier this month, and have carried on with a collecting tin – the day of the coffee morning raised £120, and if we can keep doing little things throughout the month, we can at least give this sort of amount monthly to charity.  In July we will be supporting Zoe’s Place baby hospice in Coventry, and in August it will be the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance – again, more in later posts.

More significantly, I want to ally the bookshop to the Woodland Trust.  There is lots to say about this, but in the longer term, that’s the charity I want the bookshop to support.  I shall wax passionate at another time, but its aims are intrinsic to the ethos of the Tree House (there is the word Tree in the name for a reason!).

I am rambling, so will shut up.  So much to think about and plan, not least how I am personally going to survive financially and emotionally!  But the Tree House really has already become a lovely social hub, a community of caring, friendly, committed people, who want to help the place to thrive.  I really think it can thrive, and with their help, I am sure it will.

A friend gave me this song about a year ago as the bookshop’s signature song, and it still encourages me to keep going forward during the dark times.  Thank you Ben.


A steady climb

mier_prod-1 greenWell, today has been quite a day – meetings with a property adviser and with a business account manager at the bank.  Both were enthusiastic, kind and fabulously helpful.  Somehow I feel drained this evening though – inevitably, I suppose, now that the harsh reality of getting together all the financial, legal and other business aspects is becoming more critical.  Ideas are fun, planning is fun, the excitement is undimmed – but I now feel as though I am about to scale the north face of the Eiger, though I know the view will be worth it when I get there!

At least after today I know what I have to do, in much clearer terms than I did before, and if I take it a step at a time I am sure I can succeed.  Some juggling will be necessary, there are undoubtedly scary times ahead, but there is no reason at all why the venture can’t get off the ground.  Everything will find its form, as a dear friend always says!

I am still feeling humbled and happy that so many people are supporting this project in different ways, from simply expressing encouragement to helping me to obtain premises, from offering to sort books to getting together their mates to help get the site in order when we get that far, and all sorts of other things.  So I am still feeling the love, and that plus my unquenchable passion for the project will, I know, help me up that rockface to the summit!

Exciting developments

mier_prod-1 (2)Well, I have had another meeting this morning with council members and one or two other local stalwarts, and came away not only feeling lots of love for the project, but even more great suggestions, contacts, ideas, practical help, etc, for my proposed bookshop.  I feel even more hopeful that I can set up some sort of humble beginning quite soon.  It’s all wonderful!

I also had a brilliant chat with another local small businessman, Nick the Baker at Crustum (see link under blogroll/websites on the right for a video of him talking about his small but fabulous bakery – am eating some of his cheese sodabread for lunch, and it’s divine!).  One of the great things that has happened even in these planning stages is that I have made contact with lots of local people, and am already feeling more part of the community.  There is a strong community spirit in Kenilworth, which is one of the reasons it feels like a great place to set up the kind of bookshop I want to create.

I have found a vacant shop that has great potential – I am trying to set up a visit, had to leave a voicemail message but will follow it up.  I now need to start thinking seriously about raising some funds; I plan to offer shares (see the Investing in the community tab), so watch this space – you too could invest in a lovely new independent community business!