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.
Well that’s not quite how the song goes, but sing it anyway.
My previous post proved overly optimistic regarding book donations: it is proving too complicated to arrange drop offs, and so I am afraid we won’t be taking any further donations of books until we reopen on 12 April (God willing…). Not too long to go, if you can hold onto your books until then, but if you can’t, I am afraid you will need to find another destination for them.
Stay safe! And protect each other.
Well, we were due to reopen tomorrow – Monday 4 January – after our Christmas break, but of course we are now in tier 4, so we have to remain closed until that changes. I have yet to decide if I will be furloughed or if I will try to run some sort of business online and via local deliveries, but furlough is the most likely – I will make that decision today. I don’t think we can really operate without being open.
Here’s hoping we won’t be closed for too long, but maybe hibernation will be good for all of us, and we can sit out the coldest weeks and avoid the virus as much as possible! Thank you so much to those who have bought books and attended art talks and brought donations between the lockdowns, and generally given lots of encouragement. Every message means a lot! Each lockdown is a bit tougher, but my thoughts are with those on the front line, those suffering and those separated from loved ones, especially those who have relatives in care homes and hospitals whom they can’t visit. I am luckier than many! As long as I can pay the bookshop rent we will be OK, though I do need some income too, but for now, and with some government financial support, both I and the bookshop are just about OK.
I did some little live videos on Facebook each day in Advent, with a book recommendation each day, so if you missed those and want to catch up, head over to our Facebook page and look for ‘videos’ – I don’t think you need to be on Facebook to watch them, they should be public. I may do a few more little videos if lockdown carries on, just to keep in touch! But we are not selling any books for now, and I may be even less prompt at answering bookshop emails if I am furloughed.
Meanwhile it’s Sunday, so I am off to make some lunch and watch Columbo. Happy reading everyone!
We have had art lectures at the bookshop pretty much as long as the bookshop has been open (which, as an aside, is an amazing six and a half years!). Mostly these have been evening lectures, but we are often asked about the possibility of daytime talks. So this autumn there are art history talks on Monday mornings at 11.
The lecturer is me! I am an art historian as well as a bookseller, with a PhD from Bristol University and 20 years of lecturing experience. I still do a bit of professional teaching, but online (for Oxford University), which means I can do it from home in my pyjamas…perfect! But now that we have the new projection equipment, lectures are even easier at the bookshop. And even though it means I have to get dressed, it is all good fun.
Sometimes people say they feel daunted, and don’t come because they think it will be too highbrow or because they haven’t looked at paintings before. But my lectures are informal, friendly, inclusive – suitable for all levels of knowledge, which sounds a tall order, but it isn’t really.
My specialisation is in the art of Northern Europe in the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries), but I do a few other things as well, including tracing what I call the Northern Tradition through the Dutch 17th century, German Romanticism in the early 19th century, and into the 20th century, and of course I look at Italian Renaissance and late medieval art too. This all sounds very grand, but the key is simply taking a painting and looking at it, and that’s what a lecture is for: you can read about art in books and on the internet, you can go to galleries, but a lecture gives you the opportunity to explore and discuss and ask questions and spend time looking closely with a guide and some fellow-explorers. Paintings – and the labels that go with them – become much less daunting when you do this.
I have mentioned paintings, but my PhD subject was sculpture, which in Germany is an incredible thing in the Renaissance, and prints, which grew out of the development of printed books in the 15th century. It’s all marvellous!
So if you’re free on a Monday morning, do come along at 11 o’clock – or if you prefer an evening talk, I still do those on Tuesday evenings once or twice a month. Lectures are £8 on the door, including coffee/tea, and last about an hour plus time for questions.
This coming Monday, 28 October, I’ll be talking about the greatest European painter of the 15th century: Rogier van der Weyden. A bold claim, but a genuine one! Why have you heard of Botticelli, who is not as good nor as important/influential, but not of Rogier van der Weyden? I can tell you that too if you come along.
Victoria (aka Dr Vic, or Doc Tors as some Bristol friends used to call me!)
There is a lot going on at the bookshop this autumn…to be kept up to date, it’s a good idea to join our mailing list! I am not the world’s most efficient promoter (ahem…) but the more avenues you follow to find out what’s going on, the less likely you are to miss something! So if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, do follow the Tree House Bookshop there too, and I will be working extra hard to keep all the different media up to date.
This Friday we are launching our new film club with a free screening of The Philadelphia Story. We’d love a few more to sign up to the club to pay for the licence! Our new equipment is working very well, it’s a joy to use – thank you to Mustard Presentations of Coventry for an excellent job! – and the films and lectures we have had so far have elicited very positive responses from the audiences. So do join us on Friday if you can! Film starts at 7.30pm.
More soon about other things that will be happening!
For a long time, I have been wondering about making the Tree House officially a non-profit social enterprise business. We are a limited company, mainly because that was the easiest thing to do when I first set up the business. But after five years, I feel I have invested so much of myself in the whole venture that I am struggling with the idea of giving up overall control – that says a lot about me, I know! It is still a longer-term possibility, but for now I don’t feel ready to change the status.
The principle remains though: we operate as a non-profit. Any profit we make is ploughed back into the business and given to charity when we can – though we don’t technically make any profit, as I don’t yet earn a wage from running the place, and profit would begin after staff wages were considered. We are, however, getting there, and the phenomenal support of the local community continues in humbling ways: a long-time supporter has just set up a very generous monthly standing order, which will help us to put in place some ideas that should generate more income in the longer term. More on that in due course!
One initiative I am going to start from September is a more formal way of giving to charity, and making our non-profit aspirations more transparent. We will be supporting two charities each month – one national, one local – by a variety of means.
I will be installing a filter coffee machine, and coffee will be available on a donation basis. Half of what we get from these donations will go to our chosen charities. (You can have tea as well, just ask!)
Since we started our Tree House Sessions four years ago, we have charged an entry fee – intially £2, now £3, which includes a £2 book voucher and tea or coffee. From the next THS, on 1 September, we won’t have a charge; we will ask £1 for tea/coffee, and we will raffle a £10 Tree House book voucher each time.
Our book clubs and Nifty Needles will also be donation-based, and half of the donations going to the charities.
There will be other one-off events at times – coffee mornings, raffles, book promotions, etc.
September’s two charities have really been decided for us. We are joining in with the Macmillan World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, as we always do, this year on Friday 28 September, so Macmillan will be one of our charities; and Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance have a charity week earlier in September, so they will be our local charity.
So – do come and have a cup of coffee – bring your reusable cup if you want to take it away – and leave a donation. We’ll be using good coffee, you can drink while you browse, and the aroma should be fab!
I hope we will be able to be both more regular and more generous in our charitable giving, and people will see more clearly that their donated books are creating a place that has all sorts of benefits.
**UPDATE: GOAL £2300, CURRENT TOTAL £2326 – THANK YOU!**
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!
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.
One of the things I am going to do at the bookshop this year is to support a different charity each month. As a non-profit organisation, our profits would be given to charity…but to be honest, we haven’t made any profit yet! I hope one day that we will. But in the meantime, there are things we can do to support charities and make our status a bit more obvious and useful. I will be choosing a different charity each month, therefore, a mixture of local and national charities, and hope that this makes things more transparent.
This month’s charity (January 2016) is the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.
We will be holding coffee mornings (or more likely, afternoon tea, for reasons stated in my previous blog post!), and will be thinking of other ways to raise funds.
We used to have a ‘blind date with a book’ scheme, which I resurrected at Christmas, and it proved popular. We wrap books so that you are getting a surprise, so you need to be a little bit adventurous, but we give some basic clues as to the sort of book inside the wrapping. This will probably be no more than an indication of whether it’s a novel, a history book, a biography, etc. These will be £1.50, with 50p going to our chosen charity of the month – and there is the added surprise of a voucher or other offer inside. The amount and nature of the voucher will also be a surprise, some will be more valuable than others! But I am hoping that the whole thing will be a bit of fun, as well as great for when you don’t know what you want to read, or want a fun present for someone else. These will be available from Tuesday 5 January.
I will be thinking up other ways of adding to our monthly giving, including specific events, maybe some raffles and things for children to do. More information as these things develop!
In the meantime, we are now back to routine opening hours, which essentially means Tuesday-Saturday, 10am to 5pm. We will be open on occasional Sundays, and there will also be some Sunday events coming up. We will be closed on Mondays – so if anyone wants to hire the space during the day on a Monday, do get in touch. Our rates are £10 an hour.