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Posted on 10th May 2021

The books, the tin and the garden wall

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This blog is written by Margaret Gildea of Melbourne, Derbyshire. We would like to extend our thanks to Margaret, the local community and all those who have visited The Book House for their support.

It wasn’t about the money. Not to begin with anyway.

It was friends chatting about how we could get hold of books in March 2020 as the libraries and bookshops closed.

A few of us had run a Soup and Pudding Club in the community, where we had sold second hand books to boost the funds. There would be no face to face lunches with Soup or Pudding for the foreseeable future, so it made sense to put the books out on my garden wall for people to take. I researched the guidelines, and put the books in boxes with safety instructions, hand sanitiser and a tin for an honesty box to collect donations.

It was quite tricky to decide who the donations should go to; the NHS was already attracting large sums, and most of the local charities were covered by other activities. Then I remembered the Facebook posts from Feeding Britain. My youngest daughter, Florence had worked with Lord Frank Field, a founding Trustee of Feeding Britain, and Andrew Forsey, the Director. We had both followed its successes in Birkenhead and beyond. I knew it was a good cause so I stuck a Feeding Britain label on the tin with an explanation of what the Charity did.

There were just four boxes of books to begin with. And donations were very small. At that stage in lockdown walkers didn’t always carry money because there was nothing to buy, but it didn’t matter, because the point was to have books for people to take.

And then people started asking if they could leave books… clearing the bookshelves ranked alongside sourdough, cutlery drawers and banana bread at that point in our history. I agreed, and the book family grew… and grew, until within a month we had at least three boxes of crime, four children’s, four fiction and two or three non-fiction. Crime and Children’s were the most popular which made for an awkward sentence when I was asking for more books! Now at least 22 boxes go out every day, and the garage is absolutely full of books still to appear on the wall. Hundreds and probably thousands of books have changed hands

And the donations grew too. From the first day’s takings of a couple of pounds, they rose to £150 by the end of April. I set what I thought was an ambitious target of £500, and had passed that by the time the local newspaper reported the story in May. And as Marcus Rashford helped by publicising the cause, and Meghan Markle made a donation to Feeding Britain after her wedding, the cause itself became more important in people’s minds. There was genuine concern in Melbourne for families who needed help to feed their children, especially in the school holidays, and people began to leave substantial donations. They were also talking about Feeding Britain as they chose their books.

It grew to a point where, at the anniversary of those first few books going out, donations have reached £4,475. And the target has moved from £500 to £5,000. The Melbourne community has been fantastically generous both with offers of books and with donations.

And my reflections on the year?  If the cause was charitable, my thoughts were often less so. On cold miserable days the thought of getting all the books out was less than inspiring. But the thought of people who would be more than pleased to carry a few boxes, if they were able to have what I took for granted for lunch and dinner, made the lifting and shifting worthwhile. And on the days when I was disheartened because there were only a few coins in the tin, I would remember that each 30p represented a meal for someone, and it seemed more than worth the effort. Not to mention Andrew’s motivating emails which were always a boost.

And it’s hard to describe the sheer joy of seeing children choosing as many books as they wanted without their parents or grandparents worrying about the cost. And running towards the books with the cry ‘they’re out, Mum!’ Or seeing someone taking time over choosing a book for a neighbour who was self isolating or unwell.

The lowest moment came when the tin, a battered Vimto sweet tin which had been out every day, was stolen. That really hurt.  But the £20 which went missing was more than replaced by the heartwarming donations of £100 which followed the Facebook post about the loss. 

The highlight came on Mother’s Day. By now the books felt like part of the family, going out every day to raise money. A neighbour had told me that when her family came to visit they always talked about walking to ‘the book house’ and I had shared the story in a phone call to Florence.  Imagine my delight when Florence bought a sign renaming the house (previously known as ‘the Hermitage’) ‘The Book House’. It was perfect because none of the family are hermits and we all love books. And the sign will be a precious memory. A reminder of what we did during lockdown. And how for a short time in its long history, the low garden wall was a place where people could stop to chat, could choose a book, and could help to feed families in Derbyshire

But it’s not over yet!  I hope the books will go out with a bang rather than a whimper!

There are hundreds left, so as soon as it’s legal, safe, and warm and sunny, I plan to hold a big book sale in the garden, with tea and cakes, beer, wine, and music, to see how much more we can raise for this vital cause.

Then one day, it will be back to the Soup and Pudding Club. But with a hope that during the misery of lockdown, the books made a real difference. To the people who gave them. To the people who read them. But even more to the people who needed the meals.

Because in the end, it turned out it was about the money after all.

Feeling inspired by Margaret‘s story? You can set up your own fundraising page here, or make a donation here.