L’Oreal employee volunteers – making a difference locally in Hammersmith

We welcomed staff from a local business to support us in an ambitious 2 week project which saw more than 50 employee volunteers helping us across 3 locations. L’Oreal UK are our neighbours and run an annual citizen day where they encourage employees to volunteer with local charities and give something back to the local community. We’re thrilled to be chosen as one of the charities and wanted to share the results with you.

L'OrealDay one
First we welcomed a team to our Head Office to discuss some ideas around marketing Books for Free. One of the ideas that came from that session was to run an internal campaign at L’Oreal to encourage each of the 600 staff to donate a book, plus create a case study / toolkit so that other businesses could run a similar campaign.

L'OrealDay two
We met the team tasked with helping take our new Chiswick shop from an empty unloved shop into a vibrant “Books for free” centre. This group of volunteers was headed up by Ulisses Retail Design and Visual Merchandising Manager, we were extremely lucky to have someone with such a wealth of expertise in retail shop design and also loves books to create the vision for the new centre.  The morning was spent planning and gathering the things needed for the transformation.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThe afternoon more volunteers arrived to help decorate and paint, we also had furniture delivered from our partners Furnish who sell second hand furniture. The team proceeded to paint things in the black and white palette and create large sheets of wallpaper made from the pages of old books which had fallen apart and also lining the bookcases with the pages from the books. We also received a delivery of 3 pallets of books (around 3,000) so lots of heavy lifting getting the boxes into the centre, it really hit home how many we are rescuing from landfill and pulping and how much space they take up.


L'OrealDay three
The fourth team arrived at Chiswick to take the batten to finish the space, lots of painting, we began to start on some of the finishing touches such as the bunting for the windows and painting photo frames.

Day four
Saw the bookshelves put into their correct positions and books starting to go onto shelves, sorting thousands of books requires a really organised team to focus on getting all those fiction and non fiction in their rightful places. We created signs for each section by using old broken books painted with chalkboard paint and then using a chalkpen. We even made an open/closed sign by upcycling an old frame and using book & map pages to create the letters.

L'OrealThis day also saw an enthusiastic team visit our HQ to discuss advertising the new centre, press releases were written, our communications toolkit for the volunteers rewritten,  new streamlined processes agreed and some great ideas put forward. We are also going to be able to reuse this for any new shops we open up which really helps build capacity.

Day five
saw us move across to the established centre in Shepherds Bush which we share with the lovely Petit Miracles team who upcycle and sell furniture.

We were kindly allowed by the West 12 shopping centre to have a stall downstairs to help spread the word about the centre which is up on the first floor, lots of people did not know we are up there!

Recently Updated1We did this for the next 4 days with a few volunteers in the morning and afternoon coming to lend their support, they chatted to members of the public and helped out in the shop. It was really valuable and at 50% increase in visitors was reported in the shop upstairs due to the promo efforts.

We were also lucky enough to be chosen by Sophie Gasperment the Chairman of the Body Shop who are also part of L’Oreal we had a major reorganisation of the books to make it easier for visitors to find a great book to take home and also alphabetised the fiction section and Sophie was a brilliant book sorter up in the shop.

Finally we had another team visit the HQ to support the internal and external messaging for the Books for free centre, this team are from L’Oreal Paris and coordinate Marketing across a wide brand portfolio so they had some brilliant and creative ideas of ways we could layer our comms and encourage people to get involved with the centre.

This project has been really valuable to us as a charity it has offered us a chance to connect with retail and marketing professionals which would be worth thousands of pounds in consultancy.

As a thank you we are holding a little party to launch the shop on the 9th of July. RSVP http://booksforfreechiswick.eventbrite.co.uk

Find out more about:

Knitting & nattering at Healthy Planet’s Books for Free centre in Upminster

We are pleased to launch a new series of blogs about each of our 38 Books for Free centres across England and Wales.  We want to highlight the amazing work done by the volunteers that run the centres and showcase their unique Our first interview is with Lead Volunteer, Daphne.

Daphne tells us all

Daphne tells us all

Tell us about this Books for Free centre…

Books for Free Upminster (in the London Borough of Havering) opened in premises previously occupied by a Woolwich building society branch, in September 2010. We have a large collection of books, vinyl, audio & video tapes, CDs, we can find something for everyone that visits young and old.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering for Healthy Planet and what do you get out of it?

I’ve been at the centre from the beginning – my husband and I had both retired a couple of years beforehand (Daphne worked in the health service) but I was never as keen as he was to retire – They [husbands] just want you to wait on them all the time hand and foot! My husband was passing by one day and noticed in the window the advert for a volunteer to start up the centre here. We initially opened the doors with just a single table near the door. We even asked a local Indian restaurant who were having a refurbishment if we could have their old tables. Otherwise they would just have been thrown away.

I live close the centre and I’ve lived in the town for 30 years – I knew very few people in the town other than my close neighbours before Books for Free. Now I know so many faces to say hello to, it’s great.

Browsers in the Upminster centre

Browsers in the Upminster centre

Male Visitor: “It’s friendly at Upminster Books for Free and adds to my bedside table book collection. They have a great selection and we often donate books and always return books we pick up from the centre. No one likes to see books go to waste so this is a great way to save and reuse them.”

Female Visitor: “When it first opened I was wary about coming in but when I did it was so friendly and I love that I never know what I am going to find, I always bring the books back when I am finished with them.”

Dave & Daphne Volunteers

Dave & Daphne Volunteers

Your centre is now fully sustainable – book donations from visitors keep stock levels up. Visitors often donate a carrier bag of books – and the bag then gets reused as well.

Where else do the book donations you receive come from?

We have a good relationship now with charity shops in the area. They donate books to us that they can’t sell. Local fetes do the same.  All the unsold or unwanted books that had no where to go except landfill can now come here to continue their life. There’s also someone who does house clearances and often brings us books from those. And there was a lady who came to us who had just had a bring & buy sale at her WI (Women’s Institute). She told us she knew instantly where to bring the books they couldn’t sell. We have a ‘Look for me, keep for me’ book, where we write down their requests so that when the type of book is donated to us we know immediately if someone is interested in it, and then we give them a call to let them know.

Knitting circle Upminster

Knitting circle Upminster

Does your BFF centre have any group’s meetings or special events? Could the general public get any more involved?

We have a weekly knitting circle (this afternoon, every Wednesday). Visitors sometimes come in to ask the regular ladies for a bit of help with their knitting. The rest of the time they spend knitting – with wool donated to the centre – making blankets for the premature baby units of the local hospitals, and hats and scarves for the local clothing guild, which distribute garments to people in need and The Mission to Seafarers charity. Only two of the four ladies here today knew each other before they started coming here. They enjoy the natter just as much as the knitting. They also hold the occasional coffee morning. Daphne would like to be able to start up a storytelling event for the children.

Books and browsers at Books for Free Upminster

Books and browsers at Books for Free Upminster

Volunteers at Upminster Books for Free

Volunteers at Upminster Books for Free

Tell us about your team of volunteers…

Some are what I call our converted customers, basically people who I recognise as book nuts, like myself, because I will have noticed them browsing for periods of an hour or more at a time. They might as well help us by doing a three hour shift – they’re here that long anyway! And we have one volunteer who simply comes to the centre to take away our rubbish for us.

How do they work well together? Do you have any stories?

Two of our team are recently widowed ladies who now volunteer together on Sundays – They live on the same street but before they volunteered at Books for Free they didn’t know each other!

Books donated to the centre

Books donated to the centre

It’s very laidback here, and I don’t like ever having to throw visitors out because it’s time to close [The door does indeed finally close on the day we visit around twenty minutes or so after three o’clock, only once the final visitor of the day has chosen what they want to take] Last week we [Daphne, and recently retired engineer Dave} helped pass the time by reading up about world history and geography – discovering the names of new countries in the world and how they came into existence.

We have a retired solicitor among our team. He looks after any law books we get in and offers free legal advice to any visitors who ask.

Dave tells us he likes Books for Free because he felt bored at home since retiring in February, and volunteering is social – he enjoys meeting different people, listening to their stories, and making new friends.

Stories shared with all generations

Stories shared with all generations

Does your centre work alongside any particular organisation, and what does the relationship do for your centre?

Local authorities have asked us to place a couple of people with learning difficulties – they’re a part of our team of volunteers.  We have a community noticeboard by the door, and as an example of some of the help that visitors provide to the centre, there’s one who regularly brings us dog food which we then pass on to a local charity which cares for retired greyhounds. If there are any magazines for older people that the visitors don’t take, we send them to homes for the elderly rather than recycle them because they have difficulty holding weighty books but still enjoy having something to read. Any books we think won’t be of any interest to our visitors we tear out the pages and donate to schools for the children to make papier mache.

Do you have a favourite type of book yourself?

I like science fiction (Julian May, Iain Banks), thrillers and murder mysteries. We get to know what types of books our regular visitors enjoy.

Interested in Books for Free? Want to get involved?

You can volunteer, visit or donate books at any of our 38 centres across the U.K

If you would like to find a centre near you please visit our website: www.healthyplanet.org/booksforfree


Be the start – campaign for May 2013

May 2013 be the start of more vibrant communities

May 2013 be the start of more vibrant communities

We’re proud to be part of a nationwide campaign by Start UK called #bethestart which is featuring us on the 13th of May around our #Booksforfree project encouraging sustainability in the community.

If you would like to find out more please visit http://www.bethestart.org/

Be the Start of rescuing books from going to waste.  As part of their goal to rescue books from going to waste, Healthy Planet is asking for pledges from the public to rescue books. This may be by donating books, organising a book swap at your school or office, or share books amongst friends. Conversation is taking place on twitter, #bethestart and @healthy_planet

We're part of start

We’re part of start

Volunteer with us and help make sure a book is never binned again

We want a world where a book is never binned again. We believe that books are precious, for the knowledge held within them and the trees they were created with. We think we should all share our books and give them a chance at a second life, even books that may no longer be readable can be repurposed into lots of cool things such as alternative Xmas trees, chairs, desks and other crafty things. We don’t think there is any excuse for throwing them away.


Books for Free volunteers in action

Our Books for Free centres rescue unwanted books from landfill or pulping.  Using empty high street retail units Healthy Planet sources used books and our volunteer run centres give out the books to the public for free. We now have 30+ centres nationwide and we’ve saved 2 million books from landfill /pulping. The programme supports more reading, reuse & green behaviour and community / regeneration.

Books for Free - How it works Infographic

Books for Free – How it works Infographic

We are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help sustain our centres, this opportunity would suit someone interested in books or green issues, wishing to gain experience in retail or anyone who would like to meet new people and help in their local community.

If you would like to check where your nearest centre is please visit www.healthyplanet.org/booksforfree

Volunteers needed in the following locations:

bffvolWe are currently urgently seeking volunteers in the following locations:

– Redditch
– High Wycombe
– Richmond
– Liverpool
– Swindon
– Holborn (London)

Get full details: Download full role description (PDF)

Interested?Get in touch: 0203 405 2485 | volunteer@healthyplanet.org


Healthy Planet’s First Round of ‘Books for Free’ Overseas

Shaylesh @ Kurdistan Library Opening
Shaylesh @ Kurdistan Library Opening

Shaylesh @ Kurdistan Library Opening

Blog by Healthy Planet Founder – Shaylesh Patel


Laween is in his early 20s and a British born, first generation Kurd living in the UK.  At this young age he has done more for charity and the community than many do in their entire life.  His contribution and willingness to learn and grow through this type of work has (I am sure) also helped him professionally – he is the Chief Research Officer at one of the NHS Hospitals.  I really do recommend anyone to take up the chance to do more than just your normal job if you can – you will be amazed at the outcome – both personally and professionally.

I met Laween Atroshi and another representative of the Kurdish Community in the UK at Heathrow’s check-in for the first time.  We had spoken several times after he approached our projects and logistics team following a Google search for “free books”.

Cheekily he asked us for 20,000 to help set up the first English Library in a town in Kurdistan, the northern region of Iraq.  He asked, he got.


Laween also had the insight to appreciate that we, like others in the past, were probably worried about wastage of our donation along the way.  He arranged for the Ministry of culture and Media to arrange and pay for the transport as well as vetting our donated books on arrival for suitability, as well as finding a good site to run this free service.  Plus he offered us the chance to visit the books and view first hand that there was a real hunger for our books.

Surprisingly the Healthy Planet team members who had been dealing with Laween did not jump at the chance to go to Iraq, but nominated me instead!


As my wife was not with me, she did correctly predict I would suffer (not sure what she meant at the time) and embarrass myself too.

Firstly I got several looks of “I don’t understand” and “why” when Laween tried to explain my veggie status at restaurants.  The hotel we stayed at did not even serve the emergency veggie protocol dish of “chips” – so you can imagine what happened to my eating and related body parts!

Speaking of which Iraq, like India, still has many of the squat style toilets – I almost wrote ‘old fashioned’ but really I should probably write ‘healthy’.  After all, it stretches and massages muscles that most of us in the western world forgot existed; you carry less baggage (so to speak) at the end of your visit and you probably gain a few minutes a day because you don’t sit around chilling in these ones.  Also less of this region’s precious commodity, water, is used in this system.  Hygiene issues tend to arise because of the heat and the wider infrastructure – Toilet Humour aside, lessons can be learned by both the East and West on this subject.  Let’s make Number 2, the new number 1.

The no hanky panky rule before marriage and focus on family is a big difference to life in the UK.  My cultural boo-boo came because I was caught with my trousers up so to speak.  Here it is considered rude to have one knee crossed over the other when seated in the presence of your elders.  Laween asked me to keep both my feet firmly on the ground at all times.  To avoid the bonus embarrassment of being explained this in public, he sent me a text even though he was sitting right next to me – what a gent!


Whilst in Kurdistan, I was asked by a museum curator and the head of an arts centre if our library included any music scores or archaeology.  I don’t think the Guinness Book of Records from the late 80s or the singing Bob the Builder were what they wanted, but there was probably one or two treasures to dig out from the 20,000.  However, what set my mind at ease the most, about whether 20,000 books would be appreciated as much as by our UK Books for Free Centre visitors, was when I was approached by one of the junior staff at my comfortable, but not fancy hotel.

his story goes like this….
Laween and I had checked in at the hotel from our flight at 4am and re-emerged from our rooms at 0930.  This very young helper in the breakfast area had heard me and Laween talking in English about our plans for the trip – there was no mention of books or the library at this stage.  He later approached me and a very eerie thing happened.

He asked me for a book in English! Given why I was there, you might be surprised, but I did not have one.
He explained that he previously was an English literature student from Syria but now a refugee in Kurdistan and he really wanted to learn English and progress.  He had the drive but not the resource.

In my many travels I have been asked for clothes, food, money and toys but never books.  Perhaps it was a sign from the book god!

Anyway over the next few days (after the library opening and being spotted by a taxi driver who saw us on the news) I was able to show him pics of the books and share the address of the library with him.  Of course, as well as ‘books’ one of the other favourite words in the healthy planet dictionary that came up during this conversation was ….’free’.  He was clearly one of the citizens of the area that would not have been able to pay to learn if this was a charging library.

Books.  Free.  Interested audience.  Job done.


I used to work at a travel agent and have seen the positive and negative social, environmental and economic (triple bottom line) impact of tourism and travel in general.   I don’t have any qualifications on the subject but have an inquisitive mind and normally have a family in tow so notice lots of otherwise unnoticed things.  This is my first journey as a lone business-style traveller for a while and I have had a little more time than normal to make some observations.

Alot of the similarities and differences between countries and climates come down to the weather, cultural and economic climate of the nation and their priorities.

In Kurdistan that point really hit home when I got to the front door of the Save The Children office here.  Laween and I were asked to leave our guns at the front before entering the building.  This is clearly quite a normal question here and not something I am used too (well, not since being searched at a London tube station just after 7/7 when I had a full rucksack and a 6’ roller banner in a bazooka looking tube hanging off my back – a fair spot check, I think).

With their relatively recent history of persecution you can understand why health, security and infrastructure rank ahead of promoting green things like recycling.

So although there are plastic water bottles and coke cans on the hillsides and picnic spots it did not actually seem to be much more than what I have seen around the UK.  These guys are broadly speaking very proud of their homeland.  Also, although globally, we have started to question the plastic water bottle for its non-green and unhealthy status, we should not forget that it is us that are not recycling 7 out of 8 of them (they do not walk to the recycling centres themselves).  Also, here in Iraq I am not the only one grateful for their existence at the moment – they are helping reduce the spread of the cholera outbreak .  I am sure some clever spark will find a triple bottom line winning answer to the modern day equivalent of the Chicken and Egg question.

Many of the hotels are not progressed enough to have the ‘signs’ indicating whether you want your room made up or not; reusing towels; recycling bins etc, but the staff do make an effort to accommodate your needs and do some small things that make sense in their climate.

For example power cuts out  are not uncommon, so they have back-up generators, and electrical products are relatively costly and harder to repair, so whenever they clean the rooms (and between visitors) the TV and satellite box are switched off from the mains.  Travelling can be relaxing and stressful at the same time, making it hard for the hotels etc to get anything right in the eyes of a moody, stressed traveller.

No one explained why my TV did not switch on whilst I lazily pressed the buttons on the remote,  but I figured it out and also why – probably because I have seen and done many of these things having spent lots of family time in un-tourist parts of India and because I am the tight git in the office turning off all the screens, the wireless and microwave in the office at the end of the day (or earlier to the annoyance of our night owl, Head Gardener – sorry!)

A lot of the time if the traveller is given the chance to understand the ‘why’, they accept the reason and get less agitated – but that requires 2 things – an attempt to communicate by the business and a willingness by the traveller to overcome the temptation of the “I have paid for it” mentality we all succumb too sometimes.  I even came across it at my local gym when (after ignoring several past opportunities)  I politely asked a fellow shaver to turn off the tap between dunks of his blade because of the drought.  “Who is paying for it” and what “it” is, are both part of another story for another day.

The leisure and travel sectors are on Healthy Planet’s “To Work With” list, so if you feel you know an organisation that wants to take the lead then give us a shout.  That’s how www.booksforfree.org.uk  and www.stuffforfree.org.uk  started.

Pic below (from left to right: Laween Atroshi, the library manager and Shaylesh Patel)Image

A labyrinth of a library

Books waiting to be added to the maze

Books waiting to be added to the maze

If you were to stop by Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall this past weekend, you would have observed quite a strange sight—over 250,000 books in boxes, eclectic piles, orderly stacks, or even just strewn across the floor. Over the next 4 days, though, the books were arranged into something much more recognizable (though perhaps not at all less bewildering)—walls.

The project is called aMAZEme, and indeed, the art display is essentially a giant maze made out of second hand books, as part of a larger poetic celebration of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The maze (or, more accurately, labyrinth) is to be formed in the shape of Borges’ fingerprint and is intended to confront the audience with “new textures, images, and emotions… [to] stimulate their curiosity, knowledge, and creativity.” The books used are all secondhand donations from charities and publishing houses throughout the UK, which is why Healthy Planet got involved in the project and became a supporting partner.

Go team!

Go team! My badge

All of the above was enough to interest me in volunteering for aMAZEme, so last Friday I found myself at the Royal Festival Hall ready to help the cause. Along with the other volunteers, I helped sort books into hardcover piles and paperback piles, and then began stacking these books strategically in order to form the walls of the maze. Although progress seemed slow that early on in the project, these thousands of books now tower up to 3 meters high.

What I find most moving about this project is how differently each member of the audience will perceive or experience it. Children and adults alike will enjoy meandering through the maze of books, whether or not they actually have a particular love of reading (but hopefully they do!). The celebration of Jorge Borges delivers a more profound implication for those who have an affinity for this famous writer or for Argentine literature in general.

Leaf found in book from 1908!

Leaf found in book from 1908!

Environmentalists might, like Healthy Planet, appreciate the fun and unique way books have been reused in the construction. Art lovers will surely comprehend some deeper meaning behind it than I was able to pick up, and lovers of mythology will have a field day if the Minotaur head that I saw on the sidelines makes any appearance. Personally, as a lover of reading, I was constantly distracted by the books themselves. I even came across a small hymnal gifted to someone in 1908, which had a remarkably preserved pressed leaf inside. See the rest of my photos on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/healthyplanetorg/sets/72157630819923620/

Who knows what else is hiding within those walls? If you get the chance, check out the display at the Royal Festival Hall in Southbank Centre!

To learn more about the aMAZEme project, visit their event website at http://festival.london2012.com/events/9000965121.

Ps: Here’s what the maze looked like when it was finished!

Completed maze

Completed maze

Oh no, not more socks!

WImagee all get the chance to brush up on our acting skills at Christmas. You have to put on the face of a lottery winner as you unwrap that well-meaning but awful present.

When the festive period ends, we’re left wondering what we should do with our unwanted gifts. It is estimated that 40% of toys and novelty presents end up in the bin within a year, so instead of throwing them away or leaving them in the back of a cupboard why not make sure that they go to a good home?

Luckily, in January and February Healthy Planet is helping you to do that.

Stuff for Free is a giant community reuse event that gives you the opportunity to swap those unwanted presents for something more to your liking.

What’s more, you’ll be helping the environment. By re-using things instead of throwing them away Healthy Planet is reminding us that by taking part we will be helping to reduce landfill waste, while saving the earth’s valuable resources and helping ourselves find something that we really do want.

To take part Healthy Planet is inviting everyone to:

The Vision Warehouse
15 Kendal Avenue
Acton W3 0AF

Drop off your unwanted stuff between 12 and 22 January and to take your pick of the collected stock from 27 to 29 January.

It’s free, fun and you never know what you might find.

For details, check out our Stuff for Free web page.