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

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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

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Forgotten spaces – let’s get creative

Our Healthy Spaces project creates a link between commercial landlords who have empty spaces like retail units , offices and warehouses and invites like minded charitable organisations to collaborate and occupy these spaces.  This means we can run our Books for Free centres in the spaces and also accommodate grass roots causes in office spaces giving them a presence within the community,  and helps to regenerate degrading high streets and utilise empty buildings. We believe we should all be more creative with our spaces.

This blog post by James Roche is about Hire Space, a company who utilise spaces by helping people find great local spaces and venues for events.

Space Man by James Roche

People ask me why I left sunny Australia for London and I always respond, straight faced: ‘so I would never have to mow a lawn again’. Having never shared my father’s passion for gardening, I can say without doubt that one of the best parts of living in the City of London is not having to fret over lawn maintenance or pesky weeds. At the same, I still have access to the many glorious parks and gardens that dot my community. On the downside, my living space has decreased substantially. At a time when the space around us seems to be dwindling, shouldn’t this be the biggest concern of all?

Richmond Park - Image by Steve Morgan

Richmond Park – Image by Steve Morgan

According to The Independent, one-bed flats in London have shrunk by 13% since 2o00. But how much space do we really need? This question is perhaps even more relevant when considering the issue of hiring space. I am sure many readers have been, or known someone who has been involved in hiring out a venue that has simply been too large for the event they had in mind. The issue of waste has plagued society for generations but do we ever truly consider the detrimental impact we have on our carbon footprint through the under use, misuse or neglect of our spaces? It is not a lack of space that is the real issue here, but the way we  use space.

Battersea Arts Centre Grand Hall - Image from Hire Space

Battersea Arts Centre Grand Hall – Image from Hire Space

Hire Space is one company looking to redress the issues of ”space” and ”wastage”. Its aim of connecting communities with their local spaces benefits urban areas in a number of ways:

– Many of its venues are ”multi-use” spaces, reducing excess consumption and saving space whilst still benefiting local businesses through the money generated from hiring out their venue.

– Schools and community halls are able to financially benefit from sharing their facilities with clients, providing extra funding for youth learning programs and extra-curricular activities.

– Through venue re-use, Hire Space is promoting more efficient and responsible use of space, reducing its carbon footprint.

It all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? It is up to us to shift our consumption patterns to reduce the negative impact on our shared environment. Small changes can make a big difference. Why not use a pub for a lunchtime business meeting? A community hall for a conference? A church as a creche on weekdays? The possibilities are endless.

The Garden Room at Grace Bar - Image by Hire Space.

The Garden Room at Grace Bar – Image by Hire Space.

Companies such as Hire Space aren’t alone in their efforts. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has once again teamed up with the Mayor of London, the Royal Town Planning Institute, as well as Partners Ordnance Survey and developer Qarari Diar, to launch a new Forgotten Spaces ideas competition for 2013 (find out more and enter here).

According to Architecturethe competition seeks our redundant spaces across Greater London and invites innovative design proposals for re-use and regeneration… the competition asks: How would you bring the area under a flyover to life? How could a disused car park be made beautiful? What potential lies in neglected parks, spaces under railways or on our rooftops?”.  Therese are all vital questions and we should be relieved and inspired that an attempt is being made to answer them.

Shifting from a three bedrooms house is a suburban Sydney to a one-bed flat in central London has certainly posed its fair share of challenges and it seems I can no longer get away with simply hiding my rubbish under the rug (I don’t actually have a rug – or a TV for that matter. Who on earth is Joey Essex?!). What I have discovered is that when you occupy a smaller space, attention to detail is paramount. My partner and I utilise our space in the best way we can and do you know what? It works! If only we could all adopt such an attitude to the spaces around us. Do big cities have too little space? We shouldn’t even consider answering unless we have worked out how best to use the spaces we have already.

Written by James Roche @JamesRoche1985– freelance writer currently serving an internship at Hire Space @hirespace.

Find out more about Hire Space Check out the Hire Space blog – The London Review!

If you have extra space in your home you would like to rent out or need storage space check out @Storemates

Why we need to change the way we see our stuff!

All is a clutter!I have to confess to being a bit of a hoarder (see my previous post) much to my partner’s dismay!

I hold onto stuff in my compact home which does nothing to enhance my life, and if anything it restricts me by encroaching onto my precious space! I was watching TV (The One Show) and saw a feature with Jasmine Harman about her mother who is a serious hoarder and their journey together as Jasmine tried to help her mother overcome her attachment to all her stuff. This made me wonder about the psychology of hoarding and how really it seems related to attachment and addiction. Wishing to hold onto everything due to the memories it holds or how you ‘might need it in the future’ is how hoarders justify it to themselves while their often dismayed loved ones look on in confusion of their lifestyle choices.

Jasmine & her mum

Jasmine & her mum with all her stuff

On the BBC Show My Hoarder Mum and Me Jasmine says:It’s very intense but they also feel a huge responsibility towards their possessions. They feel they’re saving these potentially useful items that have been discarded. In a way we could learn a lesson from that in our throwaway society; its good to reuse items but with hoarders it gets way out of hand!”

Tweet: ” @Jasmineharman  If you missed me & Mum on #TheOneShow yesterday, catch up on iplayer here! http://bbc.in/11iAmda  @39.40 mins ”

Jasmine continues to say how ashamed of her home she was whilst growing up and howshe is so delighted that since they have been working together to reduce the stuff her mother has been holding onto, their family could spend Christmas together for the first time in years as now they had the space for their large family and dogs!

eleIt clearly has taken lots of love, patience and support to reach that point with her mother and it is an on-going battle. Thinking about how much better space is when filled with family and love rather than with lots of  stuff collecting dust is enough to guilt any owner to tackle the “I must get around to sorting through that !” burden.

If you are  interested in finding out more about Jasmine & hoarding I recommend reading the BBC blog or visit the organisation Jasmine has set up Help for Hoarders.

Changing our perspective
I think that we need to stand up to our stuff, stage an intervention, decide that this stuff which sits in piles unloved could be given a new home a chance at a second life and this can be done a number of ways. We need to move from a linear system to a cyclical one – see the video made by the Ellen Macarthur foundation on Circular Economy & the Story of Stuff to explore why this is important to us all.

8199678080_a3a0efd71e_cSince I took some items to our Stuff for Free events (my old necklaces were greeted with whoops of excitement by some young girls at the event) I am beginning to see my things in a new way, I see how some things that I take for granted that are neglected for months could bring another person joy and try to think of the potential of having more space and less things. Most of all we need support from our loved ones to learn to let go and remember that:

Joy is not in things; it is in us. –Richard Wagner.

To get your started on your decluttering mission here are some ideas!

1) Store it!

  • Stuff you want to keep but may not need on a daily basis could go in the loft, under the stairs cupboard (or create one – like I did) or in the garden shed – but don’t forget to label it!
  • Try a #collabcons solution such as Storemates where you store stuff in your neighbours empty spaces.

2) Share or sell it:

  • Take it to Stuff for Free events (the next one is in Islington from 23rd Feb-3rd March) or a Books for Free centre
  • Share it via Streetbank is a site that helps you share and borrow things from your neighbours. Streetbank is meant for everyone. It is not for private benefit – for individuals to make a profit or professionals to sell their services.
  • Sell some of your stuff via sites like eBay or at a car boot sale.
  • Donate items to local charity shops / school jumble sales / local church or Salvation Army
  • Upload them onto Freecycle / Freegle

3) story-of-stuff-book-adds-to-the-vision-of-decreased-consumptionFurther help & support:

4) Decluttering tips

Dawn at Stuff for Free Leytonstone

Author:  This blog was written by Dawn Newton Marketing Executive for Healthy Planet & keen upcycler. Connect on twitter @goreckidawn

If you would like to write a guest blog for us please get in touch.

There is no planet B: Can Art inspire change?

Stitch Calendar Competition 2012 - There is not planet B

Stitch Calendar Competition 2012 – There is not planet B
http://www.stitchproject.com

Stitch Calendar Competition 2012 – There is no planet B

We are bombarded with so many different ways in which we could be greener and help look after our planet. Car adverts stress the importance of reducing your carbon footprint; magazine covers brag they have the top ten answers to living a greener life. We can’t escape it. Although we can’t walk anywhere without tripping up on the words “recycle”, some of us still manage to forget there is still so much more that can be done.

Stitch are hosting a competition inviting artists and photographers of all walks of life, to submit artwork with the theme “There is no planet B.” Stitch is a not-for-profit organisation that raises environmental awareness through the arts.

The twelve winning images will be used for a calendar to remind you, each and every day, that this planet we live in has a limit. The artwork will inspire you to be proactive about looking after the planet, reminding you that making small changes can make a huge impact. As if that wasn’t enough of an incentive, the winners will also receive a cut of the profit from sales of the calendar. (for more information see Stitch Calendar Competition 2012 PDF )

Art has been used for many years as  a way to express the conversations of the time- so what better way to express the desire to educate ourselves on the way to keep Earth a great place to live?

Inspirational eco art

We have picked out pieces of art which captured our imaginations with their eco-friendly approach to materials and inventive work:

Images courtesy of crosshatchling.co.uk

Images courtesy of crosshatchling.co.uk

Images courtesy of crosshatchling.co.uk

Images courtesy of crosshatchling.co.uk

Artist Anna Garforth is an incredible artist whose approach to recyclable materials is fascinating. Her experimental artwork is pushing the boundaries of eco art, with pieces such as edible posters, typography using reusable materials such as paper of old yellow pages. The idea of an installation made of moss, may sound peculiar to the rest of us, but Garforth’s work transforms something which is often overlooked (unless you are a gardener) into something solid and relevant. The Moss Cross is an example and was produced for the temporary project for The Urban Physic Garden.  In July Garforth also displayed her moss art work at a vacant wall in Kings cross. The moss formed a beautiful symmetrical pattern, standing out against the dullness of the city concrete. Fascinating and original.

Photographs by Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters (via hungeree.com)

Photographs by Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters (via hungeree.com)

On a more international front, we were also very intrigued by the use of plastic bottles for an incredible sculpture of fish, on Botafogo Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The piece was an inspiring form of protest which coincided with the Earth summit for United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which took place in the city in June. Accompanied by the slogan “Recycle your attitude”, it was a perfect example of art being a way to highlight an important cause. These spectacular giant fish were made up of tens of thousands of discarded water bottles, masterfully lit with internal and external lights, giving off the effect of shimmering scales. A powerful and thoughtful message about the ocean and our attitude’s to waste.

Photographs by Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters (via hungeree.com)

Photographs by Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters (via hungeree.com)

As you’ve seen many artists have used materials to make art and bring attention to greener causes; this is what the Stitch competition is about. Inspiring and educate simultaneously with images which are unavoidable and predict a future which is entirely in our hands.

Quick,  get your entries in as the competition ends on the 21st of October (extended deadline) ! We are really looking forward to seeing the end result. If you want to get your hands on a copy of the calendar follow Stitch on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/TheStitchProject or any questions of queries, get in touch by emailing calendar@stitchproject.com

Visit the Stich website for more information on the competition www.stitchproject.com

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