Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Refugee Week in UK

What a great week; a celebration of the contribution refugees have made and are making to society in Britain. After all the bad press it is so refreshing to see articles in the Sunday Observer and other newspapers and magazines and events up and down the country - see Refugee Week.
This site lists just some of the events going on, but certainly gives an idea of the wide range of ways people find to pay respect to the refugees in their area. There are conferences, discussions groups, concerts, food tastings, films and cultural exchanges.

Borderline Books attended an afternoon in Middlesbrough held by the Hope Foundation which supports people with literacy and numeracy, computer lessons and plenty of advice and information for local asylum applicants. We took books in French and English together with posters, cards and stickers from our friends UNITED. The great thing is that the Hope Foundation decided that they want to set up a multilingual library and today was the start of that project. This is so encouraging, and the third project to which we have given books who have decided to use our donation as the basis for their own library.
There are a number of events happening in Newcastle this week. We will having an information stand at the event at the Civic Centre on Friday and the Northern Conference Against Racism on Saturday at the University of Northumberland and may get to some of the other happenings as well.
We do finally have a prototype new English flyer. Prototype in that the production was not quite up to scratch, but it was a rush job and we got a huge discount, so I suppose we shouldn't complain!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Boo Hoo

Well, we didn't win top prize today. Didn't really expect to either and the project we thought would win did win. I can't help having a twinge of disappointment though.

Still, I hope that at least we made some good contacts and that we can move ahead a bit with getting books out in Nijmegen and Leeuwarden where two of the other nominees came from. I had actually written to each one of them offering books, but all said they didn't get the mail. Don't tell me I used a dirty word in the mail and it got into the spam box! - Yes, a word like 'free' often gets me in trouble.

Femke Halsema (Green left politician who gave a speech at the prize giving) thinks it's a good project, so that's nice. One of the jury members works with Exodus (organization helping former prisoners)in Amsterdam and will remind them they can get books, so that's positive too.

Surprising lack of press. I mean just no-one except one woman doing a profile of one of the nominees.

Ah well, tomorrow's another day.
Oh lord, tomorrow, a meeting, got a whole heap of work to do tonight.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

At the risk of repeating myself...

Thinking over that radio interview and the various 'portraits' made of Borderline Books in the past, I have to say that there is so much more to it than books. I have always wanted to set up small 'BookSpaces' in different towns where, with books as the one constant, a space is created for social exchange. Perhaps one would become a cafe, another would host language classes and poetry evenings - whatever the people using it at the time wanted.

Ideally (and yes I'm an incurable idealist) the initiative would be taken by the users and people would come to help each other. In the years I've been doing this I have noticed that the people with the least are the ones more likely to be looking out for books for their friends or family. Years ago we had a visit from a group of men recently released from prison and trying to get used to being on the outside. They were extremely polite. One asked me - that book is in the display, I don't suppose I could have that one... - Yes, of course you can. And then, My father's really interested in cycling, could I take a book for him? (I believe it was on the Tour de France)... and again, yes of course.

Through listening to people as they look through the books we learn so much more about what they are looking for and can lend a hand or put them in contact with other organizations who can help.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Radio Interview in NL and updates in UK

... yes we did a radio interview in Dutch - I really hate listening to myself speaking Dutch, but still it worked pretty well. The interviewer managed to cut out the worst bits. This was to make a portrait of Borderline Books for the Ab Harrewijn prize which we mentioned in an earlier post. In general I was quite happy with the interview, except that it missed the whole idea that it's more than just about giving books... through books you can get closer to people and gain their trust. Time after time I've seen people open up to me because they are talking about the subject of a book they are looking for rather than directly about their troubles. That way we can see what people need and maybe arrange other things - as we did last month with a trip to the Keukenhof flower park.
I have always felt that if Borderline Books is to be used as a work project it should be done in such a way that people discuss the books as they go along, talk about the content, talk about books they have enjoyed talk about things they have learned from books. This way any group-leader could learn so much more in such a relaxed atmosphere. Unfortunately the only time we experimented with that idea, the people we worked with had a completely different idea of how the project should be run. It seemed to be only concentrated on time-keeping and production - preparing people for 'real jobs'. In this way the experiment was a total failure from our point of view. They also put people into the project who had no feeling for books in the first place, so they were simply resisting the fact they were being put to work... none of that has anything to do with the way we planned or want to work.

Last month I was in the UK and went back to the YMCA in Sunderland. I had taken books there at Christmas and later heard that they wanted to build a library. One of the clients (and we are talking about young people from around 16-23) went to the local library and asked them to donate books, which they're going to do. They are also sending a librarian to talk to them about how to set up their library. This is absolutely brilliant!
Also when we went to Crisis Skylight again, bringing art books for the art department, we were told that the local library had agreed to give people library cards, using the Crisis address. That's a great step forward as you can't get a library card without an address in the normal way. The library is also making it possible for people to deliver their books back to Crisis instead of to the library if they find that easier. This is very enlightened thinking from that library and one I hope we can encourage in more places as we weave our way around the country.

So it does look as if we are making quite a mark in a short time in the UK and setting people to thinking about books.
Can't be bad!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

I haven't written here for weeks. I was going to say that nothing much has been happening, but that wouldn't be quite accurate.
For one thing Borderline Books was instrumental in arranging a trip to the Keukenhof (bulb gardens in Lisse, NL) for a group of undocumented women in Amsterdam. In spite of a rather damp, sunless day and the fact that not a lot of the bulbs outside in the open were in flower, the greenhouses were full to bursting. Everyone had a great day - not least because some of them live in the Bijlmer which is somewhat akin to the moon when it comes to grey landscapes. Just going somewhere new where other people were taking care of all the arrangements must have been a treat in itsef. The fact that the gardens were also full of tourists, so our group did not stand out in the least was also quite comforting.

After that the London Bookfair where I met up with Judith Parke from the Literacy Trust. She is working on getting children reading and we discussed the difficulties involved when the parents don't read. I hope that in the future we will be able to work on some projects together where Borderline Books will provide free books for the parents of the children the Literacy Trust is working with. There is no shortage of good ideas, that's for sure.

This week I'm hoping to go back to the YMCA in Sunderland and see how they are progressing with the library they want to set up. I'll also go to Crisis in Newcastle and bring some more art books they have requested and refill the bookshelves for giving away. I'll probably visit one of the refugee centres as well as we have collected more stock of nappies, womens necessities, razors, soap, toothpaste etc.

More news later in the week probably - next week we've got the BLinN 'festival' where we'll be taking books in as many languages as we can muster - and also doing a radio interview for Schepper & Co, as part of the Ab Harrewijn prize publicity.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Fame at last !!

... well not fame, but at least a degree of recognition (again) after a long uphill struggle. This evening as I opened the door when I arrived home after a trip to Amsterdam, the phone rang. The voice on the other end said that we have been nominated by Humanitas for the Ab Harrewijn Prize. And not only that, we have reached the final 5 nominees. This ensures a (relatively) modest cash prize, but also some media exposure which we hope may result in new contacts to help with setting up local BookSpaces around the Netherlands.
I had almost despaired of the project ever working here, but this could be a last ditch opportunity to get the show back on the road.

Whatever happens I am absolutely delighted to have received the recommendation of another organization here with whom we have been cooperating for several years. My experience here has so often been one of a kind of 'protective' attitude other organisations not wanting to share advice or contacts, for whatever reason, so this is immensely gratifying. More news later. The prizegiving is on May 13.
We were nominated by a friend last year, but did not reach the finals, so there is much reason for celebration.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008


I don't know why the link to our website on the 'about me' panel isn't working and I don't seem to be able to edit it to activate it.
Our website is

Monday, 11 February 2008

It's deja vu all over again...

So, Saturday we moved all the books back to the Middelstegracht in Leiden - where we were sort of hijacked to last year. All the promises of help during the week resulted in an amazing display of 'missing in action'.
No doubt they miraculously reappeared once we were packed and gone.

Anyhow, the new/old location is very spacious and - as long as the weather is warm and dry - inspiring. It would certainly give us the space to get everything unpacked and sorted and even to do some art projects with the unusable, so we just have to hope that we can stay for a decent stretch.
After a huge slump in energy and optimism, things are looking more possible again, which is nice as we start the year of the Rat and spring is starting to tickle some new life into the garden.
Let's see if we can get the place clean, properly laid out and up and running asap.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Oh boy, if there was ever a reason to give up banging my head against a brick wall in the Netherlands it was given me on a platter today.
After a very short attempt at working together (the 'together' was extremely one-sided) with one of the Dutch street magazines I was told today that we have to vacate the premises in three weeks. They are moving round the corner and I was told in no uncertain terms that we are not invited to continue sharing the work space. When I told 'management' that the people who sell the street magazine love having the books there and wanted us to move with them I was told no no. I asked did you ever ask the vendors what they wanted? The reaction was more or less - well certainly not, whyever would we do that. I said - but they really want to have the books... only to hear: Well, I don't know what they'd want them for...

Reading perhaps?

I give up.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Not resolutions
but intentions
to continue
to bring books to the bookless
and open the wonderful world of words
to those who have not yet cracked the code
not resolutions
but intentions
to reach out to those
who need a hand

2008 - may it bring you
health, fulfilment and moments of joy