Friday, 9 August 2019

Work Experience at the Multilingual Library

From the 8th-12th July, I had the pleasure of gaining work experience at The Kittiwake Trust's Multilingual Library at Eldon Gardens in Newcastle.
As a placement, I was given tasks such as shelving, labelling and cataloguing, as well as having permission to create a map for the library.
I found the whole week extremely rewarding, and the staff were excellent - welcoming, patient, helpful and just people that I really got along with and feel privileged to have met.

I'm currently in sixth form studying Spanish, English Literature and English Language. I love words and languages, and just being around books, and I felt the Multilingual Library could really allow me to demonstrate this, and sure enough, it did. I would love to go back as a volunteer in the future - in fact, I would feel honoured to be part of such a dedicated, brilliant group of people, who run the library of their own accord and their passion for languages and books.

I felt so at ease in the library, with its beautiful layout and relaxing atmosphere. It was a week of culture and learning for me, and I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to be there for my work experience. I would encourage everyone who has a love for languages, culture, travelling and linguistics to take out a membership at the library and meet the amazing staff, and take in the setting that the team have poured their heart and soul into making perfect. I became a member while I was there, and I intend to go back as soon as possible. I hope that many others who come across this hidden gem of Eldon Garden do the same.

Hannah Drinkwater, A-Level Student

Saturday, 14 October 2017


For well over a year we have been giving books to prison libraries and education departments. About one year ago we also began giving books to custody suites, and this year we have begun sending books direct to people in prison. In all cases the books have met with very positive reactions. - the letters we receive from prisoners and some of the librarians prove that books, and some contact with the outside make a gigantic difference to the way people feel.

On Sunday November 19 we are again holding an open day - but this time, instead of sitting back and enjoying poetry and music, we will host a discussion  with the themes ARE PRISONERS OUR RESPONSIBILITY? WHAT CAN WE DO TO FACILITATE THE REHABILITATION REVOLUTION AND WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF IMPRISONMENT?  - From our point of view, obviously we feel that prisoners are our responsibility and we enjoy doing our best to send people the books they request. As for rehabilitation, again, that's right up our street as we would love to see prison leavers running Borderline Books branches around the country.
The discussion will be led by former prison governor Mike Kirby. Also on the panel will be Jason Meecham from Durham Constabulary, who has been helping spread the word to custody suites around the north; Helen Attewell, CEO of NEPACS who run visitors centres at prisons in the North East, Natalie Maidment of CLINKS, and representatives from Open Gate and Probation (to be confirmed). 
We hope that learning more about the trajectory from police cells, through prison and out the other side, with all the repercussions for family life will encourage people to donate generously to help us with the costs of keeping books flowing into prisons.

To encourage the spirit of giving, we will then hold an art auction with some fabulous art pieces donated by Sophie Howard, Padma Rao, Lesley Ellen Cooperwaite, Anne Curtis, Kathryn Barnett, Mike Collier, Craig Puranen Wilson, Barrie West, Kathy Geater, Coralie Morton, Tessa Green, Dreana Bulmer-Thompson, Rob Winter and more. Our Patrons, David Crystal and Michael Rosen have donated books and the whole auction will be brought to life by the delightful actor, comedian and co-presenter of BBC Newcastle's Alfie and Anna at Breakfast, Alfie Joey.

Sunday 19 November 12:00 - 18:00
Borderline Books, 5th Avenue Plaza, 
Queensway North, Team Valley, 
Gateshead NE11 0BL

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Diary of a Showman

 This is a letter we received recently from a guest of Her Majesty, DK. It is reproduced here with his permission. Needless to say, we sent him a big package of books.

Dear Borderline,

I have seen your details in the HardmanDirectory and thought that I would shoot you off a letter and see if you happened to have any dictionaries in stock at the moment. I am, well was, a showman (I grew up on the fairground) and it was not until I decided to leave the fairground that I thought about learning to read and write. So two years later I went to a college open day and said, “Look, I'm 18 years old, I can't read or write, can you help me?” The lady at the college said that they were holding English diagnostics at two o'clock and to come back then. So I went away and looked around at all the stalls for the various courses (using the good old trick of, “Ah, so what is this all about then?” So I knew what courses were what, as I didn't have a bloody clue what any of the signs for the courses said). I returned at two o'clock and sat the diagnostic (quite literally SAT the diagnostic as I had no clue what anything said on the screen – apart from "start".  I recognised that as we have that on the control panels for the rides). I really did try my hardest, but to re-word a well known phrase slightly, it was extremely difficult when everything was “literally” a foreign language to you. 

To shorten, what could be a story the “author” drags on forever, I waited about an hour for my results and then they were in! (I say that with emphasis, because even sitting here now writing this, I still cannot believe what happened next!) All the people that completed the diagnostics, myself included, were called into a classroom on the ground floor by this ridiculously stern looking lady. We all sat at the desks which were sat out 3 wide in a row backwards from the front of the class. One, by one, I sat and watched as she called people up to the front of the room, she gave them all a piece of paper and muttered something, all without using any facial expression that might put the potential student at ease. Then without warning, 5 students in she called my name. I got up out of the chair and approached the desk at which she was standing (it was probably at this point blatently obvious that I did not have high hopes of what was to come, but I certainly was not expecting this!)
“Is this a joke D---!?” she shouted at the top of her voice. “You are working at the level of a 3 year old according to this, very funny, we clearly have a class clown here.” I tried to interject but she still continued, “Right everyone, D---- here appears to think that it is funny to piss about and make out that he can't read or write, he also thinks it's funny to make out that this diagnostic was completed by a 3 year old, well actually on 2nd thoughts my 3 year old daughter could have done better than that! Let this be an example to all of you, don't f**k about and act like kids, you're at college now, you're adults now so act like them. We don't take fools lightly here.”

Now I am usually extremely polite as that is how I brought up. But I will allow for this one slip-up given the cirumstances. When she had finished her rant I calmly said, “Miss, if you are quite finished, there is no clowning around here, I am from a family of showmen and have never learnt to read or write as I have been brought up travelling the country providing fairs for amazing, decent people like yourself, which I must admit that I have fully enjoyed my life, but I have always believed that there is something more to life. So I am here to learn, and from the sounds of it, you have got your job cut out, because I'm reading and writing at the level of a 3 year old.

Her face was a picture, and so were the faces of the other potential twenty students in the room. The principle of the college, and the tutor herself couldn't apologise enough and ensured that they would personally see to sorting out all my funding, and they sorted me out a learning support assistant. I started at the beginning and gradually worked my way up, and now years down the line here I am. I can string a half decent sentence together.

I do apologise for going off on a massive tangent, I was trying to get to a point where I could explain that although I had the college providing teaching and the courses, I had to rely heavily on charities like yourself for books and course workbooks, as I literally don't have a penny. (This was because my family turned their backs on me when I left the fair to find education, because my dad wanted me to inherit all the rides and take over the family business - but that in itself is a whole different story.)

So I believe what you do for prisoners is amazing. My handwriting was horrific and I just happened to mention it in passing to the charity, two weeks later I received a handwriting book in the post. I practiced and practiced for months on end, and now I am at a level where it is at least legible – my spelling needs major work though and has become my biggest pet hate, hence one of the reasons why I'm asking for a dictionary.

Again I am really sorry for rambling, I just hope that my appreciation for what you do comes across during the later part.

Yours faithfully,

Monday, 3 July 2017

Guest blog: Michael Rosen

Information, ideas and feelings. We reckon that these are vital to our lives. Let’s take them one by one.

We spend hours and hours every day seeking out and using information. Just think about it: where to wait for a bus, what’s on the menu, what’s the price of milk, what’s the weather going to be like later, what are the football scores? We are sent complicated forms that ask for information about ourselves, we have to fill in forms to get what we want and need. We listen to the news and try to figure out if people are telling the truth about ‘debt’ or ‘Europe’.

Then again, at some point in every day, we move from this area of information into ideas: ideas about right and wrong, ideas about how to best organise the facilities we use in our neighbourhood, in our place of work; we might well stop to think about ideas about whether religion can or can not help us figure out how to behave well, how to see into this world a new-born baby or see out of this world someone who’s died. A politician might use an idea to throw at us: ‘a more caring Britain’, ‘for the many, not the few’.

And then again, we think about feelings all the time. We are bundles of feelings: anxiety, fondness, irritation, envy, jealousy, love, hate, sadness, nostalgia, fear. Hardly a minute goes by without us sensing that another feeling hasn’t just cropped up. Or, we might be listening to a song, or watching a TV programme and we feel emotions welling up around a tune, a face, some words, the way two people behave in a film or a soap.

It’s quite possible to cope with all this without going to books. We can do it by relying on TV, films, songs and chat. Put books into the picture, and a few other things happen. If it’s a story - that is a picture book for small children, or a novel for older children, young adults and adults in general - then we engage slowly in the unfolding of scenes. These scenes pack in an enormous amount: people (or creatures) interacting, behaving well or badly to each other; people thinking and feeling certain things that may or may not be the same as the way they behave; the story-telling of the book giving us ideas about the characters and setting of where everything’s going on. Information, ideas and feelings! Now if we talk about what we read with others, this world of information, ideas and feelings, takes on another dimension: we compare the lives we’ve been shown in the story with our own lives.

This business of comparing our lives with the lives and events in stories is part of what helps us to cope with the world. Even reading just one story starts to nibble away at the idea that the only thing going on in the world is ‘me’. We start to see ourselves not simply as me and my tribe (whatever that is) but part of society and part of history.

I think that books can do this in many different ways: not just novels, but non-fiction books too, biographies, autobiographies, poetry - all sorts. They are a vast hoard of information, ideas and feelings waiting for us to enjoy, use and benefit from. 
 Michael Rosen
June 2017
And this is what Borderline Books is all about - making sure that everyone has access to books, no matter if they have nothing left in the budget, are currently without a permanent address, serving time in prison or living in a hostel with women and children fleeing domestic abuse, fleeing war in their own country, staying in a hostel for teenagers..... or even sitting in a custody suite for a few hours. Books can not only break the isolation and make people aware of being part of something bigger, they can also offer - for a short time, at least - a free ticket to anywhere your imagination wishes to take you.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Late Show

The rest of Newcastle and Gateshead are out on the town for the Late Shows, our late show is finally finding the time to write a new blog post. It probably sounds absurd, but so much has been going on that there just hasn't been time to sit down and write about it.

Books have been flying out to various prisons, including Doncaster - the furthest south so far.

We're talking with other prisons a little closer to home - more of this when there's something more definite to report. In the meantime we sent a package of books down to a prison in Devon. They asked specifically for dictionaries and thesauruses for people doing creative writing, studying or doing crosswords. It took a while for them to be checked in, but the men were really happy to get these books.

We are expecting visits from projects in Liverpool, Sheffield and Birmingham in the next few weeks, by which time our friends the kittiwakes down on the Tyne Bridge will be hatching their broods.
And today, we spent a lovely couple of hours down at the Shipley Art Gallery, giving books to Syrian families who were having a celebration. Thanks to Cambridge University Press, we were able to give them a couple of hundred brand new books - easy readers for children and new readers of English, and - most popular - dictionaries.

And the other great news is that we are taking on our first paid employee in mid-June.... but that's another story!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017


We have contact with all kinds of groups supporting people in all kinds of difficult situations. It's not often that we get feedback, but after putting out a request for 'soundbites' we have been delighted to see how much difference the books really make in people's lives.

This post reflects the experiences of organizations working with offenders, ex-offenders, people with mental health issues, and people with dementia.

"A guy was arrested by 24/7 officers for a domestic related assault to his partner, when he arrived into custody he was very aggressive, the custody sergeant explained if he calmed down there was reading material he would be welcome to use. The detainee quickly calmed down and became fully compliant. He said that reading helped him calm down and occupied his mind whilst in custody. The sergeant who authorised his detention said it made such a difference and the detainee caused little to no issues.

"A woman who was arrested for her first offence arrived in custody, she was quite anxious and very unsure what was going to happen. The custody staff offered her reading material to put her at ease, when she left the woman commented that although she would never want to be in custody again the books helped her calm down."

Chief Inspector Lisa Hogan, Northumbria Police

Haven was set up 30 years ago working in conjunction with the probation service in order to support offenders upon release from custodial sentences. Latterly Haven offers semi supported disbursed housing for anyone with a support need from 17 years old with no upper age limit. Haven have 60 bedspaces within Newcastle/Gateshead (which includes 5 emergency bed spaces), a Residents Club which is also open to ex-residents in order to offer support after move on to appropriate tenancies eg Tyne & Wear Homes/private landlords scheme/housing associations etc to conquer isolation. Haven operate a Job Club where residents can access voluntary work/paid employment/training opportunities etc. making sure they are job ready for move on. Haven offer monthly outing to our residents/ex-residents in order to open their eyes to culture, museums/theatre and amongst these outings is Borderline Books which is an invaluable addition to Haven and has resulted in residents using reference books to support their college/university courses, as well as recreational reading for pleasure. We have set up a small library in Haven office where residents/ex-residents bring back their read books and these are recycled for future resident’s pleasure. We have had a longstanding partnership with Borderline Books which has been an invaluable service and we remain extremely grateful to Amina and her team for the support over the years in welcoming our residents.

Pauline Houghton, Operations Manager, Haven Tyneside Ltd

The Storybook Cafe is a mental health cafe, providing a safe space for people to come and relax, chat or do something that helps them have better mental health. One of the things we provide is books for people to read in the cafe or borrow and take home. Books have been important to me as they have helped improve my mental health by providing escapism into an entirely different world. This has helped me to have a break from my own issues, but it has also provided some comfort in the experiences and feelings of the characters I read about who feel similar to me. Borderline books has provided 242 books for free, allowing more people the chance to find some refuge and empathy in the pages that they can carry round with them. To have access to such a big range of genres and narratives means there is more chance for everyone to find something to help them.

Thank you so much,   Amy and the Storybook Cafe   


“We were reminiscing over the books Shirley used to read as a child as she searched the bookcase for something to read. Shirley was extremely happy when she came across a book, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, which she remembered her father reading to her as a child!”
Small moments this are so significant in a person’s life when suffering with dementia as the feelings that these memories evoke can give a sense of calm and safety in an otherwise terrifying and confusing world.
-          Carer at Sheraton Court, Helen McArdle Care


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Looking back at 2016

That was a year, that was! 

We settled into our new location upstairs at 5th Avenue Plaza and unpacked thousands of books.

One of the best things was when we were finally able to donate books to HMP Low Newton, a women's prison in county Durham. It took nearly a year to get that off the ground, but they came for a first load of books and were delighted at the range of subjects on offer. After only a few weeks they returned saying that they needed more books to fill up the shelves as they had not taken enough the first time round.

Open Gate is an organisation supporting women leaving Low Newton and they have also started a small local Borderline Books project for these women.

Later in the year we made contact with HMP Askham Grange in York and HMP Leeds. They came for two visits and were happy to take several hundred books for these two prisons. We are very happy to be able to donate books directly to prisons now and emphasize that they should allow the prisoners to keep any books they particularly like because we can refill the shelves as often as they want.  This is in such contrast to the situation a couple of years ago when it was so very difficult to get books into prisons.

In the longer term, we would love to work with organisations supporting people leaving prison to set up local editions of Borderline Books. The project can offer training in a wide range of skills which would help people to find paid work at a later stage. People who love books find it a wonderful way of indulging their passion while doing a useful and creative job.

Another first was a delivery of 200 books to the office of Police and Crime Commissioner Vera (now Dame Vera) Baird. These were for placing in the six custody suites within Northumberland in the hope that they will help make a difficult few hours in detention a little less taxing. We are waiting for some feedback on how this is helping.

We also donated books to a number of care homes, schools, organisations supporting people who are homeless or struggling with dependency issues, refugee organisations and others. We took part in the Teams Festival in the summer and wrecked our gazebo in the wind at the Dunston Festival... These two festivals are about the only occasions on which we give books direct to the public. Many people are over the moon to have access to books they can keep when they may perhaps be having to make use of the local food banks and could not possibly afford the luxury of buying books.

By the end of the year we had found new homes for well over 13,000 books. By the time of the AGM we will have a full set of figures of the numbers of books received and donated as well as the grants we received during the year.
Late in the year, our founder, Amina Marix Evans, received a letter saying that she had been nominated for an MBE. After some thought she decided that it would not be right to accept:

First, the concept of Empire is outdated, and given the groups we support, particularly the refugees, many of whom are in the difficulties they are in now as a direct or indirect result of the legacy of the late British Empire, it would have felt like a slap in the face to them to accept. Also I didn't want letters after my name that do not denote any kind of academic achievement setting me apart from those I work with and for.
Second, I honestly feel that if the work of the Kittiwake Trust is held in such high esteem, then it would be far more appropriate to give an award to the charity and not to the individual.

The Kittiwake Trust will continue with our work of supporting groups working with vulnerable and disadvantaged people and of sharing the delights of words and books in as many languages as we can lay hands on.
If you value our work it would make much more sense to nominate the Kittiwake Trust for local or national charity awards and to help us spread Borderline Books to other parts of the country.

Amina Marix Evans, January 2017