The Book Trade Charity has given away nearly £400,000 to people this year, including £164,000 in Covid-19 hardship grants made possible by a trade crowdfunding campaign.
Outgoing chief executive David Hicks said there had been another spike in applications for hardship grants from booksellers recently, perhaps triggered by the second lockdown, with more expected to come in after Christmas.
Earlier this year, a trade crowdfunding campaign set up by Gayle Lazda from the London Review Bookshop, new Fourth Estate editorial director Kishani Widyaratna and Daunt Books publisher Zeljka Marosevic smashed its original £10,000 target to raise around £130,000 for a bookseller hardship fund. Penguin Random House committed £60,000 to the drive and, in a surprise move, Amazon also came forward to donate £250,000.
Hicks said 108 grants had been paid out from that fund so far, including some for Bertrams workers after the firm's collapse, others for workers from some of the smaller chains, and many more for individual booksellers. The charity also gave £230,000 of its regular grants over the course of 2020 – around the same amount as previous years.
He said: “Some people were living fairly hand to mouth before the lockdown. Then suddenly they were left with reduced income or, in some cases, no income where people had been let go, and it literally was a case of food on the table and rent and mortgage being paid. Of course they speeded up the Universal Credit but there were still times when people had nothing in the bank and bills to pay. That's always been our focus: that level of hardship where we can help very quickly because we're a small organisation.
“They don't want to come to a charity, they don't want to be seen to be needing help, but it's what we're here for.”
Hicks said demand had been particularly high in the first three months of the pandemic but had quietened down a little before another surge recently.
“We've had a further rush of grant applications, possibly because of the second lockdown, possibly because Christmas is coming up. It's come in waves. But there's still plenty of the fund available so, if people are finding life difficult, I'm still encouraging them to come to us.”
With Christmas being a make or break time for booksellers, perhaps even more so this year, the charity is expecting high demand over the next few months.
Hicks said the level of support the charity offered would not have been possible without the trade crowdfunding campaign.
“It certainly raised our profile and meant people have come to us who wouldn't even have thought of us in the past,” he said.
The charity also saw further success by raising £360,000 for its Whetstone development, partly due to a £100,000 donation from the Foyle Foundation. The project, a subsidised housing project offering flats and bedsits to young people during their first or second jobs in the industry, is due to start advertising vacancies in January.
For Hicks, who is handing over the reins in March, the project comes at the end of his 27-year tenure, with a successor due to be announced imminently.
He said: “It's not the way I expected to spend my last year. Apart from that, it's been really nice to be able to help so many more people and it was great having that opportunity. Amazon came to us and wanted to support. We hadn't really been on their radar before. But also a lot of regular people have come up with additional donations so it's been a blend of the people we rely on and new people who didn't know much about us. I think we've proved our worth during the year and hopefully it will continue under the new management.”
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