BTBS launches appeal to fund subsidised London housing project

BTBS launches appeal to fund subsidised London housing project

The Book Trade Charity (BTBS) last night launched its 2020 Charity Appeal to raise funds for the £3m refurbishment of the Whetstone Estate in north London, offering less expensive accommodation for people beginning their careers in the industry.

Once completed the Whetstone Estate in Barnet will have 17 one-bedroom flats and bedsits available for young people during their first or second jobs in the book trade earning less than £25,000 a year. The project is also aimed at those on paid internships at a minimum six months who could not otherwise afford to live in London. The flats will be rented at a subsidised rate, of around £400 per month, to encourage greater regional, socio-economic and ethnic diversity in the book trade.

"One of the greatest difficulties that potential employees face when considering a career in the book world is that London, where so much of the industry continues to be based, seems out of reach and prohibitively expensive," said Ursula Mackenzie, president, in a speech at the event. "Barriers may range from the cost of travel from more distant parts of the UK to get to an interview (for which we already offer financial assistance), but most significantly, if the all-important job offer does materialise, how can you find somewhere affordable to live in a matter of weeks, when you have no contacts in the city?"

The year-long fundraising initiative is intended to run alongside the charity's existing activities to support new, existing and past members of the book trade, and is specifically hoped to support the industry in its efforts to increase diversity among new starters, attracting young people from a broader range of backgrounds and areas of the country in order to build a "more dynamic, inclusive" book industry, said Mackenzie (pictured).

In 2019 BTBS refurbished six flats in Whetstone and a trial scheme was run with four flats available proving "very popular". Former resident Hena Bryan, originally from Birmingham and now rights assistant for Hodder & John Murray Press, spoke in support of the initiative, explaining she was both "elated" and "terrified" when she was offered a traineeship at Hachette because she had just two weeks to find somewhere to live with no contacts or family in London: "Luckily, I was told about the Book Trade Charity by an HR employee at Hachette, and soon after I had emailed, I was in contact with Glenda, the Housing & Grants Manager. I moved into a fully furnished and TfL accessible flat in north London that made moving to a new city and starting a new job such a smooth process... I hope that others, who also dream of working in the book industry, but don’t know how it’s going to work, are also offered the resources that helped me during such an important change in my life/career."

Convinced that there is "considerable untapped demand for more accommodation like this", the charity has now embarked on the major project to provide more housing at the Whetstone site. It has demolished two blocks that were unsuitable for refurbishment and is replacing them with four new blocks that will provide flats and bedsits accommodating up to 17 people at affordable rents. Work has now begun and is set for completion by the end of February 2021.

In all it is a £3m project, with £1.6m being funded by the charity and the remaining sum secured with a bank loan, with the fundraiser helping the charity to pay off the loan as quickly as possible. To date BTBS has raised £220,000 towards its goal of £500,000 by the end of the year – £50,000 came from the Unwin Charitable Trust and another £50,000 from John Seaton in memory of Mo Siewcharran. Other help has come in the form of the printing of leaflets, which Little, Brown agreed to design and print.

Potential donors are urged to give either lump sums – with naming rights available – or participate in the appeal’s "Buy a Brick, Build Our Future" campaign. A donation of £1,000, made either individually or through group fundraising, will give naming rights to a "brick" to be used in the build. Apart from cash donations, it is also hoping that both companies and individuals will consider organising fund-raising activities that will benefit the 2020 Appeal, for example, sponsored cycling, marathons, walkathons, swimathons and baking competitions.

Supporters can use the hashtag #BTBS2020Appeal across social media to help spread the word and follow its Instagram account @book_trade_charity for updates about the build. Further details can also be found on its new website at www.btbs.org.

The project follows similar initiatives such as the Spare Room Project, supported by PRH UK since November 2018, where interns from outside London are matched with people in the book industry who live in the capital who can offer them a place to stay. To date there have been 168 Spare Room Project hosts, who between them have housed 133 people. Since PRH began sponsoring the project, 78 guests have been hosted. More than 15 people have gone on to secure jobs within the industry; 75.6% of guests responding to a survey said it would have been "difficult" or "impossible" for them to take up their internship without their SRP accommodation.