Voucher-based children’s ‘bookshop’ opens in Chelsea

Voucher-based children’s ‘bookshop’ opens in Chelsea

London Children’s Book Project has created a “bookshop” space to give away books to children at its headquarters in Chelsea. 

The charity, which distributes books to readers in London, is currently housed in an old auction house near the King’s Road, loaned for free from the council. The upstairs has been turned into what looks like a bookshop, plus an extra space that is now a reading room. 

Liberty Venn, who founded the enterprise two years ago, said: “As a charity we didn’t used to interact with children, we were all about giving schools the tools [to provide books], but this was too good an opportunity to miss.”

The bookshop space holds around 500 books at a time, which are regularly restocked from the collection of “thousands” of titles Venn has in total, and when schools are invited to visit the pupils are given a voucher they can redeem for any book they like. 

“Our volunteers are really keen to help children buy books they are inspired by,” she said. “This is only about reading for pleasure. Often the children who come here don’t go to bookshops, perhaps because of finances or because their parents feel intimidated, so we try to make the experience as fun and inviting as possible. Hopefully they go home, talk to their parents and when they get their next World Book Day token, they will feel like they can go and spend it.”

Venn set up London Children’s Book Project to address what she calls the “book gap”, and to put books into bedrooms where there aren’t any. At the time, her daughters were in Years 1 and 4 respectively at primary school and she was aware that a significant number of children didn’t own any books thanks to work she was doing for BookTrust. She organised a book drive at her children’s school and the idea blossomed from there. 

The charity has given out half a million books so far (23,000 this school term), and the majority are second-hand. “We do get some new titles,” she said. “We’ve had books from Penguin, Hachette, Lantana and Little Tiger, and Nosy Crow gave us a lovely donation recently. They make up around 10% of the total [stock]. What’s great about the second-hand books, though, is that they are often what other children want. Parents who buy lots of books will buy a full series, all of the Percy Jacksons, or BeastQuest, then they will get passed on to us. It’s a very virtuous circle.”

The charity is run entirely by volunteers and Venn estimated that 600 people had offered their time in total, or around 8,000 hours per year of people’s time.