Book – Cycle

Posted by editor 16/07/2013 0 Comment 4695 views



By Tim Wilson

The shop is tucked amongst an enclave of Tudor buildings, clustered beside Exeter’s ancient city wall. Behind its pitched beams and leaded bay windows a quiet revolution is taking place. Book-Cycle is a shop with a difference; the customer decides the price.

Volunteer run throughout, the charity is a champion of positive activism and Do-It-Yourself culture. Accordingly, the staff give of their time because they recognise the difference a book can make.

Sakeenah is busy stocking shelves from the small mountain of boxes in the centre of the floor. “Our philosophy is simple,” she explains. “Fair access to books and education for all,  regardless of means, whether here or in developing countries. Books are for everyone and people in the UK are often priced out by traditional bookshops.

“It’s interesting to see how customers react. You’d think it would be easy but it often isn’t. There’s no suggested donation so they’re compelled to think for themselves.”

Self-reliance, sustainability and a sense of community are the concepts that underpin Book-Cycle. All its resources are given freely; whether that’s books sent to Africa, the help-yourself seed bank or the nursing of saplings to aid local reforestation. Tree planting projects are currently in place in seven Exeter primary schools.

In many ways it is better to view Book-Cycle as an idea, rather than just another charity shop. Not collecting for a specific organisation frees it to pour its efforts into wherever they can have the best effect. 

As their recent success in the saving of a Wigan library shows, it can be the hub of a community. Community hub is a phrase Anthony Melling, the charity’s founder, uses often. He meets me in the shop’s upstairs study. Sofas and chairs take up most of the tiny space. Bookcases surround. A PC, looking more antiquated than many of the books, sits in one corner.

Anthony, a Traveller, is tall and dreadlocked. He greets me with a vigorous handshake. He speaks with an infectious positivity. So where did the idea for Book-Cycle come from? “I was living near Canterbury in an old Panorama bus and I noticed the amount of donated books filling charity shop bins, all destined for landfill. So I set up a weekly collection. Then my bus was destroyed in a fire. That was pivotal.”

He moved to the West Country, got a caravan and a job at a tree nursery, where he saw the same fate happening to unwanted saplings as the books. At the same time a friend teaching in Uganda told him how they had no materials, the children having to write on discarded packets. He resolved to twine these strands together and do something.

He tells me how Sakeenah had chanced upon Benjamin Zephania in Exeter and asked him to become their patron. So taken with Book-Cycle’s concept, the poet duly obliged.

“It’s easy to become cynical but being swallowed by negativity won’t change anything,” says Anthony. “The only way to make a difference is through positive action.’

A good example of this is the charity’s recent ‘rescue’ of Wigan’s Beech Hill library. Anthony heralds from the North West and Beech Hill was the first library he ever used. A relative told him it was to close so he contacted the local council and secured a seven year lease on the building. Book-Cycle restocked the shelves, enlisted volunteers from the locale and set about creating another ‘community hub.’

And then, of course, there’s the work Book-Cycle does further afield. 180,000 books have been sent to Ghana alone since 2010. It’s helped build 50 libraries there, as well as supporting 30 more schools and libraries across Africa. Its reach now extends to India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Thailand.

“We need more people to open shops in their own areas. There’s now a branch in Rome run by one of our old volunteers. So obviously the model can be applied anywhere”

In this age of e-Readers, Book-Cycle’s reach continues to grow, making a difference wherever its ideas take root, empowering people through knowledge and giving communities the chance to run things for themselves. And all from the shelves of a tiny Exeter shop.










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