I’m sure, like me, you have never even thought about the stories behind the second hand books you buy off sites like Amazon – how they got there, who sorted them, cleaned them and packaged them up?
Yesterday I spent some time at Bookdonors, a social enterprise in Selkirk, Scotland and found out the answers to all those questions. It was a fascinating visit to an organisation which is transforming the lives of the people who work there and doing its bit to improve reading skills and help the environment.
Here’s how it works: Bookdonors buy used books from charities and libraries across the UK (thereby helping those organisations to raise funds – over £200,000 so far), the books are delivered to their warehouses where they are sorted and catalogued ready for us to buy off the internet.
They have over 150,000 books at any one time. Once a book is bought it is cleaned, checked and posted. The books that don’t make the grade are given away to families or schools in the UK and Africa or sent off to be recycled, nothing goes into landfill. It’s a really simple idea and here’s the best bit, 80% of the 54 people who currently work or volunteer at Bookdonors have never had a job or have been out of work for a long time and 30% of the team have a wide range of disabilities or medical conditions.
What makes it even more amazing is that Bookdonors doesn’t employ specialist carers to look after people with disabilities, instead they all support one another as a team, everyone is treated equally and as a result the business is thriving.
Rona set it up five years ago with her partner Lawrie. She spoke frankly about her recurring depression and how she and Lawrie started Bookdonors in their attic in order to create jobs for people who wanted to work but couldn’t.
Everyone I met there told me that Bookdonors had given them the chance to turn their life around. Like Stephen, a young man who was the first employee 4 years ago, who told me he never thought he would have an interesting job that he loved - he is a section leader and clearly gets a lot out of working with his team, some of whom have conditions like epilepsy and schizophrenia.
I also chatted to Ian who had been out of a job for 5 years and was at rock bottom. He now runs the warehouse and is busy putting his life back together.
Bookdonors is such a brilliant concept, it is succeeding in a financial, social and environmental way, a great example of how not-for-profit social enterprises can help build the Big Society. It has also made me totally re-think how and where I buy books….
To find out more or buy a used book visit http://www.book-donors.co.uk/