- Posted by admin@Unwin
- On 25th July 2019
Mel Phillips and Nick Webb were the very first applicants to the Unwin Charitable Trust’s Booksellers’ Mentoring Programme, applying a few days before the programme was even formally launched at the Booksellers Association Annual Conference in 2017, so it is fitting that we catch up with them as we launch our blog.
We (Mel and Nick) started The Rabbit Hole in Brigg, North Lincolnshire after leaving full-time teaching, latterly in Referral Units with some wonderful kids.
Our aim has always been to build a community-based and inclusive bookshop which increases the access of all to a choice in reading and storytelling.
The Rabbit Hole runs groups for toddlers with their carers/parents, afternoon groups for primary children and as many one-off workshops for all ages as is possible. There are adult reading groups established, and events like ‘Dads Read Too’ and drumming and rhythm workshops have been really successful. We have very close links with the local children’s centre where over the summer a reading/sharing programme is concluding to support the centre in building their own library as a source of varied reading materials to share. This has been aided by a grant from the BA.
There is now a move to be even more proactive in the local community with local history talks, local author and poetry evenings, and recently a local publisher spent a day with us, advising people on how to get their works published through different forums.
The Unwin Mentoring Programme has been a source of support from the very beginning. Not by constant communication but by being there and knowing it is there. Meeting our mentor for the first time was a massive morale booster and so much changed in our outlook from that point on. We had just had to move premises due to issues with our then landlord. We had only been open for three months! We actually sought legal advice and moved everything in one complete day with the support of friends and the community. We opened in the new and bigger shop a week later! We gained in enthusiasm and became braver. At the time of that visit there were very simple things that we were not doing; we changed that afterwards which made life a lot easier and developed the shop into a far more efficient and useful space. The visit gave us the confidence to change and move as we felt necessary.
We have by no means cracked it yet and there is a lot of work and progress to be made if we are to survive. We are determined and more enthusiastic than ever but at the end of the day finances through to Christmas time will be very tight and at that point we will have some difficult decisions to make, hopefully with the advice of The Unwin Charitable Trust.
We are currently trying to develop our storytelling programme further with a grant from Harper Collins through their Indie Literacy Project. The shop is also physically changing with support from the BA Inclusivity and Diversity Awards which will improve disabled and elderly access. We are also working with Words Count in North Lincolnshire and with many local primary schools and have recently arranged for an author visit to a Special SEN School, which is really rewarding and exciting.
We have lots of ideas and growing support within the community however it will be the basics of increasing footfall and developing our stock whilst raising sales that will determine our survival. We cannot really imagine doing anything else at the moment. We love the shop and the ethos we have created. We love the community we are in. It is now down to basic economics in the ever-challenging high-street fight for survival. We would honestly say, however, that an early meeting with our mentor actually provided the initial spark and now we do not want that fire to die so that means long hours and brave decisions. It is scary but we know support is there.