Almost a decade later the original core group of voluntary organisaers decided that they couldn’t face another move. The sudden sale of the downtown café which had been the last in a long series of club venues was the last straw! Despite being a confirmed bibliophile myself & long-term resident of Belgium I had never come across the club and so was pleasantly surprised when a neighbour told me about it & suggested we attend the Xmas 2009 meeting together. I was over the moon – the people were friendly, there were lots of books for the adult reader but I did notice a serious lack of non-English titles. I promptly put my name on the mailing list but sadly couldn’t attend the January or February Bookswaps the following year. You can imagine my dismay when I received an email in March announcing that this would be the last Bookswap since the café was for sale, the books had to disappear & the organisers had, basically, had enough!
I went to the March 2010 Bookswap & asked if anyone had volunteered to save the Club & its stock of books. I was given to understand that if I felt like taking up the challenge they’d be more than delighted to hand over the reigns. In the meantime, however, the remaining books were being distributed while others had to find new a new home in various garages around Brussels.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, I promptly asked the owners of two cafés I knew in my own neighbourhood and struck lucky! I was given a regular slot – the fourth Wednesday of the month – free access to a large restaurant & terrace and very importantly free storage of the books in between the monthly meetings! I was thrilled – I contacted the former organsiers & arranged to collect the various boxes of books & relaunched a slightly different club on May X 2010 at Les Enfants Terribles. The club is totally free of charge, it is run on a purely voluntary basis and I am always happy to welcome helpers – be it for setting up prior to the Bookswap, ‘meeting & greeting’ newcomers, helping tidy away at the end of the evening, or generally promoting the club & putting up posters or sending information to friends & colleagues. Incidentally the Club’s poster (now in its 4th colour version) was originally designed & produced as a favour to me by a friend. (Printing & photocopying in colour remains costly so should anyone reading this blog be able to help out on a regular basis either as a private volunteer or as a sponsor please contact me!!)
Being a keen linguist & avid reader of literature in several European languages I was quick to open up the club to non-anglophones & non-English literature. On any one night you can hear a multitude of languages spoken – but English remains the lingua franca for many nationalities. We even have non-native speakers coming along to practise their English (or another language for that matter) as well as English adult speakers coming to find a French or Dutch children’s book to help them cope with two of Belgium’s official languages! I am always open to suggestions and in October 2010 we launched a DVD Swap followed a short while later by our first audio CD exchange.
We’ve been on TV twice & radio three times; we’ve held three charity raffles at Christmas to raise money for projects linked to books & literacy (see separate post). Everything was moving along nicely until January 2012 when I received an abrupt email informing me that the current venue was up for sale & that all our boxes of books had to disappear at three days’ notice or else!! I was utterly crestfallen – all that effort … for nothing! Luckily I managed to contact enough Bookswappers who came along on Friday & Sunday to sort through the books, give some to charity, pack up the rest & drive them to a local garage I’d managed to rent!
I was then forced to find another venue – not as easy as it might first appear. But the gods were with me when I spotted some movement at our former venue – I noticed ladders appearing & workmen with paintbrushes. I finally tracked down the new owner Vanco and I managed to persuade him to take us on under the same terms as before. A couple of months later -you guessed it – we were bringing back the boxes of books from storage to our ‘new old venue’ under a bright new, friendly management, with a new look, new cuisine (Slav & French cooking) &, what’s more, a new meeting room – the first floor of the restaurant offering splendid views of the lake opposite. We’ve never looked back!
Since taking over the Club I have sought to develop a children’s section and last December we held our first Yuletide Bookswap special for children – it was a huge success & consequently I was able to persuade Vanco & his team to stay open throughout the 4th Wednesday of the month to allow parents, grandparents…to bring their kids along after school or, in the case of Belgian schoolchildren, after their various extra-curricular activities planned for the Wedneday afternoon off school. As more families & schools get to learn about this separate afternoon Bookswap the choice in books will undoubtedly grow & improve across all the age categories – from a toddler’s first reader to a teenager’s cool read!
Over the last couple of years we’ve become quite a multicultural social club & we like to party as well: we’ve had three Christmas parties & celebrated two birthdays – with live music, entertainment & sit-down dinners. Our third birthday party on May 29 2013 promises to be quite special as I will be organising a giant Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for young & old bookworms (there are several surprises in store)! Come along & see for yourself!