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BTBS - The Book Trade Charity

If you have worked in the book trade for any length of time, it is highly likely that you will have heard of BTBS – The Book Trade Charity. Many booksellers based in London will have taken part in the fund-raising ‘Walkies’ (previously known as the Book Rest Walks), which came to an end in 2008. But did you know that BTBS extends its services not just to booksellers and publishers, but to everyone connected with the trade? That embraces warehouse workers, reps, freelance editors and designers, and admin staff in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. (Authors, librarians and printers are excluded simply because those professions have their own support organisations.)

Above: The 'Reading Boy' , presented by Ivy Hobday, replaces an original bronze statue.

Booksales at The Retreat

Some of you may be familiar with The Retreat, the charity’s own housing complex near Kings Langley in Hertfordshire. The Retreat opened to residents in 1845 and is made up of the seven original almshouses, four flats and twenty-four bungalows. The residents’ average age is sixty-four, though the oldest person is nearing ninety-four. The rents are subsidised for the area but The Retreat is self-sustaining. It is here that BTBS holds its regular fund-raising booksales, all staffed by volunteers. These events are definitely worth attending, as bookworms can select from some 20,000 ex-display titles and returns, all in excellent condition and at very low prices.

David Hicks, getting ready for one of BTBS's regular booksales.

The Book Trade Charity holds four or five booksales a year, which bring in about 15% of its income. About the same percentage is raised from individuals and corporate donors. The largest donation comes from the Booksellers Association of the UK and Ireland. Other important supporters include the Unwin Charitable Trust and Old Possum’s Practical Trust, which was set up in 1990 by Valerie Eliot after the success of the musical ‘Cats’, based on her late-husband’s poems.

The Trust’s initial grant to BTBS was £110,000 and it has continued to give £10,000 every year. A few UK publishers give between £5,000 and £6,500 each year, and other money comes from the brave few like Canongate’s Jamie Byng who run in the London Marathon on behalf of BTBS. There is information on the website about other, less strenuous ways to raise funds for the charity, such as cake sales and raffles. Apart from financial assistance, the BTBS is always grateful for help spreading the word to people who might need its help.

So what does BTBS do?

As well as providing permanent accommodation at The Retreat for about forty individuals, a key part of the charity’s work is the provision of grants to people who find themselves in need of financial assistance. As the Chief Executive David Hicks explains, ‘Wherever there are social problems that can be eased by money, BTBS can help.’ This may be by awarding one-off grants to allow someone to put down a deposit on a flat or to buy a fridge, or by guaranteeing regular payments to people with disabilities or a long-term illness. At the moment, there are forty regular beneficiaries across the UK, of which 10% are breast cancer patients – a reminder of the large number of women in the book trade.

Dickinson House, the original house at The Retreat, was built in 1845 on land donated by John Dickinson F.R.S.

BTBS can also help with retraining and mentoring through bodies such as (who run Job clubs), and the Publishing Training Centre. It can pay for short courses, provide help with rewriting CVs, and put people in touch with Citizens’ Advice Bureau and HR professionals, in the case of debt or redundancy.

Who does it help?

BTBS helps individuals not businesses, and to be eligible for assistance you have to be retired, redundant or still in the book trade. If you are not sure whether you are eligible, ask anyway. ‘We would rather someone came to us, because we can’t consider them for help if we don’t know about them,’ says Hicks. The charity helps about 200 individuals a year and has about half a dozen applications going through at any one time. All the help and advice is given in complete confidence and, says Hicks, ‘We are not judgemental.’

BTBS is a small charity with long-term commitments of £100,000 a year, but no security that these grants can be paid. In 2013 – the year the organisation marked its 175th year of helping people in the industry – it launched an Endowment Fund which aims to raise £2 million to give BTBS much-needed financial security and allow it to plan for the future.

 Book sculpture in the grounds of The Retreat. It was created when the beech tree was diseased and had to be felled.

Find out more

If you have a problem that you think BTBS might be able to help you with, you can download an application form from the charity’s website, call 01923 263128 or send an email to You can hear from people who have received assistance from the BTBS here:

David Hicks has worked in the voluntary sector for thirty-five years. He joined BTBS as Chief Executive after working for the Church of England Children’s Society, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, John Groom’s and Brendoncare Elderly Care in Winchester. David is supported by two part-time colleagues, Glenda Barnard and Claire Walton, who make up the BTBS team.

BTBS encourages people across the book trade to make a donation to the Charity in lieu of sending Christmas cards. Christmas may be behind us, but you can still donate by visiting:

The Book Trade Charity (BTBS)
The Foyle Centre
The Retreat
Kings Langley
Hertfordshire WD4 8LT

Tel: 01923 263 128

David Hicks was speaking to Janet Ravenscroft.

Fraser Tanner, Managing Director of Batch, is proud to be
a Trustee of BTBS.