Feature: Success of Book Den in Burgess Hill

Lion Alan Ranger, volunteer Peter Peart, Lion Pat Nall and volunteer Ann Dray outside the Book Den in Church Walk, Burgess Hill. Picture: Steve Robards
Lion Alan Ranger, volunteer Peter Peart, Lion Pat Nall and volunteer Ann Dray outside the Book Den in Church Walk, Burgess Hill. Picture: Steve Robards

Step inside Burgess Hill’s Book Den and you will find a world of books on offer – a unique gem in our town.

But it would not be where it is today without the hard efforts from the town’s Lions and volunteers who have kept it running – they are true stars in our community.

Inside the Book Den. Picture: Steve Robards

Inside the Book Den. Picture: Steve Robards

Whether it be crime, romance, a thriller or novel – you will be sure to find it here at just a small price of a pound or two.

Jigsaws and collectables are even proving to be big hits – there is something for everyone here.

The Book Den has become so successful that it now shifts 1,000 books a week.

And it does not have a problem stocking up on books either due to the kind and generous donations from the community.

It is staggering to think how successful we have managed to make it.

Alan Ranger

Alan Ranger, 72, a member of Burgess Hill District Lions Club, manages a team of six at the den.

He said: “The Book Den was a big investment for the club and it was a big challenge and it has paid off.

“It is staggering to think how successful we have managed to make it.

“I have been told that people specifically come to Burgess Hill to come to the Book Den, from Brighton, Haywards Heath, and other areas.

The Book Den in Burgess Hill. Picture: Steve Robards

The Book Den in Burgess Hill. Picture: Steve Robards

“I think I can talk for members and everybody here, especially those who are retired, we are not the sort of people that want to just sit in at home, and by doing this we are raising money, we are helping people and the motto of the Lions is we serve.

“We all enjoy doing it. It is something useful to do and lots of people like books. And we can only keep it going if we get people volunteering.

“I would like to say a big thank you to all the members of the club and volunteers over the 25 years that we have been selling books and all the people who have donated books to us.

“Over the 25 years we have had more than half a million books donated to us.

Lion Pat Nall. Picture: Steve Robards

Lion Pat Nall. Picture: Steve Robards

“We hope to attract more members of the Lions club in the future and the younger generation so we can keep it running.”

The Lions took over the shop premises in 2016. Volunteers chipped in for seven months to help renovate it to what it looks like today.

It had a smaller home in Church Walk before this one, but due to the enormous support from the community, it was forced to find a bigger premises so it could accommodate readers in the town.

When the club started selling books 25 years ago they were scattered on tables in the Market Place Shopping Centre on Saturdays – a huge comparison to what it is today.

“The big change for the Lions club was in 1997 and that was starting the Book Den,” said Alan.

“Another club, the Chanctonbury Lions, phoned us up and said they had lots of books and asked if would we like to try and sell them and we decided to give it a go.

“Since then we have had to keep moving because the public have required us to.

“So many people were interested in supplying second hand books to us as there wasn’t as many charity shops in those days.

“For the first four years we were selling them in the Market Place Shopping Centre on tables on Saturdays, like a car boot sale. We took £20 one day and all cheered.

“I was in my 40s then and the majority of us were still working full-time during the week, so we only did it on Saturdays.

“After those four years we took on a short-term licence at 90 Church Walk and moved into there.

“We then managed to find some people who could help us open that shop six days a week and from there it grew.

“We soon needed a bigger shop so we moved again in 2007 and were there ten years.

“This shop was slightly better for us but the shop we are in now is the next level for us and I don’t think it could get any better than this.

“When we moved in here it was a complete mess but members have helped out with the presentation. People think it is actually a book shop.

“We have a ten-year lease and I just hope that in the ten years we can attract enough people to keep it going.”

There are 34 members of the Lions club who work at the Book Den and 36 volunteers. In total there are 80 people involved who do not take home salaries.

They do flexible shifts. Some who help out on Saturdays still work during the week and then there are people from the retired community who work during the week.

The money brought in at the Book Den pays for the rent of the shop and the rest goes to the Lions’ charitable trust fund.

The Lions then make decisions where that money should be spent and the vast majority is spent in the community.

Being part of the management committee, Alan said he gets a ‘kick out of running the business’ and especially when he ‘knows the shop is benefitting people’.

He was 29 when he joined the Burgess Hill Lions and has been a member for 31 years. He has also been a member of the Lions Clubs International for 43 years.

He said funds from the Book Den have helped a number of organisations in the town.

“We have three youth clubs that we always help – Burgess Hill Youth, Burgess Hill Marching Youth and Burgess Hill Respect Youth Club,” he said.

“And we always try to help members of Guides and Scouts if they are going on oversea trips.

“We also like to help the charity shops in our town too. Any books we don’t sell we always give to Marie Curie and the British Heart Foundation which are a few doors down from us.”

Pat Nall has lived in Burgess Hill for more than 70 years. She is a member of the Lions and works at the Book Den on Thursday mornings.

She said: “A friend and I were looking for volunteer work and then I joined the Lions. Who said books were going out of fashion?

“I look forward to coming in. I have friends here and it is nice coming in, especially on winter mornings, what else do you do? Some volunteers live on their own and have lost their partners.

“I like books and interacting with the public and I talk to all sorts of people in here.”

Ann Dray has volunteered at the Book Den for almost ten years. She works there on Thursdays and every other Wednesday afternoon.

Being new to the area, after moving from Kent and south-west London, she said she wanted to ‘get involved with the community’ and wanted to ‘get to know people’.

She added: “I have met lots of people here and have made friends. I really enjoy it and it has really helped me.”

The Book Den is open on Monday to Saturdays, from 9.30am to 4pm.

The majority of books are 99p. The shop also offers new and current books at £2. Children’s books are 40p and books for teenagers are 50p.