Bryony Bishop, aka Bee, is the founder of Bee’s Bookshare, a book group with a difference. This vibrant community of readers regularly meet up (in non-pandemic times) to share a love of books and discover new reads. There are no set books to read, you just bring at least one book to swap that you’ve loved or loathed to pass on and reading tales to share. We had a catch up with Bee to find out more.
The beginning of Bee’s Bookshare
Bee’s Bookshare started nine years ago in 2012. Margate was a different place then – I was looking for a book group to join, but I couldn’t find one. I have a lot of deadlines with the work that I do, and the thought of another deadline to read a book didn’t appeal. A friend of mine and I used to share books with each other and she said ‘why don’t you just do what we do, but invite more people?’ At the time, I was suffering from depression, and without quite realising it, Bookshare was a way for me to meet new people, and provide a form of bibliotherapy. Reading has always been a de-stressor for me, it can be so therapeutic and take my mind away to different places, times and people. I wanted to share that experience, and my love of reading, with others. It’s always been important to me that Bookshare is about the readers not the writers, giving them a voice, welcoming any type of book and any type of read – negating literary snobbery.
The benefits of Bee’s Bookshare
Over its near decade, Bee’s Bookshare has brought together hundreds of people with hundreds of books, building connections and creating new friendships. Lots of people have said that what they’ve read has helped their mental health. One booksharer told me that, you they were in quite a bad place, and Bookshare had really helped them to move through it, regain their interest in reading and feel brighter. That’s hugely touching and rewarding for me personally and a lovely outcome of our meet ups. What has been amazing for me is that what started as a simple concept and light-hearted has actually gone on to mean a lot to people, and to me. I think that demonstrates the power of books, the power of reading, the power of writing, and the power of bringing people together through books.
There was a really beautiful moment a couple of years ago, when one of my long-standing booksharers, an older gentleman, who always brings fascinating reads, came with a book called Norwegian Wood – not the by Kazuo Ishiguro, but the non-fiction title about literally chopping wood. He finds chopping wood really meditative and wanted to share this with the group (any book goes at Bookshare). A young man was there, on the other side of the room, who had also read the book. What occurred was this amazing connection take shape. You could see this powerful mutual connection happen between them, all through a book. It was an utterly joyous moment where they both loved this book, and they connected. It’s always wonderful to see how a book brings different people together. That for me sums up Bee’s Bookshare – it can bring different people together, and you never know what’s going to come up. That’s the beauty of it.
The impact of COVID-19 on Bee’s Bookshare
When the pandemic hit and we couldn’t meet, I knew people would still be wanting to hear about recommended reads, so I created Bee’s Bookshelf, short videos I shared to my Facebook, Instagram and YouTube of what I was reading, childhood faves etc. What was really lovely is that a lot of people that weren’t part of the physical Bookshare group and my wider network really enjoyed it. With people using lockdown to read more and to cope with what’s happening, or going through their bookshelves and either passing on old reads purchasing new ones (book sales have increased by 7% in the last year), reading has provided a lifeline during these very difficult times. I hope we can build on that in 2021.
Reacting to Covid-19 – Bookshare Bundles in the community
With restrictions stopping all physical Bookshare meet ups and a friend passing on 150 books to me after a house purge (!), in June 2020 I launched Bee’s Book Bundle fundraiser on National Reading Group Day. They couldn’t take the books to a charity shop, so I said, I’ll take them, I’ll find something to do with them. I thought, people will want different things to read right now – they’ll be missing bookshops and the surprise of what reads turn up at Bookshare. How can I do a Bookshare-esque thing and share the love of reading during this time?
I’m connected to the amazing local charity Oasis Domestic Abuse Service and the impact of the pandemic on the risk to victims has been horrifying. With no physical fundraising events able to happen and their charity shop closed, I wanted to put the two things together and raise money to help survivors. The Bee’s Blind Book Bundle initiative was born. People could donate at least £10 to receive a bundle of books that I’d deliver to them via my ‘bookmobile’ (my bike). It was hugely successful. Over two months I passed on 700 books, raised over £1,500, and cycled 70 miles around the Isle of Thanet delivering books. It meant I got to see booksharers, meet new book lovers at a social distance and share the power of reading together. It was so popular I ran a second Book Bundle fundraiser for World Book Day 2021, totalling over £2,500 raised for Oasis.
Bee’s Bookshare is about the love of reading, making books feel accessible and open to everyone and creating a warm, friendly community centred around books. In 2021, I’m looking to restart meet ups outdoors after 21 June and look at how we can support those that may be lonely, by offering a reading service.