Book Refuge is bringing mini-libraries to London homeless shelters

The grassroots project gives people living on the streets access to books to offer escape and a way to connect to society

Recently we have been shouting about the power of books and literacy to make a difference to those in poverty – and Book Refuge exemplifies that.

The grassroots project, which kicked off in 2015 before re-launching under the new name in July this year, has a simple purpose – to set up libraries in homeless shelters.

Reading can be so powerful in that it is something that you can do by yourself but can also connect you to society in a bigger way

Book fanatic founder Priyanka Mogul has spent the last few months working with a modest group of volunteers collecting unwanted books and redistributing them to shelters across London.

“The project was inspired by a young homeless man who I met in West London,” the 26-year-old told The Big Issue. “I used to walk by him every single day and every time he would be reading a book on the side of the road. I started talking to him – as a big book enthusiast myself – about the books he was reading and he put across the idea that he was very surprised that more people who were homeless don’t read books. For him it was a distraction from the anxieties that he was facing. That made a lot of sense to me because even when I’m having a particularly bad day, reading books was just an escape from those negative thoughts.”

Now that Book Refuge is creating mini-libraries in shelters around the English capital, the next step is to create book clubs that boost engagement from shelter clients.

DID YOU KNOW…

There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

According to Priyanka: “We can’t just leave the books there and hope that people engage with them, especially when many of our clients might not have picked up a book in a very long time.”

Big Issue founder John Bird has been supportive of this step through his Chapter Catcher title while the One Festival of Homeless Arts will also be collecting books at their events this month to bolster Book Refuge’s offerings.

The project also ties in nicely with both Libraries Week and World Homeless Day, which both take place this week.

“Reading can be so powerful in that it is something that you can do by yourself but can also connect you to society in a bigger way,” said Priyanka. “You can choose to reflect on what you’ve read by yourself but that means you have something to talk about with someone else. That exchange of ideas after you’ve read a book is something that is really powerful.

“That’s what we want to give to people experiencing homeless because what we don’t want it to be is just another charity handout. We’re hoping access to books and literature will give people a chance to be entertained, to keep their minds stimulated and a chance to participate in a social activity but also allowing them to escape when they feel they need to escape.”

Image: Joshua Brown