In the heart of East London, just a short walk along Hanbury Street, sits a charming independent book shop named, Libreria London. Filled with handmade wooden bookshelves, inspired by the fictional Library of Babel, Libreria London encompasses a reading experience worlds apart from the narrow algorithmic recommendations of Amazon.
Founders, Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton from Second Home, have sprinkled their love for literature throughout the entire store. Choosing to arrange the shelves under headings such as ‘Enchantment for Disenchanted’ and ‘Wanderlust’, to encourage fellow book lovers to encounter a title that they may not have discovered otherwise.
But the magic doesn’t stop there. Each Monday Libreria London closes its doors to run Language Labs for the local migrant community – proving that when we shop small, independent and local it benefits us all #ShoppingSmallHelpsUsAll.
In this article Libreria London talk us through all the work they’re doing to give back to the community:
What were the motivations behind opening an independent book shop?
Libreria is intended to inspire a fresh appreciation for books. For many, including the entrepreneurs and creatives at Second Home, lives have become an endless barrage of digital messaging. Being in front of your screen the whole time, isn’t great for your happiness or creativity.
With a passion for books, we wanted to create a space that celebrates curation, provides an overview of the intellectual landscape and somewhere to immerse yourself in the experience of being in a book store.
What is your business currently doing to give back to the community?
Each week we host Language Labs workshops and classes for the local migrant community. It was originally a small side project by two existing Second Home employees, Gabi Spangenthal who works on new projects and Magdalena Moursy, Second Home’s events producer.
Magdalena says: ‘Gabi and I saw that we could do something with the bookshop given it was closed on Mondays. A benefit to the local community was what we were thinking.’
We partnered with local projects, one of those was ELATT, a fantastic organisation that provides free courses and English classes around London. They now run an English class every Monday morning from Libreria as part of their Tower Hamlet Community Cohesion Project, which seeks to engage migrant men and women in studying English and supports them to get involved in their communities.
The weeks’ dialogues are themed around different topics, such as cooking, routines, traditions and history. The eclectic mix of cultures that make up the group always create rich and enlightening discourses. Monday mornings are kick-started with a closed English class led by an ELATT tutor covering grammar topics with the students for two hours. The afternoons involve practical workshops such as community leadership, confidence building, CV-writing, conversations as well as more fun activities like floristry and leather-making. The class consists of students from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
That sounds really worthwhile and rewarding! What prompted you to start Language Labs?
It’s a painful reality that in inner city areas of London, New York and LA, where the most creative and innovative people pitch up, are often also characterised by the worst levels of social mobility. Tower Hamlets, where our bookshop opened, has long suffered the highest levels of poverty and unemployment in London. Adult literacy has also been among the worst anywhere in the country.
Originally, the shop was closed every Monday to give the Libreria team a break after the busy weekend. But we thought it a waste for such a unique and special place to be kept shut for a whole day every week, so we decided to start opening it up as a community space each Monday instead. The initiative has been going since September 2017.
In the future, we hope to have a Libreria and a Language Labs initiative involved in each of Second Home’s buildings.
How has the response been so far? Do you have any examples of people Language Labs have helped?
One of our students, Tamara, had been a teacher in her native Hungary before coming to the UK. She had been looking for work in the UK for several years. Fatema, meanwhile is a grandmother who lives a stone’s throw away from Libreria. She’s lived in the same area for over 20 years. Just after Christmas in 2018, Tamara started a new role at a housing company working in the accounts team and around the same time Fatema got a job in a school.
Tamara and Fatema have been one of 40 local residents to have participated in Libreria Language Labs. (In fact, Tamara’s break came after a CV workshop with a member of the recruitment firm Druthers who are part of the Second Home community).
Amazing, that’s so nice to hear! Is there anything else that Libreria London is doing to get involved with the local community at present?
Clearing Tower Hamlets' rubbish pollution and helping us make our streets and public spaces cleaner for everyone was very rewarding.
Finally, in line with the campaign, could you please provide a comment on why you think supporting small businesses is so important?
Libreria London is truly a labour of love from everyone who supports it and especially those who run it. It’s easy to buy books for discounted prices online, based on algorithms and advertising. The magic of a bookshop is finding reads you never knew you needed, discovering new books you’ve never heard of, and having a whole wealth of knowledge at your fingertips.
A bookshop should never be an exclusive place for anyone, and we are open to all at Libreria. Knowing that we can make a difference to the local community by helping with literacy is really rewarding, and something we as a small business can dedicate time to. Being an independent bookshop and a small business, also means that we can enrol dedicated volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and expertise to help offer our initiatives to the community.