How Epsom Book Fair became one of England’s biggest charity book sales
- Credit: Archant
While eBooks may have taken the world by storm, the huge success of Epsom’s annual book fair proves there’s still life in the traditional page-turner yet. Viv Micklefield lifts the cover on what has become one of England’s biggest charity book sales
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2015
A rare first edition, a novel that’s been out of print for decades, or a children’s classic; you never know what’s waiting to be discovered at Epsom’s much-anticipated annual book fair.
Now one of the nation’s biggest charity book sales, with literally thousands of works on sale over the course of three days, it’s no surprise that it has become a magnet for both the casual reader and the serious collector alike.
Having started back in 2002 as part of a £2.5 million fund-raising project to improve facilities at the community’s Methodist Church, the fair is once again expected to attract book-lovers from near and far when it takes place later this month.
“What’s happened is that we’ve stumbled upon something that really works,” says Jacqui Raggett, one of the organisers of the book fair.
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“People who love books hate the idea of throwing any away, and happily donate them in the knowledge that they’re going to good causes. The people who help to run the event enjoy doing it because it’s so interesting, as you never know what you’re going to come across. And people love coming along to buy.
“Our typical customer takes away a carrier bag full of second-hand books for their holiday reading for the year, but we also get many people, including dealers, looking for something more quirky.”
Among the most notable discoveries, Jacqui recalls, was a rare Samuel Johnson dictionary, whilst an account by Sir Edmund Hillary about his ascent on Mount Everest was also quickly snapped-up. However, the most valuable book of all was a first edition of Roald Dahl’s collection of short stories, Kiss Kiss, which also hid a very special secret.
“When we looked at it, it seemed quite tatty and stained,” says Jacqui. “However, inside was a handwritten dedication by the author to Geoffrey Fisher, his former headmaster at Repton School, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was in the form of a short story about a school trip and a photo of the teacher was also stuck inside the book. It was a wonderful find and we sold it back to Repton for £500.”
From coffee table photography books to heritage craft guides and sci-fi novels, there are literally tens of thousands of books offered for sale each year, so no surprise then that it takes a military-style operation. With local Scouts and Guides helping the publicity effort, a frenzy of activity in the final days leading up to the event sees box-loads of books being sorted and then sold over the three days by an army of almost 200 volunteers.
Having paid-off the church’s renovation costs three years ago, the book fair’s ongoing success means that a number of charities look set to benefit from this month’s event. Action for Children, which speaks out for vulnerable young people, has received a share of the proceeds from the beginning, and other good causes due to be supported in 2015 include Epsom Food Bank and Action for Malawi. Should any books be left once the doors close, these will either be sent for recycling, or will be sold to an internet book dealer.
Since achieving a modest but nevertheless significant £2,000 following the inaugural fair, an incredible £28,500 was raised in 2014. And in the knowledge that they’re on to a winning formula organisers continue to aim high.
“We’d love to crack £30,000 this year; that would be wonderful,” says Jacqui.
Need to know
What: Epsom Book Fair
Where: Epsom Methodist Church, Ashley Road, Epsom KT18 5AQ
When: Thursday February 19 to Saturday February 21, 10am to 8pm (Saturday until 4pm)
Tickets: Adults 50p, children and students free; preview evening on Wednesday February 18, £10
Make a donation: Take your second-hand books (also DVDs, CDs and vinyl) along to the church from Wednesday February 11 to Sunday February 15, any time between 9am and 8pm
For more information: Call 01372 728535 or visit the website at epsommethodistchurch.org.uk
Surrey for book lovers