Week 2 - Bag Books
It was an early start for me this week, leaving home at 5.30am to catch a train into London. I was heading for Bag Books, a south London based charity to create sensory learning aids for children with severe and profound learning disabilities.
I arrived to a very warm welcome and within 10 minutes, I was put to work!
I was handed some knitting yarn along with some beads and I was asked to start making some equal length seeds for a book called "The Little Seed". A cup of tea was swiftly passed my way and I got chatting to one of the full-time members of staff at Bag Books, Magda. Magda has worked at Bag Books for over 10 years and her main role is as senior crafts artist. She spends her time making the amazing sensory books that go out to schools, libraries and parents across the country.
On first impressions, Bag Books is a very small and intimate workshop with sky-high shelving housing all the materials needed to make the range of 24 titles they currently have. It's interesting; the name Bag Books may lend itself to something a little more traditional; a book. But in fact, what they produce are multi-sensory storyboards that come together to tell a story, much like a book does. These 'books' need to be as interactive and tactile as possible because many of the readers are severely and profoundly disabled.
What instantly hit me was the level of passion, creativity and care present in each and every staff member and volunteer. I met two long-time volunteers here on Monday who have both been with Bag Books for well over a year. They count towards an amazing 12.5million volunteers across the country, who give their time selflessly to help out charities. Especially the small ones who need all the help they can get. My first day flew by and I was pretty tired by the end of it. With an early start and lots of craft-based activities, I was very much looking forward to getting tucked up in bed ready to start a new day.
Tuesday saw me doing much of the same interesting work - more craft-based activities helping to contribute as much as possible towards the Bag Books range. Bag Books sell their books as a product but heavily subsidise the cost of them to ensure they are accessible to as many people as possible. Some titles cost as little as £30 to buy but actually cost a lot more to make. For instance "Little Seed" costs £65 but takes at least 8-9 hours for Magda to make, and there are a lot of materials involved.
One of the staff member at Bag Books, Sophie got herself into a bit of a pickle. She was creating a new story, the pirates birthday and wanted some help working out the logistics of a new board. So I happily used my creative flare to come up with a solution. You can watch a funny little video of me below doing a "Blue Peter" moment with the board.
After helping Sophie I sat down with Dean, the Chief Exec of Bag Books to help him with their Google Non Profit grant. Dean had previously applied for the grant and been accepted for the $10,000 a month ad words budget but stumbled at the hurdle of successfully setting up and running an ad words campaign. It can be a minefield for many small businesses and charities that don't always have access to knowledge and expertise in this area. I sat with Dean and talked him through how to set up and run a successful campaign online. Re-targeting ads and adding specific keywords to help get maximum exposure. Dean also explained to me that Bag Books was incredibly lucky to have been awarded a 3-year lottery grant 2 years ago, which runs out at the end of this year.
It's a grant that can have a significant impact in smaller charities but also comes with its own burden. Unfortunately, there is always that worry when the grant runs out. Such a huge injection of cash can have an amazing influence but if not sustained can also cause its own headache. It's things like this that make it imperative for Bag Books and other small charities to find other and more sustainable fundraising methods and the support of the general public is integral to that. Having exposure to help generate a fundraising stream that can be reliable is hard but so important. So I'm doing my bit by highlighting this to you all, my followers.
The rest of the week I got on with more craftwork, helping as much as I could with getting pages of the books started or finished. My manly side came out when we used power tools and machinery to cut metal and wood for some of the more complex books. I felt a real sense of masculinity and satisfaction from that task!I was also told about an incredibly valuable part of bag books; their story telling mentors. They have a team of people across the country that take the books and use their pizazz to bring them to life in special schools and libraries across the country.
A point of interest for me this week has been how the general public acts towards people with learning disabilities. After spending two weeks with two different charities that cater for similar conditions, it has become very apparent that some of the biggest issues that parents, carers and people with learning disabilities face is prejudice. A child with learning disabilities if not diagnosed or even looked upon with compassion can be seen as naughty and unruly. People
Can be quick to make judgements on things that they don't know much about and, it's those negative judgements that can have huge effects on the self-esteem of those individuals and their families.
What both Resources for Autism and Bag Books do is nothing short of inspirational. Working and helping both with and towards children and adults with learning disabilities is an incredibly tough but amazingly rewarding job. I am leaving my second week feeling so uplifted and inspired.
Next week I am with Martin's House, a children's hospice in Leeds.