Invest in Hackney spoke to the Mayor’s Business Award Winner Joanna de Guia from Victoria Park Books about the business and the contribution they make to the cultural life of the borough.
We began by asking who they are:
"We are a specialist children's bookshop situated in our community in Hackney. We supply our local customers, run author events for adults and children and supply schools. We also devise and set up literary festivals and events in outside venues and provide a consultancy service. We mostly operate out of the shop but are happy to travel. We have done events in Oxford, Rotherham and all over London.
What inspired you to start the business and how did it evolve and keep going through the early days?
"We were both working for other organisations and working very hard but when we had our daughter we wanted to do something in which it would be appropriate to involve her. I grew up in a family bookshop and so when the building became available we sold our family home in Mile End and bought the falling-down building with the shop in Victoria Park, did it up from top to bottom and opened in Dec 2005. We wanted a children's bookshop because, being part of the local community and having a child of our own we were aware of the fact that many Hackney children did not have access to lots of books at home. The local library in Victoria Park was closed and we felt that we could bring books and reading to local kids through the shop and also through going into schools. We thought we could make reading and books sound exciting by introducing authors to their audience. In the early days we kept it going through sheer determination. This hasn't changed!"
What do you do that’s really special?
"We have a very personal touch. We know our customers very well and watch them grow and their tastes develop. Our daughter reads everything and so do I and between us we can recommend the perfect book for every child that comes in. We know our area too and make it our business to hunt out unusual and independent titles that might reflect a different more urban existence for our clientele."
What makes someone a perfect candidate to work in your business?
"First and foremost a love of reading! Also a love of dogs because our family dog, Harvey, helps with meeting and greeting customers that come in. An eye for illustration helps and a certainty of taste, so each person who works and has worked here has developed their own especial taste for different styles of books so they can recommend different things. They need to be strong as books are not light objects and happy to muck in and do unglamourous things like dusting alongside the more obviously fun things like hosting author events and book launches."
Why did you decide to locate here in Hackney and what is it that keeps you here?
"I have lived in the East End on and off since 1988 but mostly in Tower Hamlets. We liked our house in Mile End which we bought in the 90's but always found ourselves in Victoria Park for walks and pubs and eating out so when the building on Victoria Park Road came up for sale 9 years ago we jumped at it. We love our local community; we know everyone I think. We love the diversity and, being a diverse family ourselves, feel we fit in without too much fuss. We love the local schools; they are wonderful and offer our child so many advantages and enrichment opportunities. And the proximity to central London is amazing, just one bus ride away from everywhere. And the green spaces; there are so many of them. But mostly it's the people. We have a tremendous circle of local friends with whom we share an outlook."
What do you do as a company that contributes to the wider social, economic and cultural life of Hackney?
"We have partnered with lots of local Hackney institutions like the Rio and the Library Service and the Learning Trust to produce events for local kids, like Tales From Page to Screen during the last February half term which involved a showing of a free movie at the Rio followed by a related author event at Dalston Library; or StarLit, a children's literary festival in Shoreditch with the Shoreditch Trust; or the Carnegie Shadowing scheme with the Learning Trust every June involving 14 local secondary schools, or Pop-Up Hackney, another children's literary festival all over Hackney in primary schools, or the Hackney Literary Map; or Town Hall Tales, the latest children's literary festival in partnership with 6 local schools. And there is so much more we do on a daily basis to bring a love of reading and books to the children of the borough. Economically we employ Hackney people to help us and we have helped to draw the eyes of the publishing world east."
What advice do you wish someone had given you before you started your business?
"It takes a lot longer than 2 years to establish a retail business. And whatever you think you need to borrow to start it off, double it, because it becomes much more difficult to borrow money later on. And as a micro-business in a multinational world it is a very tough world out there."
Please let us know how people should get in touch or find your business….
"People can get in touch in lots of ways; via Twitter (@VictoriaParkBks), Facebook, email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (020 8986 1124) or they can hop on the 277, 388 or 425 bus and walk here to 174 Victoria Park Road, E9 7HD."