A former homeless man is battling to save the Brixton book stand he built with his own hands.
Book Stop Brixton’s founder Boyd Hill, 48, who works 12 hours a day at the stand, has to raise £2,000 to pay for the urgent waterproofing and repairs it needs to stay open.
Mr Hill, a part-time art teacher, set up Book Stop in 2014 in a discarded community space next to a bus stop. Despite being homeless himself at the time, he wanted to find a home for books that the community could enjoy.
“I was seeing all these books just being dumped outside houses – £20 books being left for the bin men. I couldn’t let them go to waste.
“I picked them up and brought them here and the project grew from there,” he said.
Living in a Clapham squat, Mr Hill would bring trolleys of books back to the Book Stop which he handed out for free to visitors, gaining admirers and regulars as the store grew.
He now receives book donations from friends, community members and relatives of deceased people whose books would otherwise end up in landfills.
“I don’t just take any old books. They have to have a self-help side to them – I want to support people to improve their own lives,” said Mr Hill.
“I won’t stock celebrity stuff or trashy novels, I have a few main categories: cookery; health and fitness; art; children and classics. I also have school text books and dictionaries that are useful for the kids.”
Book Stop is round the corner from Brixton’s Moorlands Estate, where low levels of well-being and resilience among residents were recorded in a 2012 report.
The assessment conducted by Social Life, a Young Foundation social enterprise, showed financial pressures and fears of gang violence were damaging quality of life in the area. The study concluded that interventions boosting positive social networks were needed to help residents feel more empowered and less isolated.
Kelly Rebekah ben Maimon, 53, former chair of Moorlands Estate Residents’ Association said: “By providing thousands of books to the central Brixton community that would otherwise not have free access to reading material, Boyd has contributed in a beautiful way to improving the lot of those who are less fortunate.”
“His selfless efforts continue to inspire a generation by encouraging locals to believe in themselves and aspire to achieve anything they can for the greater good.”
Another Moorland Road resident, Noel Vella, 49, has been a loyal Book Stop customer for over year – overcoming educational barriers to nurture new passions through books.
“I suffer from dyslexia but became fascinated with the Air Force after looking at pictures in the books Boyd gave me. I learned about Mosquito bombers used in war, so now I go to museums and collect and build model aeroplanes,” said Mr Vella.
“I love, love, love Book Stop Brixton and am so grateful this service is on our doorstep.”
As the Book Stop’s popularity grew, the storage space became so overwhelmed by piles of donations that Mr Hill had to expand. Since he couldn’t afford to hire a professional, he built the outdoor shelves himself.
“I’m no carpenter – I just grabbed a hammer and some scrap plans of wood and thought of Blue Peter,” he said.
Because his DIY skills were limited, he wasn’t able to fully waterproof the units, so now he has to run outside and bring the books indoors whenever it rains.
“That’s why I need help.”
Mr Hill set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to repair the current site, but he also hopes to develop the project beyond Lambeth.
“Councils have so many empty spaces like this one that are just being left to rot. If all of them were filled with free books we could really make a difference to people across London,” he said.
Ms ben Maimon said Mr Hill deserved to be placed on the New Year Honours List for his service to the community and his dedication to helping people.