A Lambeth resident has been named as one of the ‘Top 100 Changemakers of 2020’ for opening libraries in homeless services.
Priyanka Mogul, 26, was included in Big Issue’s list of people campaigning against poverty and homelessness by making literature accessible through the Book Refuge initiative.
Launched in July 2019, the project has opened more than 30 libraries across London, many of them in Lambeth.
Ms Mogul said: “I’ve met so many homeless people who spoke of wanting a distraction while on the streets, but because books aren’t seen as something important, they’re difficult to access.
“Reading has been proven to reduce stress and increase mental stimulation so starting Book Refuge felt like a no-brainer.”
Ms Mogul said a challenge the project faces is community shelters becoming ‘more and more diminished’ across the country and not having the capacity to store books on their premises.
She stressed there needs to be a push from the private sector or the government to provide spaces where books can be accessed and shelters should have more funding to hire people and run projects.
She added the burden should not be placed on shelters and services because they are already doing so much.
Book Refuge works with charities, companies and booksellers to get books into services.
Cox and Budge online bookseller Geoff Cox got involved with the campaign after seeing a call for books online and thinking the campaign was a brilliant idea as booksellers often have too many books.
He said: “”When someone holds a book, they’ve got potential in their hands, they’ll either hate it and throw it across the room or love it and it changes their life.
“Books can be important to absolutely anyone and if I can help make them accessible to those who haven’t got access to them then I’m absolutely delighted.”
He added the hostels who have received his books have been thrilled.
A spokesperson for Hesita, an organisation supporting people in times of crisis, said: “The books had barely touched the shelves before being picked up and thumbed through by our service users who have given great feedback.
“We hope our existing library at Freston Road will continue to grow and other libraries will begin to pop up across the service inspiring more young people with the power of the written word.”
Ms Mogul said: “I think there is a big problem with judging people who are homeless as people who cannot have an interest in things just because they are homeless.
“I think there is a bit of privilege in saying they don’t care about reading, possibly because it’s coming from a person who has access to all kinds of entertainment.
This project is just about access, it’s not about trying to get someone to be a bookworm, it’s about giving them the chance to escape from the situation they are in. If they don’t like books that’s completely fine but it’s about the choice.”
She added Book Refuge gets lots of requests for books in different languages and it is something the charity is pushing next year, alongside expanding the solo-project to a core team of volunteers.
For more information about Book Refuge, please contact [email protected].