Friday, December 18, 2015


Ten years ago a man  and his friend were sitting in an attic looking at a few boxes of old books. At that time, charity shops like Oxfam had to pay the council to come and take away unwanted/unsold second hand books as waste. One of the men, Lawrie Hayworth pondered the possibility of  somehow getting all those books picked up and sold to raise money for various good causes. The person he was talking to was Neil, my dinner companion on their 10th anniversary dinner - a bit of a computer genius who had a little think about it and between the two of them , a rather neat idea began to take shape.

Lawrie and his friend set up a charity that collects books from  a selection of charity shops all over Scotland and the North of  England and sells them online and then distributes the funds raised to all kinds of good causes. In this year, to celebrate their ten annivesary they invited four motly crime writers down to their HQ in the borders, and we had a whale of a time.

Here are my books online, second hand and ready to raise money. 80% of their books sell for a penny and they are allowed to charge £2.80 postage - that is where the 'profit ' comes from. every year over £400 000 pounds  goes on postage.
Initially the charity relied on grants to keep going but then Tom Murdoch-Kenny, seen here with Lin Anderson, took over. He got on board a year or so ago and recognised that it needed to stand on its  own two feet and work within an  ethical, but profitable business framework. To do this he needed to increase the supply chain, sign up all the charity shops, get it all standardised. So now, instead of it being rather informal,  a volunteer drives the books for example from Stranraer up to Ayr, Thurso get theirs down to Dingwall for pick up where they are picked  up by the 'Book Van' three times a week.
The books can be used or brand new, as long as they are sellable.
The charity pays for them by weight.

Me, a knife and a birthday cake.... what could possibly go wrong???

 Strutting our stuff in Hi Vis.

My friend Alanna Knight with a welcome piece of shortbread and a nice hot cup of tea.

Alex Grey doing her impersonation of the blonde one from Abba.

 The new modern premises just outside Galashields houses 32 staff and works for the benefit of local people charities and the environment and 100% of the sales are used to fulfill its triple social mission. Book donors is a living wage employer in a region where jobs are maybe a wee bit thin on the ground and bookdonors continues to supply work and training for both young and old and those with disabilities who might have difficulty integrating into a conventional workplace.

Brian is one of the drivers, he's from Glasgow and we got him to point it out his home city on the map,..... just in case you did not know. Th routes are now regular, picking up from north, west and south ( with a bit of north of England thrown in)

There are three depots but Brian and I thought the one in Glasgow was the best...

Here is the head of operations, it was a bitter cold day in the borders, teeming with rain,. So under our Hi Vis, we kept out coats on and drank the tea.

The brave among us climbed the stairs to look down  over the giant warehouse. A local farmer is the landlord  and gives the charity a very good rate.
They track the cost of the book,  the resale value of the book and how fast it is selling- and how long they expect it to stay on their shelves. 

Down below a co worker moves silently between the huge book cases with a lamp on his head. The books come in and are scanned then stored by date order of their arrival. When you visit Amazon to purchase a book, Bookdonors will be one of the second hand suppliers offered to you and this is where the books  come from. Using a link to Wordery through Amazon, you can also buy new books and the charity gets 5% of the cost.

In 2015 Bookdonors ventured into as well as and the States have responded very well, over 100 000 sales in the few months they have been operating there.
1.4 million pound turnover is heading up to 1.8 million pounds by March next year.
Soon Ebay and E commerce are getting the Bookdonor treatment.

Row upon now upon row of metal shelving.

The shelves hold 450000 books, 600 000 max. More than 50% will be sold by the end of their shelve life'.

Outside we found the books going for recycle as  they were too damaged or unsellable - the only one we saw ( and there were many copies of it ) was a free giveaway chick lit novella.

This is the books as they come in,packaged in 850 kilos by weight I think. So the charity shop packs them up and the friendly van arrives three times a week and transports them down to the borders. 600 000 thousand books come in per month,
And the back of the vans are rather neat and fabulous.... they have six vans that cover the three regions.

Here it is all summed up....
And on the side of the van....

Deep inside the warehouse, the bookshelves are strengthened by these baskets- that are also full of books so that their weight lends more  reinforcement.

As the books are stored by date of arrival, it leads to some amusing shelf fellows- here the Wrinklies Guide To Wit is right next to the Holy Bible.

Hard at work on the warehouse floor, opening up the arrivals as they come off the van.

and more and more books, boxed up to be opened up, processed and  placed on the shelves.
A co worker sorting out the barcodes. Because it was an important day, she was very well dressed in a pretty blouse but normally it was woolly trousers and big jumpers all the way. It was cold....very cold.

A wee poster, just to show where the money actually goes.

They had arranged for us, some charity representatives,  the founders, some co workers to have a lovely meal in a local visitors centre.

The visitors centre belongs to this place - the ancestral home of a very famous Scottish writer..... can you guess who?

Abbotsford House

My diner companions - Neil the computer genius with the beard and Lawrie the founder with Lin Anderson. The young chappie on the left and I talked about huskies and staffies for the entire meal - he too, was a computer genius. This was the Thursday after Black Friday and he told me that the Monday had been their busiest day ever - something like 2400 books over that Sat /Sun. I think that was what he said, but although I was making notes my hands were so cold the writing is totally illegible! ( No change there!)

My place name.

And my van....

Quoted from the local paper 'all this is achieved by reusing and recycling unwanted books that otherwise would have gone to landfill by purchasing surplus books from charity shops across Scotland and North East England. The achievements of book donors have not gone unnoticed and the Nat West social enterprise 215 100 index which tracks and recognises the performance of social enterprises rated Bookdonors as number 8 in UK retail.' (The Southern Reporter)

I am proud to be sold, and resold, and maybe even resold again.... by Bookdonors.

As I said, it was very cold and I was listening, scribbling and trying to keep quiet (not easy for me!) so if I got my facts wrong I'm sure Tom will correct me in the comments!

Caro Ramsay  18 12 2015


  1. So, do they no have any sun in those parts ever? It sounds like it was cold, it does. Great charity work!

  2. What a terrific idea, Caro. More power to them. If I'm looking for a second-hand book on Amazon in future, and I spot a Bookdonors listing, I shall make a point of buying from them.

  3. I have spotted one, on abebooks, and ordered it, and they say they don't have it, though they still list 3 copies available on Amazon and abebooks.