Interview and words by Leanne Dempsey (founder of Wonderful Women).
Our Wonderful Woman feature focuses on women in the local area who are social champions, helping bring people together, especially women. For our first feature, I interviewed Lucy Sunderland, founder of Preston Book Group, to discuss how and why she set up the group, how she champions inclusivity, and the literary events she has been organising for Preston…
Preston Book Group is a community of book lovers both on and offline, Lucy explains to me. The group has a Facebook community, as well as monthly meetings to talk about books and life. “I started the book group in January 2018”, says Lucy. “Originally we met in Town House, but as the group expanded, we needed a bigger space. We now meet every month, usually on the last Tuesday (subject to events), in UCLan’s Harrington Social Space (Victoria Street).”
I asked what prompted the creation of a new book group, given that there are some clubs in the area. “I couldn’t find a book group that was easy to get to. As a non-driver, I found other existing opportunities required long walks at night which I wasn’t comfortable with. I just wanted to create a group which felt open and aimed to reduce people’s fears of attending alone, because I have anxiety myself and I know what that’s like.”
Inclusivity is a key feature of Preston Book Group. Each month, members suggest books for their next group read. Lucy then places these in a poll and members vote for their favourite. Book choices have included both fiction and non-fiction. Past reads have included Flatshare, This is Going to Hurt, and Fingersmith. You can join and not even read the book; members talk about favourite reads, recommendations, and life in general. The meetings are free; they have even begun a small library of books to share, should members find it difficult to obtain a current read. Some members bring cake, and there is tea available for a small donation. Lucy is clearly committed to make the Group as welcoming as possible.
“It’s not just about books, or having to read this particular book every month”, she explains. “It’s about connecting people, who happen to be interested in books. People who want to be part of something. When I returned home from university, local friends had moved away. I wanted to join something but anxiety made it difficult. Even as an introvert with anxiety, I realised that by setting it up myself, I could create the welcoming atmosphere that eased my fears of the unknown, and likewise helped others.” Before now, Lucy has even met new members and accompanied them to the group, so they are not walking in alone, should that bother them.
So how do you start a group like this? “It began on Facebook.” She started the group and invited a few friends she knew, to gauge interest. It only took a few invited friends and colleagues to the first meeting. Lucy advises anyone interested in starting a group to make the most of snowballing – where you find someone interested in attending who might bring others, or share online a positive post to their networks. She also emphasises the importance of understanding your market. “All ages are members of Preston Book Group, but different ages have found us via different means”. The group grew from word of mouth, but mostly from Facebook, a useful group platform. As a result, the group has outgrown its first meeting place, and now hosts local literary events. Interviews with local authors as well as literary events at Waterstones Preston have been well attended, and are set to continue.
What is the group planning next? “The next book group meeting is on 24th September and we’re reading The Secret Barrister for this one, ” says Lucy. “For events, we have an audience with author A J Hartley on 29th October.” We can’t wait.