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sarah henshaw

    Creativity Corner Inspirational People

    the book barge

    March 26, 2012

    I was all prepared to blog about the guardian open weekend at kings place which i attended thanks to the incredibly knowledgeable and resourceful nicola. Don’t worry, i am still going to blog about it later on in the week.

    While at the festival i stumbled upon the book barge. Yes, really, a barge which houses and sells books. Now, some of you know how much i love books and so i was compelled to go in and investigate. I knew immediately what i wanted this post to be about. Meet sarah henshaw, the brainchild of this creative venture.

    In the true nature of slow living, i asked sarah if i could spend some time interviewing her for my blog. Although rather busy with customers, she generously agreed and we spent a lovely afternoon chatting and eating on her barge. Thank you lovely sarah.

    I am intrigued. How did you come up with the idea for a book barge? Before this i was a journalist. The only drawback was i was writing celebrity stories. I’ve always loved books.  As a child i wanted to own my own bookshop and so decided to give it a go. We all know that independent bookshops on the high street are closing down rapidly. I didn’t have much money but felt passionate about doing something my way. The idea of a canal boat seemed economically viable, really romantic and aligned with the principles of the slow movement. I wanted people to be able to browse, take their time and even have a cup of tea if they so wish. I suppose it is what i would like in a retail space. Something different, less pressurised and the opposite of online shopping.

    When did you start the book barge? I opened the doors in june 2009. So it’s coming up to 3 years. This was the first boat i saw and i bought it straight away. It was black, the colour i really wanted. That was back in february 2009. I spent all the rest of my money on boat fittings and decorating it. I had a little money left to buy some new books. The rest were second-hand books generously donated by the public, after i had put an ad in the local paper. I liked the fact that i offer both new and second-hand books that sit next to each other on the shelves. There is something lovely about people choosing the book they like independent of the price.

    Where are you normally stationed? Well i started with permanent mooring in staffordshire. Then last summer i decided it’s time to go further afield and took the barge round the uk in a figure of eight. This summer i will travel to leeds, manchester and oxford.

    Do you sleep on the barge? How do you deal with the winters? In staffordshire i am living in a flat and during the winter i am usually moored there. When in transit i live on the barge and have swapped books for the odd meal and a shower. I am just too happy to barter so when in need of a mechanic i pray that they like books.

    You have a very personal style and i really like all the details of the interior. I’ve always loved decorating. I like collecting things like typewriters and it was fun kitting out the barge as a bookshop but also a place to hang out in. The cushions and little stools serve for people or children to take their time while browsing. It’s fun to have things around me i love and that have sentimental meaning. Except for a shower and toilet i have everything i need.

    I’ve spotted some lovely vouchers. Tell me about them. I decided to try some out for christmas and embarked on hand stiching them. They were really popular so i found myself spending nights catching up with making more and more, as they take forever. People seem to really like them.

    So, what’s next for sarah and the book barge? Having now ventured within the uk, i’ve set my eyes on paris and then further afield within europe. At the moment i’m still getting used to the really long travelling times. To get from birmingham to london took me 10 days at 12 hours each. It is indeed slow travelling. I enjoy it but i would need to work out how to go beyond the uk. I’m thinking of getting some sponsorship and relying on the barter system i’ve got in place. Any ideas out there, please feel free to get in touch.

    How long are you staying in london, how can people find out where you’ll be next? I just spent 2 days at the guardian open weekend and will be in broadway market next saturday. I’m also stopping in angel this week. The best way to stay informed of my whereabouts and generally what’s happening in the book barge is to visit my website. I’m constantly updating it. Alternatively follow on twitter. Oh yes, if anyone wants to sell their books, give me a shout.