The Stratford store that saves books from the scrapheap

Adrian Super, Daniel Kovacs and John Drummond at the book exchange in Stratford

Adrian Super, Daniel Kovacs and John Drummond at the book exchange in Stratford - Credit: Archant

A neglected wing of a shopping centre may not be the obvious setting for a reading revolution.

Inside the book exchange in Stratford

Inside the book exchange in Stratford - Credit: Archant

But the plot thickens when you take a turn down Stratford Centre’s South Mall, and discover opposite the brightly discounted goods of Sports Direct a different kind of custom.

“It’s like a home from home,” enthuses Zohra Harrak, a regular patron of Books for Free, where customers can take and donate books without exchanging money.

Like hundreds of others, the Stratford High Street resident has embraced the concept of the store, along with the sharing philsophy this relies on.

“I’ve been coming here since it opened, for nearly three years,” said the mum-of-one.

“I love the fact that you can pick up books. You can keep and read them yourself, and pass them on once you’re finished. It brings together people that are friends of books and are conscious of their importance.”

Run entirely by volunteers and one of twenty in the country set up by charity Healthy Planet, the store resembles a cosy library, with beanbags and sofas, and sections covering everything from children’s books to gardening guides and sci-fi.

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“I love the whole thing of rescuing books from going to landfill and leaving them to people instead,” explained John Drummond, 69, one of around twelve volunteers who help sort the 900 books donated every week.

With patrons allowed to take up to three every time and no expectation that one is given in return, it’s no surprise that around 2,500 are flying off the shelves each week.

But the shortfall is made up by substantial donations from Healthy Planet, a charity which rescues books thrown out by closing-down libraries and schools that might otherwise end up as pulped rather than pulp fiction.

In this parallel world where money has no meaning, what sells like hot cakes, or Harry Potters?

“Every time we get a copy of 50 Shades of Grey we have a bet on how quickly it will go - it usually goes within an hour or two,” laughs John.

Shortly after this, a stream of customers enter, and the book title is immediately recognisable among a gabble of otherwise incomprehensible Spanish.

But it’s not only the temperature-raising best-sellers that line the shelves.

“It’s delightful when someone comes in when they don’t think they’re going to find something and they do – it gives you a bit of a buzz.”

You can find the store at 15 South Mall (opposite Sports Direct), Stratford Centre.

Opening times:

Tuesday-Thursday: 10am-4pm (first Thursday of every month until 7pm)

Friday: 10.30am-2.30pm

Saturday: 12-3pm

Go to and to find out more

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