Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Clare Diaper

Today in our series of interviews with friends we’ve made over the last fifty years, we speak to Clare Diaper, Strategic Team Lead at October Books. We supported October Books to buy an old bank building in 2018. They moved a few hundred yards down the road from their old rented premises, and the story of the community helping them hit the headlines, globally!•

October Books first got involved with ICOF in 2017 when we were looking to buy the old NatWest Bank building on Portswood Road in Southampton.

We came, we moved, we settled in for a year, and then the pandemic hit. It’s amazing how responsive and reactive and helpful ICOF have been. A big part of the new shop was the community space, where we wanted to put on events and bring people together. Activities in the space had been thriving and then the pandemic put us back to square one. I remember that feeling of being a few days into the pandemic and just thinking ‘what can we do?’. Everything felt so uncertain and we didn’t know how the organisation was going to survive.  ICOF got in touch asking, ‘How can we help? Do you want a capital holiday?’ It was an incredible feeling of being supported and looked after at a time of turmoil, which was just wonderful.

 Having that capital holiday meant an awful lot to us because, as the pandemic progressed,  different aspects of the business were hit in different ways. We were able to offer online grocery shopping and delivery by bike during the lock downs but the community space was closed for much of the pandemic and income and usage has taken a long time to recover. The funding, the communication and the sensitivity around what our needs might be really helped us come through it, as did links and connections that we’ve made through ICOF. Through ICOF we were put in touch with the Co-op Foundation who lent us money to help return the community space to pre-pandemic use and we were also signposted us to some grant funding to pay for staff time. We really felt connected to, and part of, a wider network. That support helped us get back on track a lot more quickly, and – it’s all interlinked – because of the ICOF loan, we own our building, so we’re not having to pay rent or worry about rent increases anymore.

Another thing ICOF did more recently – because of the cost of living and interest rate rises – was to maintain our monthly repayments, rather than increasing them. We know this pushes our loan repayment date further into the future, but it means we know where we are, and we’re not facing increasing charges at a time when we’re seeing slightly decreasing sales, because of the cost of living crisis.

We have had so many great activities happening in the Community space in the last year.  We’ve had refugee women learning about health and wellbeing through CLEAR (City Life Education and Action for Refugees) who ran a series of eight workshops. We had some lovely feedback, saying how much the women appreciated and felt special coming to a space outside of their immediate community, and being looked after. Last winter, we had a meeting place, providing space for people to come together for teas and coffees, board games and biscuits, in a warm space, a project we ran in collaboration with Mary’s Church and Communicare. The Veg-Out café that runs every Monday is hugely popular – there’s music and a pay as you feel café using food waste from a local veg box scheme – that was probably the most asked after activity in the space when we were able to re-open, it’s great that that’s back and thriving.

Our regular events programme is definitely growing again. We have a weekly yoga class and the Quakers have been meeting here on a weekly basis. There’s a board games drop in session, regular mediation and we’ve just started an open mic night, which has gone amazingly well. There’s a writing group, a reading group – it’s brilliant so see so much happening, and to see this space that we had such high hopes for being used.

We wouldn’t be in this building without ICOF. Our community wouldn’t have a space in Portswood in Southampton to come together and share in these uncertain times. So a huge – huge –  thank you to ICOF and a very Happy Birthday.

*See the story of October Books Human Chain here in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the UK Guardian