Hub for reading in literary heartland

25th July 2003 at 01:00
Through a secluded garden, behind great grey stone walls lies treasure for children and adults in the Scottish Book Trust's new base. Denyse Presley visits

Off Edinburgh's Royal Mile, hidden in Trunk's Close - an address fit for a children's book character - is Sandeman House, the new home of the Scottish Book Trust.

The staff's constant bugbear about their old base in Dundee Street was that, despite the trust receiving a copy of every new children's book published in the UK, the public was unable to consult its giant collection.

Its lack of space for book events also meant that the organisation was unable to act truly as a book trust. However, chief executive Marc Lambert was certain about Sandeman House's potential to fulfil the trust's public role the moment he saw it.

"When I walked in I knew it was the place for us. We will be creating the first reading resource centre that will incorporate all our library resources, a teachers' showroom and a public events space where we can launch books, hold exhibitions, workshops, readings, debates and lectures."

Sandeman House is positioned two minutes from Waverley Station in Edinburgh's literary heartland, close to the Scottish Poetry Library, The List, the publisher Canongate and the Museum of Childhood, which has a collection of 11,000 volumes, and not far from The Writer's Museum, Chapman Magazine and the National Library of Scotland, where any writer's manuscripts that the book trust comes by will be catalogued and housed. The neighbourhood offers tempting fare for school trips and inspiration for creative writing.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre at The Netherbow next door is to undergo a pound;3.24 million redevelopment from September and its director, Donald Smith, and Mr Lambert are talking about collaborating.

Mr Lambert has also been in discussion with the Museum of Childhood about opening up its book collection to the public by incorporating some of it into the Sandeman House library.

Publisher Barrington Stoke, having outgrown its present office, will be moving in too and, with its excellent reluctant list of readers, Mr Lambert is confident it will fit in well.

Finding your way to Sandeman House can be a bit of an adventure. It can be reached by three routes: past John Knox's Museum through Baron Maule's Close, or via Chalmers' Close where the Brass Rubbing Centre is, or through Trunk's Close itself. When you get there, what greets you first is the beautiful garden with a sunken circular lawn - perfect for storytelling - and its own ivy-strewn secret door.

Before Sandeman House, a former mission hall, is properly opened to the public by the trust, a 1960s extension at the building's Hope Court entrance will be demolished and replaced by a glass, disability friendly reception.

Mr Lambert's commitment and energy for the refurbishment project is evident. The main floor is currently strewn with packing boxes overflowing with the 6,000 books that will eventually fill the library on the mezzanine level. He talks about the shelving and furniture, carefully chosen to cater for adults and children.

Much of the building's geography is still being mapped out but he sees Sandeman House as somewhere teachers can gather all the resources they need to support children's reading. The teachers' showroom within the library will be run by Glowworm Books. Teachers will be able to select titles and order or buy them from the shop downstairs. The shelving isn't up yet but the library and showroom will be open by September.

A centre manager is currently working on creating a Scottish centre for the children's book to be called the Book Lair. The idea, supported by authors such as Joan Lingard, Mairi Hedderwick and Cathy MacPhail, is that the lair will be an integral part of the trust's work, showcasing the work of Scottish writers through author events, workshops and exhibitions.

While the trust awaits news about its public entertainment licence application, events planned so far are on a minor scale. During the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Canongate's party will be hosted at Sandeman House and guests will be able to exchange gossip in the garden; and 10 winners of a Scottish Book Trust competition will get to meet novelist Jacqueline Wilson and win sets of her work.

In October, 800 schoolchildren are expected to join author David Almond at the Queen's Hall.

While the Scottish Book Trust's outreach work and website will continue to be important for getting us reading, Mr Lambert wants Sandeman House to be the leading port of call for anyone interested in children's books, parents included.

"This is a major venue for not only Edinburgh but Scotland and will be a hub for the promotion of reading," he says.

To arrange a visit or find out more about the Jacqueline Wilson competition, part of the Scottish Friendly Assurance Words on Wheels outreach programme, contact Katriona Hasler, tel 0131 524 0161 or e-mail

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