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LoveReading Book Club Feature #12: Chessington Book Club

Charlotte Walker

By Charlotte Walker on 8th August 2019

Chessington Book Club has a great sense of community spirit and rather than paying a membership fee, the fee is spent on food, to be donated to local food banks. What a great idea! We also love their way of choosing books, very democratic. We’re hooked, and wish we lived closer so we could join!

When did your Book Club launch?

October 2018

How did that come about?

I recently moved to a new area, and didn’t feel there was a very strong sense of community locally. I couldn’t find any groups relevant to my interests, so I took to social media.

Within 24 hours of my social media post on a local page, there were hundreds of comments from people who also felt they’d like a way to be more strongly involved in the community and build connections. The Chessington Book Club was set up and we began with around 140 sign-ups. A local pub offered us space on a regular basis, and when I floated the suggestion that as we’d found a free venue we could all donate items of food to our local food bank in lieu of membership fees, everybody loved the idea they could give back whilst also meeting people with a common interest. 

Now we have around 120 members – many of whom drop in and out when they have the time, and run 3 books concurrently each with its own meet up (with an average of 6 - 10 people turning up to each meet up). We’ve also donated over 300 items to our local food bank in the last 10 months and will be hosting our first community social (a local picnic) at the end of the Summer. 

Photo: First foodbank donations. 

Talk to me about how it’s developed over the years.

I’ve loved seeing how people take different things from the Book Club. We have parents who want to take back a bit of “me time” and grown-up conversation. We have had mothers and daughters, husband and wives, and best friends come along together – but the majority have been people who come along alone and looking a little nervous. They soon feel welcome and join in the conversation though. Some people have come a few times as a way to meet people and taken those friendships away to spend time together. Some people come to every meetup, some come every couple of months when commitments allow. A lot of our members had fallen out of the habit of reading and were a bit anxious about coming to a Book Club, but are now keen bookworms again!

Describe your book club in three words.

Inclusive, casual, neighbourly. 

How do you choose your books?

We all have the chance to suggest books we would like to read, and 9 titles are selected which represent a variety of genres and themes. An online vote is set up, and the top 3 titles are chosen.

How often do you meet?

We have 3 meetings spaced throughout a month, then take a month off to read the next round of books.

Where do you meet? 

The William Bourne Pub in Chessington. It always has a nice table for us and a great choice of nibbles!

What is the format of your meetings?

Some of us arrive earlier and grab a quick plate of food straight from work. We’ll spend around half an hour chatting and socialising as others arrive. The conversation naturally turns to the book and we usually spend around an hour discussing how we found it, or any ideas we found particularly interesting. Sometimes we can spend a good 2 hours dissecting a plot and themes, and occasionally none of us really found the book very engaging so we spend 2 hours having a good chat instead. We always have a good evening!

What are you reading right now?

The book club is currently reading Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover, The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett, and Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. I’m also currently reading Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman – it’s been a favourite film of mine since I was a kid, and I love the way it deals with female relationships, I thought it was time I read the book!

Do you have a favourite format of book (ebook, hardback, paperback, audio)?

For me, it has to be a tatty second hand paperback. If it has somebody else’s notes scribbled in it, even better. Maybe hold the suspicious stains though!

What were your top 5 books of 2018? 

Normal PeopleSally Rooney

The Girl With All The GiftsMR Carey

PachinkoMin Jin Lee

The Heart’s Invisible Furies John Boyne

The Poisonwood BibleBarbara Kingsolver

What are your favourite books of 2019 so far?

The CorsetLaura Purcell

Where The Crawdads SingDelia Owens

The VegetarianKang Han

All The Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr

Do you collectively have a favourite author?

Not at all. If anything, we try to avoid reading several books by the same author as we all agreed that we wanted to discover new material through the Book Club.

Do you collectively have a favourite genre?

I don’t think we’ve ever read two books from the same genre! We’ve read Victoriana, Literary Fiction, Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Biographies, and settings ranging from WW2 to parallel universes.

Has there been a particular highlight of your time together?

For me, the highlights are always seeing people support each other. We are still getting to know each other, but already people have had opportunities to promote their skills, garner sponsorship, find help with challenging personal situations, and just know there is a group that meets fairly regularly where they are always welcome to just be themselves, with no expectations of fulfilling a certain role. 

If you were to give anyone out there some advice on setting up a book club what would it be?

Be fluid but firm. When you’re organising large groups of people, you can’t please everybody, and you need to lay some ground rules and stick to them. But also, be welcoming – most people are really nervous to come along to a new group, so reach out and make sure they know where to find you, who to look for, and make a fairly central space for them at the table when they arrive. 

Photo: Chessington Book Club's first-ever group meeting. 

You can visit Chessington Book Club here. 

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