April 19, 2024

Earlsfield - with Rebecca James, co-founder of London Feminist Book Club

Rebecca James is the co-founder and managing director of London Feminist Book Club, a book club which currently operates in North and South London, and in workplaces across London, to bring people together through a shared love of reading. Rebecca is also a senior project manager in the criminal justice team at the National Literacy Trust.

1. Where do you rest your head? 

Great first question! I currently live in Earlsfield, having moved there about three months ago from Brixton. So I literally rest my head in Earlsfield. But, metaphorically, I rest my head when I’m by the seaside. I grew up in Falmouth (Cornwall) and find that I am most rested when I am by the water - that could be the sea, a swimming pool, lake, river etc.

When I lived in Brixton, I was renting on Electric Avenue where everyday I’d wake up to the sound of people setting up the markets. Less restful, but incredible energy to wake up to. 

2. What’s something amazing about your area that only the locals know about?

As a newbie to Earlsfield, something I am loving is my morning cycle commute through Wandsworth Common. The puppies are elite, and it genuinely puts a smile on my face - whatever the weather.

I lived in Brixton for just over four years, and - I have to say - the fry-ups at San Marino are the perfect hangover cure on the weekends (although days being hungover are much more infrequent now that I'm almost 30). The team are so lovely and welcoming, and I feel like you see all walks of life there - it’s the perfect Saturday / Sunday morning hang out spot with your pals.

My other recommendation, which I feel like people don’t talk enough about, is the beautiful walled garden in Brockwell Park. It is so quiet, peaceful and relaxing there - a perfect spot to enjoy the sunshine, read a book and look at the beautiful flowers. I’d definitely recommend taking a look if you haven’t been there before.

3. Where’s your favourite free place to visit in the city?  

The Barbican, a spot where I can spend hours and hours. While there are activities there which cost money (the cinema, the cafe, the shop etc), just spending an hour or so walking around the estate is 10/10 (and free!). I love the brutalist architecture, I love potentially stumbling across a photoshoot for who knows what, I love the free exhibitions, I love the peaceful and calming feeling of people just enjoying their own company, and I also love hearing the ambient sound of a music class taking place in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

4. Where’s your favourite local spot for a cheap bite to eat?

Mezze Me in Brixton, which serves the best Lebanese food - I used to regularly get the chicken shawarma wrap on a Friday lunchtime as a treat to end the week. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can make it a meal deal!

To sell this place even more, it’s not only great for a quick lunchtime wrap… it’s the perfect spot for an evening meal as well. Serving the best Lebanese food, I’ve taken lots of family members and friends there - and they have always walked away with their stomachs full and a smile from ear to ear.

5. What would your perfect no-spend London day involve?

Spending no money at all in London is not an easy task - hence why websites / newsletters like Cheapskate are so important. But if tube travel doesn’t count as spending money (essential travel), then my favourite way to spend a day in London is to ride the DLR with my best friends at sunset (sometimes with a tinnie in hand - sorry Transport for London, I know we shouldn’t admit to doing that). 

We used to do this a lot during the Covid lockdown, when you were allowed out, but barely anything was open. We’d get a tinny from Sainsburys and ride the DLR to Greenwich, and from there we would walk up to the top of Greenwich Park and enjoy the views of the city. It’s the most simple thing to do, but with the right company it used to make for the best day out. 

For an option where no money is spent whatsoever, then a summer’s day in Brockwell Park is gorgeous. I firmly believe it is one of the best parks in London; perfect for people-watching if you are by yourself, or excellent for group activities if you are with a bunch of pals. Throw in some kind of park game (rounders or bat and ball) and you’re in for a pretty good day!

6. How would you describe London Feminist Book Club - and what are you hoping to achieve with it?

London Feminist Book Club started originally as South London Feminist Book Club (which now sits under LFBC) which was a passion project during Covid. I helped the start of Cardiff Feminist Book Club and then not long after moved from Wales to London. I was in London for about nine months before I realised that the feeling of being lost and lonely in a city (at times, not all the time) was the same in London as it was in Cardiff - although this was amplified because of the pandemic, a time where we were feeling pretty anxious and unsure of what was really happening. 

Anyway, it started as an online platform for people to meet on a monthly basis to escape the talk of Covid and instead chat about a book, meet other people who like the same books as them, and generally just have an hour of escapism. 

I always wanted the book club to be led by its members, so when the lockdown restrictions started easing, I posed a question to the group: what do you want to do, do you want the book club to remain online? Or, do you want to meet in person? About 97% voted in favour of meeting in person - and then we were off!

From that moment on, it has just grown and grown. Now, South London sits under London, with North London gaining more members by the month, and more on the way (hello West London, we cannot wait to meet you all!). We’ve held a weekend feminist festival, we’ve worked with the world's leading publishers, and we’ve met the most incredible authors. But most importantly, we've created a community of genuine love and friendship. 

7. What am I hoping to achieve with the book club?

First and foremost it’s a safe space for people to come together to discuss books - there’s no judgement, no discrimination, no racism, no ageism - none of the nasty stuff. What it is is a group where you can make a new friend by the evening, you can say your open and honest feelings about the book choice of the month (voted by our members), or you can meet the newest and most celebrated author and get to know all of their hints and tips!

Moving forward, I want to work with more workplaces in London. Unfortunately, we all (well, the majority of us) have to work to pay our bills. Why not make work fun? I want to bring the book club into businesses in London - in a sustainable way, as we are still a small team. 

I want to use the book club platform to support more charities. For the past three years, we’ve been supporting Beyond the Streets - a charity which works tirelessly to support women who wish to safely exit selling sex. We proudly support them, champion and promote their work - and we’d definitely recommend going on their Whitechapel Walking Tour

Finally, yes I want more events in swish publishing offices, and I want more book clubs across the country - who wouldn’t want that!?

8. Where is your favourite place to read a book in London?

Brockwell Lido in the summer is without a doubt my favourite place to read a book. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post (and if you are still reading, bravo!), I’m from Cornwall and I love the water. So sitting by that sweet, sweet lido, reading a book and hearing people have the time of their lives in the summer’s sun makes me beyond happy.

That, or in the fields behind Hampstead Heath’s women’s ponds - those ponds are magical, and if you haven’t been yet, you must. Go there, and then read this (it's a collection of creative writing by women who share the same love of the wild swimming).

My final book to read by the water recommendation is this: The Tidal Year by Freya Bromley. I recently lost one of my best friends, so reading this book on grief, wild swimming and sisterhood has been just what I have needed. 

9. Are there any other organisations supporting women in London which you’d like to give a shout out to?

Most definitely! 

The book club’s charity partner of the year, Beyond the Streets, is doing incredible work to support women who wish to safely exit selling sex. 

Women Who Walk do incredible things - they are based in St Albans, but that's close enough to London to include! 

The Candid Book Club is very inspirational to me, again doing incredible things! I am in awe of their events, and all of the co-founders are incredibly smart women. 

And then a major shout out to all of the refuge workers who work with women who are escaping abusive relationships. Organisations like Women’s Aid, Solace, Imkaan, Southall Black Sisters (I could literally go on and on) are so important, and to see them continually struggle with funds makes me so angry. 

10. If you were mayor for the day, what would you change about the city?

The list of people who I’d want to support would mean I’d need to be the mayor for the week, not just a day. But the city is in a terrible state - we need to support those young men who feel the need to carry a knife to keep themselves safe, we need to help the homeless, we need to find proper housing for refugees (not temporary rooms in hotels/inadequate homes that they'll inevitably be moved on from in a month's time). We need to properly fund refuge shelters to properly support those women and children who have had to leave their households to flee abusive relationships. We need more support for children’s workers and we need more mental health services - especially to support those who are coming to London from countries which are going through war.

This is so hard for me to answer in one succinct response - but I truly hope that when the time comes when I am a mother, my children are living in a city which isn’t in such a diabolical state. 

11. In three words, what makes someone a Londoner?

Ha! Excellent first question and an excellent final question. Well I’d have the say that the three words I’d pick to describe a Londoner, are:

Street-smart, fast-paced-tube-walker, takes-no-bullshit.

You can find Rebecca on social media @rebeccajames_21, and the London Feminist Book Club social media @thefeministbookclubcic, @northldnfembookclub and @southldnfembookclub or visit the London Feminist Book Club website.

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