I’m Iris Jordan and my passion is books. I’ve volunteered at Emmaus Colchester for three years and I help organise the book donations. I retired a few years ago, but I previously spent my whole working life in book shops.
I started off at Shippey’s, a family-run book shop on Colchester Head Street, when I was just 18. After a couple of years, I was offered a job at the book shop at the University of Essex, where I spent 33 happy years, as a bookseller and deputy and acting manager.
Shortly after I retired, I was buying a coffee table in the Emmaus Home Shop, and noticed a poster looking for volunteers. I had a chat with the shop manager and asked if they needed anyone to help them with the donated books. She was so enthusiastic when I offered to help, it took me aback! The books were literally piled from the floor to the ceiling, and just before I’d gone into the shop, she’d been trying to work out what to do with them. I went in the following week and started to get everything sorted.
I always begin by organising everything alphabetically. It can be a challenge to sort through such a large quantity of books, but I’ve been doing it for over 40 years and I get into a system quite quickly. I know if I’m going into a charity book shop I want to find everything in alphabetical order, it stops people having to look around endlessly.
On a regular basis I volunteer once a week and keep the books tidy, filling up the shelves with new donations and putting the stray ones back where they should be. At the moment, we’re creating a new book area at the New Life Shop and Café on Crouch Street. It’s a lovely big space, with well organised sections, sofas to sit on and a café if you fancy a coffee. We have a really good selection of books for sale including some older vintage books with decorative covers, to children’s books, biographies, historical books and much more.
Part of what Emmaus is about is solidarity and we want to reach out and encourage the community to come in and enjoy our books. And we’d also like to welcome any community and book groups that are looking for a comfortable space to share their enjoyment of the written word.
You’d think that fiction would be the best-selling category, but at Emmaus we find non-fiction is very popular. I think people are looking for unusual books that have gone out of print and I find history, the classics and poetry all continue to do well. We always get lots of donations, especially cookery books that have perhaps been bought as presents and have hardly been used. We’re also always looking for donations, and we make use of everything. Even the books that are too worn to sell are recycled and sold for pulp.
I’ve always been interested in books and literature, so volunteering at Emmaus has allowed me to carry on that passion. I’m able to make use of my knowledge to help a good cause and at the same time share my love of books.