There is a bookstore in the heart of Fairfield. Yes, it sells books like all bookshops. But this little store is attempting to do so much more than turn a profit.
Founded on big dreams and good will, LOST IN BOOKS sells children’s books from around the world. Vietnamese. Arabic. English. There are books in almost every language.
But it’s not your average bookstore for kids. A brainchild of Think+DO Tank Foundation Director, Jane Stratton, it is a place where parents and their children from different cultures can connect over a love of books and stories in their own language.
“It is difficult to feel a sense of pride in your culture if you lose that ability to speak your home language,” explains Yvonne Lam, Manager of LOST IN BOOKS.
“A loss of your mother tongue, also means the loss of your ability to speak to your parents and your grandparents in particular. Conversation becomes limited and we end up relating to people in superficial ways. The language barrier can lead to tricky relationships at home.”
The bookshop offers a café, a safe space for women, a creative learning centre, and a language exchange hub where people from different cultures interested in learning each other’s language can do so.
“For instance, women who speak Arabic at home, but would like the opportunity to speak English, can come to this space and meet women with an interest in learning Arabic, who may predominantly speak English at home,” says Yvonne.
“We would like to not only introduce people to English, but to other languages as well. The language exchange hub exposes children to stories from other cultures and languages as well as stories in their home language.”
The founders also wanted to create a soft entry point for women to access services they need — to be able to seek help in a way that is accessible. While LOST IN BOOKS is not a community service organisation, they hope to provide help to women from a culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in many different ways.
This is a bookshop that hopes to build a thriving, harmonious community in one of the most diverse suburbs in Sydney. More than 50 per cent of Fairfield residents are born overseas. Many are from non-English speaking countries. More than 130 different nationalities are represented in this place with more than 60 different languages spoken.
Not only is it diverse, the cultural makeup of Fairfield has constantly changed throughout the past half century. They say the mainly southern European immigration in the the 50s and 60s made way to people from Indo-China, Latin American and Arabic speaking countries in the 70s and 80s. More recently there has been another wave of people from Syria and Iraq settling in the community.
“We seek to provide opportunities for people to know and learn from each other. It’s not about forcing groups of people together and expecting everyone to be friends. We just want to offer a space that is engaging and comfortable to encourage social connectedness,” Yvonne highlights.
“Much of the space in Fairfield is male dominated. Within a hundred metres of this place, there are cafes full of men. You hardly see women in them. With so few public spaces for women to socialise, they can feel immense levels of isolation — especially if they are trapped in their own language bubble.
“For me, the store provides people opportunities to decide for themselves how to navigate their own path. Whether they want to be an artist, a volunteer, or engage with our books, we are there to provide a space for them to explore those paths. Some may find the skills for employment in the future.
“One of our regular customers, started engaging with our weekly textile workshops. We saw her talents and skills and provided her with casual employment. She comes here week after week because she feels like this space is for her.
“We’ve put these opportunities in front of her and she’s taken them up and ran with it. For me, LOST IN BOOKS is about customers like her.”
A social enterprise, all profits made through the store are ploughed back into the project. It was crowdfunded last year. 208 people chipped in a total of $38,770 and the bookshop was able to open its doors last July.
If you need books to read to your children in your home language, or are interested in stories from other cultures, check out their online store shop.lostinbooks.com.au. Your purchase will help build a welcoming community that provides opportunities to those who call Fairfield home.