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A very short history of bookbinding at Rawlins College

The start

Our tutor and resident bookbinder, Nick Wells, started the bookbinding class in Rawlins 41 years ago. He was a tutor in the Printing Department at Leicester College and also ran another evening class at Leicester College as well as being an accomplished bookbinder.

Organisation of the class

Before 2015, bookbinding was part of Rawlins Adult Education programme, funded through central government. That meant fees were set at a standard rate for all classes (such as Cake-making, Keep-fit, French, Guitar-making, Computing, English literature,  etc etc etc).

Rawlins was a Community College incorporating adult education to serve the local community in its remit, as well as its main business of providing secondary school education. This was evident from the fact that they ran a full programme of adult education, had a head of adult education and admin staff to support it.

The currently longest serving members joined at more or less around the same time, around 2007/2008. At that time there were many long-standing members, many accomplished bookbinders, either bringing skills to the class or developing skills in the class under Nick’s tutelage.


The class had some basic equipment stored in cupboards in the surrounding corridors, plus a smallish cabinet in a class-room for type, plus a free-standing blocker (which we still have), plus the big nipping press. The store-cupboards contained smaller items and materials.

Despite us being bona fide members of an Adult Education programme, we sometimes felt we were there under sufferance as far as the daytime college staff were concerned. The presence of our larger equipment in the Art Department classrooms always seemed to be resented by teachers using the space – and who can blame them. Free standing, it was also at risk from college student pranks and also a potential hazard for college students. It was hardly satisfactory.

As the years progressed we acquired more large equipment that had to stand freely – the large multi-drawer type cabinet and an additional blocker. The College was generally supportive and provided us with storage space, including the heavy blocker trolleys that we now use.


Space pressures from the college forced us out of the cupboards we were using and we were supplied with 2 free-standing metal wardrobe-sized cabinets (that we still use) on the landing. These didn’t provide sufficient space and so we were given a 3rd cabinet (that we still use).


Even with the 3 cupboards we didn’t have enough space for the equipment and materials we had collected. Putting stuff away at the end of meetings became a major challenge of spatial organisation, followed by lightning speed and brute force to shut the doors before everything fell out again onto the floor. Materials often had to be left on top of cupboards where they were at risk of damage.


Central government ceased funding Adult Education during Cameron’s premiership. That meant we had to find a way of running things ourselves. Rawlins were encouraging because, despite receiving no central government funding, they still felt they had a role to serve the wider community and it would be helpful if some groups could find a way to continue. It meant tutors taking over running things or groups setting up their own operations. We followed the second of these options because the Tutor didn't want the hassle and the risk of running things himself. Not all classes found a way to continue in this way, but Rawlins seemed grateful to those who made an effort. They offered us an affordable rent and also still supported us by meeting other needs we had.

So our self-managed bookbinding group was formed, retaining Nick as the ‘talent’. Our ‘treasurer’ took the initiative to negotiate with Rawlins. Others of us did things that we thought would help the process work – and so it continues.

Since this change in organisation we have done reasonably well in attracting new members and keeping the fees affordable. It has enabled us to acquire new materials and equipment and maintain the old equipment.


From time to time we heard mutterings that we were to be relocated to other space in the College so we could remove some of the clutter in the Art Department that we inevitably produced. This came to fruition just before the covid pandemic.


And so we are where we are now. With the store room they have allotted to us we are better supported than we have ever been. There are no large items of kit to get in the way of the teachers and students in the College, no items left out that could so easily be damaged. Indeed, we are now able to lay out equipment in a location where we are able to use much of it without having to tidy things away into cupboards where they don’t fit..

Our materials can now be stored more satisfactorily which means it is easier to locate materials and less likely to damage them. It is also quicker to store equipment and materials at the end of meetings.

There is considerable benefit to this new arrangement and keeping it tidy. Not only is the space, the equipment and the materials  more useable, tidiness may also send a positive message to Rawlins that we are using the space constructively and responsibly.