‘It’s wonderful’: Man recovering from mental breakdown by reading books sets up free libraries

A man recovering from a mental breakdown has set up three free libraries after finding “relief” in the joys of reading.

Michael Peacock, 65, who lives near Lewisham railway station in Blackheath, set up three free libraries in Lewisham after he experienced a mental breakdown in January this year.

Mr Peacock described his breakdown as a “mental car crash”.

He said: “For nearly two months what had happened consumed every waking moment of my life.”

Then in April, he picked up a tatty copy of The City Boy by Herman Wouke, from the Telephone Box Free Library at Loampit Hill, Lewisham

Mr Peacock said reading became a “wonderful diversion” after his mental breakdown  (Picture: Michael Peacock)

The micro library opened in November 2013, housed in one of London’s iconic red phone boxes.

Mr Peacock said: “Reading became a wonderful diversion. It’s so beneficial for my well-being and mental health.”

He began to regularly visit the phone box, picking up three to five books a week, and one day decided to tidy up the shelves.

He said: “Once it was rearranged it left just two shelves of books. I took a photo and posted it on several local Facebook community groups asking for book donations.

“Within 48 hours the shelves were full.”

From left, Mr Peacock with Emmaus volunteers William and Clare and Lewisham Station Manager Richard Lloyd (Picture: Michael Peacock)

Soon after, Mr Peacock received a donation of 75 large boxes of books from the charity Feed The Hill, in Telegraph Hill.

He said: “I love a challenge. I visited Lewisham Community Space in the shopping centre and they offered me a free library space.

“Creating the library was a great mental health tonic – it motivated me to restart my social life.”

Getting back on his feet, Mr Peacock said he started getting out more and would regularly pass through Lewisham station.

He said: “I was surprised they didn’t have a free library there so I submitted written plans to South East Trains. I never expected to get the green light straight away.”

Mr Peacock has set up five different book libraries across Lewisham for the community (Picture: Michael Peacock)

After sharing the good news on his Facebook groups, the Emmaus charity in Greenwich offered him two full bookcases with books. 

With the charity’s donations and help, Mr Peacock set up another library at a different location in Lewisham station.

Mr Peacock said: “I hear people saying no one reads books anymore – people in Lewisham do. The turnover is off the scale – I can empty the equivalent of three large shopping trolleys a week.

“I’m now up to about 60 groups on Facebook covering South-east London. Meeting new people all the time is wonderful – I’ve built up a network.”

Lewisham residents Olivia and Ramon trying out the new piano (Picture: Michael Peacock)

But Mr Peacock’s community work goes beyond his book collections. While spending time at Lewisham station he noticed the station’s piano was out of tune and badly damaged.

He said: “I reached out on my Facebook groups and on December 6 we had a beautiful replacement piano donated.

“Now I get the pleasure to listen to the community playing.”

Mr Peacock collects regular book donations himself, with the help of his old push bike.

He said: “My bike doesn’t have gears so I can only collect so much, sometimes single donations include thousands of books.”

He has now set up a JustGiving page to raise money to help with the accumulating costs of transport.

He said: “I never thought I would be setting up libraries, but I know from my own experience the value of books is brilliant.”

To donate to Mr Peacock’s work visit: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/lewishamcommunitylibrariescommunitypianos?utm_term=7XG6WYqxD

Pictured top: Michael Peacock says he empties three large trollies of books a week across his five libraries (Picture: Michael Peacock)

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