When the owner of Crediton’s bookshop retired in 2012, the townspeople knew they had to keep it open. Over 500 residents in Crediton, a small market town in Devon, came together to retain a bookshop on their high street. Following a series of community meetings, it was identified that the key things local people wanted from their bookshop were events and activities, literary programmes, and support for the high street. With this in mind, a group of people banded together to form a social enterprise. These initial aims have been the overarching focus of the bookshop ever since.
A rebranded bookshop going from strength to strength
It became clear early on that there were needs within the community the bookshop could fill, but the size and location of the rented premises held it back. Securing a Power to Change grant in 2016 enabled the group to purchase larger premises on the high street, increasing its social outreach, improving business, and keeping the organisation sustainable. The shop hosts book groups, reading sessions with local schools, English conversation classes for those learning English as a second language – the list goes on and on.
“Anything that was book- or reading-related, we gave it a go,” said Daniella Lalljee, bookshop manager. Every World Book Day, the shop reaches around 3,000 children with books and stories. It has also undergone an exciting rebrand from Crediton Community Bookshop to The Bookery.
As well as selling a wide variety of books, the community bookshop runs events with local poets and authors, has a strong programme with schools to improve literacy and aspiration among local children, and exhibits work by local artists and research by local people. The Power to Change grant of £152,000 enabled them to move to a bigger, more central location on the high street and expand their services to include more author events, holiday book-clubs, storytelling, reading and writing groups, quizzes and book fairs. Their aspiration is to become a community hub, with space for local people to host their own events and freelancers to work from. This will improve social cohesion, improve community pride and foster empowerment through educational and literacy support.
The Bookery has over 300 shareholders, who, along with the wider community, inform the development of the shop by submitting ideas. These are raised with their monthly committee and help inform the direction of the business. At their AGM, shareholders are invited to scrutinise the accounts and elect board members.
They also have over 30 volunteers who contribute ideas and deliver projects they are passionate about, as well as serving on our Committee, helping at the shop, running our schools outreach services, staffing events with other organisations, marketing and development, and unpacking 180 crates of books as part of the move.
“Power to Change’s recognition of our work, especially the outreach we provide each year to some 3,000 school children and the many opportunities we offer to volunteers of all ages, is a wonderful vote of confidence, said Daniella. “We’ve been conscious for many months that the shop was too small. This grant provides us with the opportunity to expand both our bookshop and event programme, and to develop the enterprise as a community hub offering a broader range of services, and partnering with other enterprises to enrich the town and the lives of local families.
“Thanks are due to individuals and organisations for backing our enterprise in so many ways. Team-working and community support are essential ingredients in achievement of such a successful outcome. That we thrive at a time when so many bookshops have closed their shutters is entirely due to the support we’ve received from the local community. We see it as our mission to serve and support that community in every way we can.”
Coping with Covid-19
Not considered an essential business, the bookshop had to shut its doors when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. It recommissioned volunteers to help with other services throughout the town – such as delivering essential retail supplies – and developed an impressive new website. During lockdown, the bookshop stayed in contact with schools and was involved in some virtual events – the biggest with Floella Benjamin and Macmillan Publishing.
The bookshop is an inclusive organisation, and one of the positives to come out of the pandemic was that it discovered different ways to reach new audiences, especially people who may not think of themselves as booklovers.
“Some of the most heartfelt moments are when we work with reluctant readers and see them develop a real love of books.” said Daniella. “They’ll often become so excited, they’ll bring their parents into the shop too.”
Future of the bookshop
The bookshop has renovated a vacant building behind the new premises, turning it into a coworking space for hosting meetings and workshops. One day, it aims to connect this space to the bookshop itself and create a place to host events for more vulnerable community members, such as carers and those they care for.
After 2021’s lockdowns, the team has resumed its work with local schools and organisations. Before the pandemic, the bookshop was developing a wellbeing project, placing volunteers with people in care homes who couldn’t read but loved stories. It continued doing this by phone during lockdown and met anyone who felt comfortable outside when possible.
The author Anne Cleeves, one of the bookshop’s patrons, has been pioneering reading for wellbeing in the North East of England – a programme it is also looking to onboard. The team wants to formalise its outreach work to include mental wellbeing and show people (particularly children) the positive impact reading can have on their lives.