In this series, carried out in collaboration with the Melbourne City of Literature Office, we get to know some of the bookstores in the UNESCO Cities of Literature network. Meet the community social enterprise Crediton Community Bookshop in Exeter, UK.
âThe Crediton Community Bookshop in Devon, UK, is no ordinary bookstore,â says the literary city of Exeter. âNot only does it sell books like any traditional bookstore, but it also has activities and projects that serve the local community. These include events for children and young people, training courses, working with remote communities and inspiring projects with blackboards. ‘
It’s a place for the community, by the community. “The city bookstore has closed so a group of locals were investigating the possibility of keeping a bookstore in town by making it jointly owned,” said Dee Lalljee, bookstore CEO. “Crediton Bookshop became jointly owned in 2013 when more than 300 shareholders came together to create a social enterprise, run an independent bookstore in the city, and develop pioneering programs to promote literacy, the common good, and access to cultural offerings. “
Originally the store was in a smaller room on the outskirts of Crediton, England, a market town near the city of Exeter with around 7,000 residents making up the 20% of the most deprived neighborhoods in the country for education, skills and training, but the City is blessed with a large number of independent dealers and a resilient community spirit, âexplains Lalljee.
In 2016, after raising the necessary funds, the business moved to a new, much larger location in the center of the city. The increased space allows for a wide range of activities, workshops, authoring events, and public relations to take place both in the bookstore and elsewhere in the community. In 2018, explains Lalljee, they then secured the funding to renovate an empty building behind the bookstore into a creative industries work center, community and event space.
âWe have around 4,500 titles, ranging from new releases to local interest and an eclectic mix that we hope will surprise and delight our customers,â says Lalljee.
The bookstore Community value cannot be overstated. In addition to the books on offer, customers point out that the Crediton Community Bookshop makes a major contribution to the social and economic life of the city. They particularly highlight the store’s school liaison work. “To celebrate World Book Day in March, the team visits around 30 local schools to hold free live reading workshops for over 2,000 children,” says one customer. “Just google East Worlington Primary School for an example of a very small rural school that no other bookstore would ever reach!”
“Your commitment to helping children love literature keeps me away from the Amazon buy button, and my nephew’s visit isn’t over until we buy him something new and exciting to read,” says another. ‘I just love this wonderful community shop in the heart of our small town.’
The store itself isn’t just designed for people to come in, buy a book, and then leave. The furniture and presentation units are designed so that they can be remodeled to create spaces for events and activities for up to 50 people. There are rooms furnished to linger, including a children’s area with a sofa. This is Lalljee’s favorite part of the shop: “It’s comfortable, cozy and invites you to linger and browse in peace.”
For the past eight years, the store has also run the school program mentioned above, providing writer visits to schools in Crediton, Exeter, and across Devon. In 2017 this work received a Prince of Wales Award. The program is run by volunteers, mostly retired teachers, with the aim of promoting reading for pleasure. “We place great emphasis on the importance of children’s literacy and recognize the value of reading for enjoyment for both academic success and emotional well-being,” says Lalljee. “Many children, especially in our poorer areas, have very few books and teachers tell us that meeting an author in person and taking a copy with them is often what inspires a child to read.” In response, the store organized a sponsorship to fund books that the children attending the events could take home with them.
The store is constantly looking for new ways to help and collaborate with the community. In addition to the events and school work, there are high school students who volunteer as readers in the local dementia-friendly memory cafÃ©, explains Lalljee. More recently: “In collaboration with the city’s welfare team, we’re running a friendship with books project to help people who are suffering from loneliness due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic.”
There is no slowdown anytime soon. “As a nonprofit indie bookstore, our mission is to create an environment for enterprising, resilient, and creative communities, inspired by books and stories, so that we can thrive on interacting with our community.”
Keywords: City of Illuminated Bookstores