24 February 2012
Following the recent six hour debate in the House of Commons on the Future of our Town Centres and High Streets and Mary Portas’ findings that too many shops were closing and high streets are struggling to the detriment of their communities, as well as survey findings by the Booksellers Association that independent booksellers are struggling not only with competition from online retailers, but also poor parking strategies, high business rates and high rents, we are writing as an independent bookseller to add our voice to the recommendations that have been put forward to councils.
1) Have parking strategies that positively encourage visitors to come to town centres
2) Introduce a reduced business rate for cultural entities like bookshops
3) A team approach should be formed to look at what needs to be done locally
4) Review the number of charity shops that operate in your community
5) Use empty shops to promote arts activities and artisan crafts
6) Give incentives to encourage retail start-ups in your community
7) Keep the red tape down to an absolute minimum
In the last six years, the number of bookshops in the Booksellers Association has fallen by 19% though closures; the figure for independent booksellers is an even more distressing 26%. Bookshops, in addition to promoting literacy and culture, also build community character, contribute to the distinct flavour of a neighbourhood and help create local economies.
In the face of deep cuts, we have heard a lot about the value of libraries, but there is also an argument for the cultural influence of booksellers.
To provide some examples, we would like to share with you our experience within the Bermondsey/London SE1 community. Woolfson & Tay bookshop, café and gallery opened in September 2010. Since then, we have hosted more than 68 events (author readings, book launches, public talks, open mic poetry readings, performances and our signature quarterly true storytelling event, Life Stories Cafe) and exhibition launches.
We also partner with other organisations to develop events and community initiatives; e.g. our annual Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) events with Jewish Book Week and Holocaust Education Trust, Refugee Week event with Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers and LGBT History Month event with the Southwark LGBT Network. W&T operates not only as a business but as a creative and cultural community hub reflective of and responsive to the area.
We have formed strong links with various local groups, including Southwark Arts Forum, Southwark Council, Blackfriars Settlement, Southwark Libraries, Southwark LGBT Network and Southwark Circle Elders.
We have collaborated on a range of community-based projects; e.g. a subsidised writer’s workshop for elders, a free workshop for 16+ with US author Lois Walden, a 16-week project with local youth organisation Kids Company and English PEN, and a 5-week intergenerational project with young poets and local elders for Southwark Silvers Festival. We also offer Southwark Libraries members discount on books to promote reading and library membership, and host a monthly advice surgery for the public with local councillors.
The cultural contribution and impact that a bookshop can have on the local community is substantial.
Shivaun Woolfson & Frances Tay, Woolfson & Tay, 12 Bermondsey Square.
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