An online retailer has launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance what is billed as the first Black-owned bookshop in Brighton.
Afrori Books, which specialises in titles by Black authors, plans to roll out a physical space in the Sussex town at the end of October, and is more than half way towards reaching its £10,000 target. The business is partnering with the Lighthouse charity, which approached company founder Carolynn Bain with the idea last October.
Bain told The Bookseller: "Lighthouse made a decision that they wanted to be active in their anti-racism after the death of George Floyd, and wanted a Black-owned bookshop in Brighton. In October we got this email out of the blue — I laughed when I saw it."
The former events manager launched online retailer Afrori Books in 2020, after growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of diverse books available for her children to read. While they were growing up, Bain imported books from abroad and would often be asked where they were from.
"I just wanted to give a platform to Black authors and essentially create a sort of one-stop shop for people to be able to find them," she told The Bookseller. "I thought I'd start with 100 books [for the website] now we're on over 2,000, with at least 600 more due to go on the website. It blew up very quickly."
Lighthouse, the Brighton-based arts charity, specialises in connecting new developments in art, technology, science and society. "They really have partnered with us all the way through the process, they're very committed to seeing this happen," Bain said.
If the crowdfunder reaches its target, it will be the first independent Black-owned bookshop in Sussex.
However, Bain said she was on the receiving end of some "particularly horrible messages" when local newspapers covered the plans. "I expected it," she said. "I'm a Black woman and I've lived in this country a long time. But the Lighthouse team was so positive — they had so much enthusiasm, I felt like I had found an ally."
An acquaintance of Bain's explained the need for the shop on a Zoom call, after another woman expressed her doubts about the reception it would receive. "She said to the woman 'you don't understand, a bookshop is more than a place to sell books, it's about creating a space where we can just be. There needs to be a safe space in Brighton where we can just go and be and not worry about being served last because [we're] Black'."
Bain has plans to make the shop a community hub, and will run it with assistants, committing to hiring people who are considered "unemployable". She said: "We've made a pledge to recruit people who lack training or skills, we're looking at prison records, people who have been out of work a long time — and we're committed to not paying less than the living wage."
"I want this shop to have a legacy — not for myself, but for the people," she added.
The funds will be used to kit out the shop, provide seating areas, a children’s area and stock books. It will also cover staff costs for the first month. Afrori Books has set up a rewards scheme, featuring an exclusive discount card for those who donate to the crowdfunder, applying to selected books and events in the shop.
The shop will host author events, including talks, book signings and cheese and wine nights. It is also partnering with the Open Mind charity, offering six schools a free training programme on how to use diverse books in education and to equip teachers with the confidence to utilise the books.
Profits will initially go back into the business for the first year and, in the future, a percentage will go to Lighthouse.
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