A former stand-up comic has launched a crowdfunding project for a community bookshop in the medieval village of Bletchingly.
Copywriter Sophie Johnson decided to open the store after moving to Surrey from London and missing the bookshops. The 33-year-old also grew fascinated with the impact of community on loneliness, after working on social media for TV shows such as “Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds”. The former bookseller now plans to open the Hello Bookshop in Bletchingley High Street next month to become a “hub” for readers and writers, offering access to books for the whole community.
“I don’t want people in rural villages thinking they can’t get involved because they’re not in London, or Manchester or wherever,” she said. “The next big novelist could be the lone bloke typing in the corner of the pub. Rural villages make up so much of the UK. They’re the tiny hearts of the country, dotted around unnoticed. I want them to thrive.”
As a community interest company, all profits of the shop in the listed building, boasting period beams, will be invested back into the community of the medieval village itself. The store will start off with secondhand books before moving into new titles. Johnson is also keen to have a busy events programme in the two-storey building which spans 594 sq ft.
“I’m really keen to try intergenerational events, inspired by 'Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds',” she told The Bookseller. “I’ll be putting out the call for older readers to volunteer to do storytime for the kids. I’ll be starting up interest groups to use the event room. Dungeons & Dragons, Scrabble, Book Club, Young Adult Book Club, story writing Workshops for kids, Pomodoro writing sessions, and more.”
The former Elephant and Castle resident believes independent bookshops are vital "to show readers new writers that aren't the same ones they see in the top 10 across supermarkets, tv book groups and the big bookshops. Without indies, these books just wouldn't get published".
The £4,880 crowdfunding goal will help kit out the store itself. “It will buy bookshelves, stock, shop fittings, insurance, internet, Point of Sale, marketing and everything," she said. "We’ll be submitting bids for funding further down the line, and of course expect to make some money selling books, but right now the crowdfunder is all we have.”
Johnson, formerly a stand-up comic, also revealed that the stock selection would start off as “experimental” while she gauged the appetites of the customers and that the store will not have a separate children’s selection, instead having younger books on all the bottom shelves throughout the store.
Currently the crowdfunder has raised a quarter of the desired total, £1,262, with the campaign running until 23rd January. Rewards include a personal limerick created by Johnson, sponsorship of children’s story time, the opportunity to curate the community bookshelf, or writing masterclasses. Johnson plans to volunteer at the shop with her copywriting, as well as writing her own books which are published by Octopus imprint Summmersdale. She will also be taking on volunteers who would like to learn about bookselling or running creative events.
The Hello Bookshop will open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am, closing at 6pm Tuesday and Wednesday, at 5pm on Friday and 8pm on Thursday.
For more information, visit: crowdfunder.co.uk/hellobletchingley.