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Melbourne City of Lit meets Exeter’s Crediton Community Bookshop

In this series, run in partnership 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-owned social enterprise Crediton Community Bookshop in Exeter, UK.

‘Crediton Community Bookshop in Devon, UK is no ordinary bookshop,’ says the Exeter City of Literature. ‘Not only does it sell books as any traditional bookshop, it provides activities and projects serving their local community. This includes events for children and young people, training, work with isolated communities and inspiring projects with food banks.’

It’s a place for the community, by the community. ‘The bookshop in the town was closing so a group of local people explored whether it was possible to keep a bookshop in the town by bringing it into community ownership,’ explains Dee Lalljee, the bookshop’s CEO. ‘Crediton Bookshop became community-owned in 2013 when more than 300 shareholders came together to create a social enterprise to maintain an independent bookshop in the town and to pioneer programmes supporting literacy, community wellbeing and access to cultural opportunities.’

Originally the shop was located in a smaller space at the edge of Crediton, England, ‘a market town close to the city of Exeter’ with a population of around 7000. ‘According to the UK Government’s 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation, Crediton is one of the 20% most deprived neighbourhoods in the country for education, skills and training but the town is blessed with a variety of independent traders and a resilient community spirit,’ explains Lalljee.

In 2016, after raising the necessary funds, the store moved to a new, much larger location in the centre of town. The increased space allows for a broad range of activities, workshops, author events and outreach work, held both at the bookstore and in other locations around the community. Then in 2018, Lalljee explains, they secured funding to renovate a vacant building behind the bookshop into a creative industries work-hub, community and event space.

‘We stock about 4500 titles ranging from new publications to local interest and an eclectic mix which we hope will surprise and delight our customers,’ says Lalljee.  

The bookshop’s value in the community can’t be overstated. In addition to the books it has on offer, customers point to how the Crediton Community Bookshop contributes greatly to the social and economic life of the town. In particular they spotlight the store’s schools liaison work, ‘To celebrate World Book Day this March, the team is visiting some 30 local schools to run free, live reading workshops to over 2000 children,’ one customer says. ‘Just google “East Worlington Primary School” to see an example of a very small rural school that no other book shop would ever reach!’

‘Their dedication to helping children learn to love literature keeps my fingers off the Amazon purchase button, and a visit from my nephew is not complete until we buy him something new and exciting to read,’ says another. ‘I simply love this wonderful community store in the heart of our little town.’

The store itself isn’t designed simply to have people come in, buy a book, then leave. The furniture and display units are designed to be rearranged to make spaces for events and activities for up to 50 people. There are spaces set up so that people can stay a while, including a children’s area with a sofa. This is Lalljee’s favourite part of the store: ‘It’s comfortable, cosy, and invites you to stop and spend a little quiet browsing time.’

For the past eight years, the store has also been running the aforementioned schools outreach program which services schools across Crediton, Exeter and across Devon with author visits. In 2017 this work was recognised by a Prince of Wales Award. The program is volunteer-led, mostly by retired teachers with the goal of promoting reading for pleasure. ‘We are passionate about the importance of children’s literacy and recognise the value of reading for pleasure for both academic achievement and emotional wellbeing,’ says Lalljee. ‘Many children, especially in our more deprived areas, own very few books and teachers tell us that meeting an author in person and taking home a copy of their book is often the catalyst that inspires a child to read.’ In response, the store arranged sponsorship in order to fund books for the children attending the events to take home.

The store is constantly looking for new ways to help and work with the community. In addition to the events and school outreach, there are high school students who volunteer as readers at the local dementia-friendly memory cafe, Lalljee explains. More recently, ‘In partnership with the town well-being team we are piloting a befriending with books project to support people who have been suffering with loneliness due to the restrictions created by the pandemic.’

There’s no slowing down anytime soon. ‘As a not-for-profit indie bookshop our mission is to create an environment for enterprising, resilient and creative communities inspired by books and stories so we thrive on interaction with our community.’



Category: Features