I travelled to Leicester on family business in August and took some time out to visit two of the Christian Bookshops in the city (as listed in the online UK Christian Bookshops Directory www.ukcbd.co.uk). I was glad I did. Only recently, Paul Slennett of Southend Christian Bookshop exhorted other retailers to get out and visit bookshops other than their own. Good advice. There’s nothing quite like seeing other people’s shops to help galvanise your thoughts and vision for the growth of your own ministry.
In case you’re worried about the time spent away, you’re not going on ‘a jolly’, its all part of your personal development! If you’re not sure where best to visit, ask one of your most trusted reps for their opinion and advice. They are sure to have a view and a few suggestions!
Anyway, back in Leicester. With a couple of hours on my hands between trains, I headed for the Cathedral. St Martin’s church has been on this site for over 1,000 years but has only been a Cathedral since 1927. Named after the early Christian soldier and saint, St Martin of Tours, the church has been in the news recently due to the controversy following the exhumation last year of the remains of the English King, Richard III from underneath a local car park. After a protracted legal tussle between the cities of York and Leicester, Richard III is to be reinterredin Leicester Cathedral next year on Thursday 26th March.
King Richard III died at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. Aged 32, he had been King for only two years and was the last in the line of Plantagenet royalty. St Martin’s has been the place of Richard’s memorial since 1980. This is seen locally as a great honour for the city, as only one memorial stone is permitted for each English monarch. All of this history has placed Leicester firmly in the national and indeed, international spotlight.
On the day of my visit, a large area surrounding the Cathedral was swarming with builders, machinery and workmen. Even the sacred interior of the Cathedral itself was not immune from the noise and bustle as the new tomb and its surrounding ambulatory is readied (at a cost of £1.5m) in time for next year’s high profile ceremony.
What was striking was how, right on 1pm, thebuilders’ hubbub and the clanging of scaffolding poles subsided, giving way to the quietness and peace of the lunchtime Eucharist. I decided to stay. Incongruously, the service took place in St George’s Chapel, with its strident memorials and brass plaques of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment. It was packed.
The priest delivered a thoughtful homily, having first read passages from Ezekiel and Matthew. Sitting under the flags of past empire; the draped colours of the ‘Tigers’ reflecting the power and dominance of Victorian England, the incumbent spoke of society’s ‘need to align with the values of the Kingdom’. He drew attention to the original manner of the disposal of Richard III’s mortal remains as being so undignified but that this was the way of all human life returning as we all do, regardless of status, to the dust of the earth.
Interestingly for booksellers, Richard III whilst King passed a law protecting the European book trade, enabling education to be pursued.
In 1484, at the only Parliament of his reign, Richard devised the first piece of legislation for the ‘protection and fostering of the art of printing and the dissemination of learning by books’, which, as far as I’m concerned, puts Leicester right up there as a ‘notable book trade site’!
And so I came full circle back to present-day bookselling. As I passed through the great door into the sunshine of this lovely August day, glancing to my right I saw the large and imposing frontage of St Martin’s House. Emblazoned across the entrance glass were the signs for Christian Resources Leicester: a Christian outlet with perhaps one of the best locations anywhere in the country. This is a modern, striking shop sited in a large open glass atrium right at the heart of this historic city. Manager, Janette Sturgis, was behind the till when I arrived, graciously answering my questions and allowing me my usual wandering and picture taking!
Founded over 20 years ago and formerly an SPCK branch, the shop is now an integral part of St Martin’s House, which is owned by the Diocese of Leicester. This is a building dedicated to hospitality and outreach including a growing Conference Centre business, and a cafe.
The history of the shop goes back before the demise of the SPCK Bookshops. The move to St Martin’s was long envisioned, initially by Rev Peter Hebden who managed the shop in the SPCK years and beyond, until his death in November 2009. The Diocese of Leicester, along with Peter’s widow Cynthia, ran with his vision and this is now a reality. The profits generated by the bookshop are ploughed back into the outreach work of St Martin’s House.
Christian Resources Leicester stock a large collection of Christian books, gifts, music and resources as well as Church stationery and supplies, Children’s books and activities, communion wafers and wine, candles, Cathedral gifts, and, lest I forget, Richard III souvenirs! The shelving is high and somewhat bulky, enabling a high level of stockholding.
The shop navigates something of a balancing act in catering for its historic Anglican market and for the many thousands of tourists visiting the Cathedral – surely a good problem to have! It also has a truly engaging Twitter stream @ChristnResource, one of the better Twitter feeds in our business, definitely worth following and one from which we can all learn.
Leaving the Cathedral grounds, I walked by the black statue of Richard III, past the brand new RIII visitor centre and on through the city centre to the CLC Bookshop at 10 Bishop Street. Leicester clearly engages in the pastime of bookshop-merry-go-round! CLC previously traded from 43 Belvoir Street, but relocated to the site of the former SPCK Bookshop in the autumn of 2011, which had by then moved across to St Martin’s in the March of that year.
CLC’s manager in Leicester is Paul Jordan. The shop is situated in an older city building and the frontage is something of a challenge to finding the premises. However, the shop makes the most of what it has inside and gains from the fact that a Christian outlet has traded from this site for so long. I visited the shop on a warm summer’s day and the park opposite the shop was heaving with people. CLC Leicester is not far from the main shopping drag, sharing the building with a café and a drop-in centre.
The interior of the shop is long and narrow but the space is non-cluttered, well used and the product and merchandise easy to navigate. There is a small second-hand section and a good range of cards and gifts. The selection of local T-shirts was colourful and extensive. However, it was the Children’s book department that particularly stood out to me – although a fairly small space, it was inviting and bright, with clear signage and some great little display touches for kids – just excellent!
Lion’s Candle Books really help here with their eye-catching yellow headers and shelf-talkers. I feel that many more publishers could look at working more closely with shops in helping provide good quality marketing materials. Candle has got it right. Many suppliers tend to make assumptions as to what might work in a shop, produce the material first and then speak to the shop, rather than the other way around which obviously works so much better.
July 19th, 2015 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine