Clem Jackson reports on a uniquely located, award-winning, bookshop which is developing well beyond its architectural constraints.
St Olav’s Bookshop in Chichester, which won the CRT Independent Small Retail Store of the Year Award for 2014, must be housed in one of the oldest buildings of any bookshop in the UK. Given the recent history for this shop the current situation is very encouraging.
St Olav’s emerged from the dark days of ownership by St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust when the St Olav Trust re-opened the bookshop in December 2009. It has since become a thriving independent bookshop serving the cathedral city and far beyond into Hampshire – and even Southwark through its links with a clergy training course.
The shop is housed in a consecrated building, St Olave’s Church which was built in the 11th century and was a place of worship until the middle of the last century. In 1956 it became an SPCK Bookshop and, apart from a short period when it was closed following the SSGCT debacle, has operated continuously.
As a consecrated building a service of worship must be conducted annually to retain its status. This happens on 29th July which is the Feast of St Olav. Although located on a front-line in a pedestrianised shopping street in the city centre, the shop suffers from not having any windows, nor being able to permanently sign its presence due to a local bye-law.
Despite its historicity, being located in a cathedral city around the corner from the cathedral itself - and housed in a consecrated Anglican church building, it is very much an ecumenical operation drawing its trustees from across the wider church in the city. As Bradley Smith, the manager says, “We are Trinitarian and truly ecumenical, in our trustee make-up, our outlook and our stock.”
The charitable trust (St Olav) which now runs the shop was set up prior to the eventual closure under SSGCT. There is a wide representation among its trustees including Anglican (Cathedral), Roman Catholic, Brethren and a couple of large independent churches. Chair of the trustees, Trevor James, told me; “The trustees provide strategic direction – we do not run the business, we leave that to Bradley, although we are always there to give help and advice when required.”
Open six days a week, St Olav’s employs four paid staff (one full-time and three part-time), a part-time paid management accountant and one part-time volunteer. Three of the staff have almost 100 years of service between them.St Olav’s has good relationships with the Cathedral and the Cathedral gift shop. The two do not “tread on one another’s toes and regularly point customers in the right direction – to each other”.
With the loss of a number of bookshops in the wider area of West Sussex and Hampshire the shop now serves customers from a far wider base than the city, servicing bookstalls in a number of churches beyond the local area. The shop also hosts 4/5 book launches and author signings each year.
The range of stock is broad, reflecting the ecumenical nature of the business, with Bibles and books prominent, some CDs and DVDs, and a small range of clothing and gifts (limited to items not stocked by the Cathedral gift shop). The shop also provides a full range of church supplies (wine, wafers, candles etc.) to local churches.
Its strong relationship with local churches, and the very strong support of Hymns Ancient and Modern, means that the shop is able to supply all bulk orders to churches rather than them going directly to the publishers. “The churches support us and, with the help of HA&M, we make it possible for them to order from us on the same terms as going direct.”
The pastoral ministry side is discreet. Staff offer time and a listening ear and will offer to pray with/for people – although not in the shop as there is no suitable space to do so out of public gaze. Staff are happy to let people take ‘time to be’ and “eventually the question they really want to ask is asked”.
Having visited this shop on a number of occasions in recent years the more ecumenical approach is evident and the manager and staff are right behind this strategy, established by the trustees. All in all they appear to be doing a great job within the confines of their location and working on further developing business outside of the shop and amongst the wider church.
January 13th, 2015 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine