A FORMER furniture shop premises is to be transformed into a community bookshop as a long-term ambition comes to fruition.

The idea for a community bookshop started following the closure of Westfield Street store Wardleworth's in 2019.

The St Helens Book Stop, a community benefit society, was launched to realise the ambition, with the efforts of trustees Brian Leyland, Julia Cadman and Steven Davies and also former Wardleworth's manager Anna Peacock.

Brian has been involved in community work and wrote book “St Helens: The Great and The Good (and a few of the not so good!)”, which profiles 100 well known people either born, raised or educated in St Helens.

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Brian Leyland

Steven is a retired retail manager and Julia has degrees in Latin and Music and a Masters in contemporary composition and has qualified and practised as both a teacher and as a solicitor.

Despite delays being caused to the project, by the coronavirus pandemic, work has been taking place, the project is now set to get rolling.

They have announced that outline terms for a lease on the former Furniture Boutique premises at 11 Bridge Street, St Helens, part of Church Square Shopping Centre, have been agreed.

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Providing the necessary funds are raised, it is the aim for the building to be occupied on January 1, 2021 with a view to opening the bookshop's doors in March to coincide with World Book Day.

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The project has also benefited from a grant from the Steve Morgan Foundation and says the council has been supportive of the venture.

Trustees Brian, Steven and Julia said: "Our vision is to create a destination in the heart of St Helens for all those who have an interest in books and reading and to make this destination a thriving hub for the whole of the community.

"We want everyone from all backgrounds and circumstances to feel welcome in the shop, whether simply to make a purchase, or to browse, have a tea or coffee or to spend time engaging with other members of the community in either individual conversations or in group events.

"Our books will comprise both fiction and non fiction of all kinds, and will range from bestsellers to serious textbooks, from children’s stories to travel literature, from cookery books to autobiographies. We will also have a section devoted to local history, where we will celebrate the rich heritage of St Helens as a historic Lancashire industrial town, which has over the years produced numerous people who have made their mark on both a national and international stage.

A particular focus will be "to introduce children to the joy of reading at a very early age" by holding group events with an ambition to try to raise literacy levels in St Helens.

There will be an e-commerce element where customers can also buy online, initially likely to be on a 'Click and Collect' basis.

The shop will also have a cafe area, to be run by town centre venue Momo's.

The unit will also be made available to hire outside shop hours for company events, community organisations, music rehearsals and any other suitable purpose.

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An artist's impression of the shop by Vicci Redfern

The trustees added: "We will be holding events for all sectors of the community in the hope that everyone will find something either in the shop itself or in the events taking place that will appeal to them and lead them to return again and again.

"In this way we hope to make our contribution to restoring the sense of community which is sadly disappearing in our town, as in many post industrial towns, and we would like as many people as possible to join with us in sharing our vision for a brighter future in the town centre."

The project is looking for people to become members to have a say in how the shop is run.

Brian, Julia and Steven added: "We believe this is an exciting opportunity and we would love as many of you as possible to become members of our Society.

"As a member you will, collectively with the other members, have a say in the way the bookshop is run".

The process of recruiting a manager is underway and applications are invited, with the job specification on the St Helens Book Stop website, due to go live later this week.

There are also plans to employ a full time assistant manager from March, with the balance of the staffing to be made up of volunteers.

The website will be available at sthelensbookstop.co.uk.