In 1983, a group of Newham parents channelled their frustration about the low levels of educational achievement within the borough to form an education charity. Newham Education Concern (NEC) was duly established in 1973. They went on to establish
The Newham Parent's Centre in 1975 and part of their work involved the recognition that establishing a shop which sold educational books and materials would be a positive and non-stigmatising way of welcoming individuals who wanted to access support for their own and their children's educational needs.
So began thirty-eight years of bookselling in Newham originally from one shop based in the current Boleyn site in 1978 and then taking on a second front shop in 1987 to establish both adult and children's bookshops which still exist today. The shop has survived the demise of the original charity and continues to trade effectively on a not for profit basis.
The aim has always been to be inclusive, and the shop and its staff have always aimed to meet the reading requirements and tastes of an ever changing population. In fact, the shop could not have survived without the ongoing support of local people and it has gained immeasurably over time from celebrating the rich cultural and linguistic contribution of countless different ethnic groups and individuals. We believe this has been possible because of our sound values which includes the importance of remaining ever curious and welcoming of whoever walks through our doors.
The shop has always aimed to represent this diversity on our shelves and, in particular, to ensure that children and adults alike are able to see themselves and their lives reflected in the writers they encounter and the books they read.
Over the years we have received consistent support from a range of supporters including the renowned English children’s novelist and poet Michael Rosen, poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah, and the sadly departed novelist and London historian Gilda O'Neill. It was through our first bookshop events and signings with these authors that we began to realise that in order to survive the demise of the Net Book Agreement in the late 1980's, we would need to develop our events programme.
Thus began our thriving partnerships with local schools, colleges, libraries, theatres and most recently, restaurants, bars and cinemas. We have greatly valued these partnerships and the opportunities to host events with writers from all over the world and in many cases, link them to a locally based community – whether that be a writer from Nigeria, Somalia, or the Indian sub-continent. At the same time we have developed a number of ongoing and mutually beneficial partnerships with a range of organisations, which has seen us move beyond the boundaries of the borough and take part in London and nationwide conferences and forums.
As Michael Rosen wrote in a booklet celebrating our 25th year, “This is a bookshop for everybody” and that is the way we will always remain.
Written by John Newman