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Wymondham - the town which runs its own bookshop

PUBLISHED: 14:55 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:55 11 October 2018

Ketts Books in Wymondham. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Ketts Books in Wymondham. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Archant

Volunteers have banded together to save the town’s bookshop, Nicola Barrell finds out how they did it

The toddler’s cries hushed to a sniffle mesmerised by a blue balloon blown up and handed to him.

The gift from Wymondham’s community bookshop manager Tracy Kenny was also gratefully received by the young boy’s mother as she browsed the shelves for a picture book.

This gesture speaks volumes about the ethos of Kett’s Books - a small bookshop tucked away in Wharton’s Court - where both children and adults are given a warm welcome.

The shelves are lined with Booker Prize novels, popular children’s series and coffee table hardbacks surrounding a snug sofa where customers can browse any book, which piques their interest.

The bookshop is managed and run by a group of local volunteers who recommend their personal favourite reads to add to the stock of more than 2,400 books.

The success of the bookshop is the realisation of an ambition formed in the Crosskeys pub five years ago. The imminent closure of the former Book Fountain evoked a passionate response from 16 residents, who gathered over a pint to discuss how to save it.

This call to arms had echoes of the community spirit shown by 16th century Norfolk landowner Robert Kett, who tore down fences in defiance of the enclosure laws before marching on Norwich to battle. The bookshop was aptly named after this Wymondham hero.

Within six months £24,000 had been raised to buy the stock and keep the book store open. A rota was set up to use the skills of the volunteers ranging from children to those in their 80s. Kett’s Books now makes a profit and has just printed its first Christmas catalogue sponsored by book publisher Usborne.

Amongst the young volunteer is 10-year-old Adele who helps with stocktaking and teenager Emily who sets up displays and presentations. While some residents pop by to help to lift boxes or unpack books, there are also others on hand to offer professional advice.

Volunteers work alongside local primary and high schools to host author talks and character tea parties as well as organise an annual touring book fair during World Book Week and have just launched a new project with Wymondham High School offering business writing opportunities.

Tracy believes that Kett’s Books is a place not only to inspire and nurture a love of reading but also provides a valuable service to the community and an opportunity for people to give something back.

“The volunteers get something much deeper than just working amongst books – for many it’s living a dream which faded in the reality of career and responsibility and for others it runs much deeper than that relying on them to turn up is how they keep their brain, body and mind healthy in retirement.”

At Kett’s Books we encourage reading to be a shared experience between children and their families. When children are able to ask questions and openly react to what they hear, they are building their confidence in understanding written language, growing their critical thinking, and building relationship – and they learn that their opinion matters.

“Sharing and discussing a book helps children to build relationship, helps them to form language, and grows their ability to have conversation. Even reading the same book repeatedly to very young children is a way of preparing them for reading of their own.”

“A book is not just a commodity. It’s the experience and art and substance of the author, the designer, the publisher – and, as such, it needs to be handed to you by someone who knows you.”

Kett’s Books provided a much needed focus for 66-year-old volunteer Trevor Ellingworth on his retirement as an insurance broker.

“I was looking for something to do and my wife spotted an article in the newspaper and she suggested that I get in touch possibly to get me out from under her feet. I didn’t realise how much I would have loved to work in a bookshop until I actually did it.”

Kett’s Books is open from 9:30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday.

Touch the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. On the surface it’s an ordinary board book, but as children follow the story of a tree’s year, they ‘make it happen’ by patting leaves into bud, blowing the summer blossom away, and shaking the autumn leaves off. We know of children who insist on hearing this story at bedtime years after they have outgrown it.

You Choose by Pippa Goodhart. High schools are full of children who cut their teeth on this book, but it is still our best-selling children’s book, year after year. This is not a straightforward story book, but a catalogue of choices, building vocabulary and giving opportunity for discussion about what’s possible, what happens next when we make choices, and thinking about other people’s opinions.

The Train to Impossible Places by P G Bell. This has only been published for a week, and it has already generated a great deal of excitement amongst our adult and child readers alike. The story includes physics, creativity and heaps of imagination, as young Suzy finds trolls laying a railway track through her living room – and gets caught up first as a stowaway, then as a worker, and finally as the one to save the entire impossible universe. Suitable for readers 9+.

Kick by Mitch Johnson. Johnson lives in Norwich but his book has a much bigger world view, as it’s gently introduced countless children to the harsh realities of exploitation, big business, and the difficulty of being young in the developing world. Set in a context of football-loving kids in Indonesia, the book is endorsed by Amnesty International. One young reader commented ‘It’s not really about football, it’s about people’ – though there’s enough football in it to keep every sports fan happy. This is a book for younger readers to read alongside adults, to discuss the sensitive themes.

Art Matters by Neil Gamain and Chris Riddell. Both author and illustrator of this gorgeous little call-to-artistic arms are very familiar to teens and adults alike. Handwritten, highly illustrated, and rebellious, the book encourages all of us to notice how the world is better when we add to it something of ourselves. Speeches, poems and creative manifestos, show how through reading, imagining and creating, all of us can change the world.

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