Jane James is the owner of Not Just Books, an independent bookstore in the heart of Thetford. Here she explains how she managed to develop an inclusive community space above the shop and why bookstores have a role to play as ‘place makers’
Opening a bookshop had been a long-held dream of Jane James and so, like many people when the pandemic hit in 2020, she reflected on what she really wanted to do, and opened Not Just Books in October of that year. As the name states, the independent bookstore located on Riverside Walk, in the heart of Thetford, does not just provide books but develops fun and innovative ways to bring storytelling into the community. And, most recently, it has developed an inclusive community space with the help of a business start-up grant from Breckland Council.
Thanks to a £4,805 grant, the space above the bookshop, known as ‘The Den’, has been renovated to create a large, open space equipped with a kitchenette, tables and chairs and a large screen to enable hybrid meetings.
It is enabling customers within the community to enjoy storytelling in its many forms, whether that’s through words, actions, or gameplay. The space supplies a range of activities from Reynard’s Book clubs to fantasy card games as well as children’s events and book launches.
It begins another chapter in the story of the bookshop, which was recently named Caboodles Bookshop of the month, a coveted prize amongst many independent book sellers, just 16 months after opening. During that time, it has become known for selling a wide variety of books for all readers, with a good range of graphic novels and Dungeons & Dragons.
Jane comments on this latest chapter: ‘I read a publication recently that described independent bookstores as ‘place makers’, as they aren’t just a retail experience but a personal experience. Ever since we first saw this place, we were drawn to the potential of the upstairs den area and the grant from Breckland Council opened up this vision.’
Cllr Paul Claussen, Breckland Council’s Executive Member for Economic Growth and Development says: ‘It is fantastic to see local independent stores thriving in our towns and villages. The Breckland Start Up Grant gives new businesses the helping hand they might need to reach their full potential. Local retailers are such an important part of our community, providing a lifeline, supportive and social atmosphere for so many.’
And Cllr Roy Brame, Ward Member for Thetford Castle, adds: ‘It’s great to see local businesses in Thetford flourishing – Not Just Books is a great example of this. Thetford is a thriving community and its lovely to see the town and local amenities used by people of all ages.’
Featured image: Jane James, owner of Not Just Books, with local author Janet Collingsworth, author of Tell me about the farm Grandad.