The New Beacons Bookshop: a legacy secured

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The New Beacons Bookshop — established in 1966, it is the only remaining independent Black publishing and bookselling entity in the UK. Although last month we were greeted with the saddening announcement of their closure, where they could not sustainably remain open due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, after associated community efforts, this ‘haven of cultural solidarity’ now remains for a ‘long-term sustainable future’. 

The coronavirus pandemic has affected us in every way possible — from cancelling once-in-a-lifetime trips to forcing us to remain within the four walls of our homes, such a disruption has inevitably altered the way we consume. Pre-pandemic we could freely roam around local bookshops, yet when this experience was violently stripped away from us, we had no option but to scour the internet to satisfy our book-reading urges. 

Pre-pandemic we could freely roam around local bookshops, yet when this experience was violently stripped away from us, we had no option but to scour the internet to satisfy our book-reading urges

No longer could we absorb the intelligence inscribed on pages and breathe in the scents of old and new books, but we did it virtually through the superpower we all know a little too well: Amazon. Selling every book imaginable, we could effortlessly add to our overwhelming book collections all to be delivered to our doorstep the following day. What luxury. Yet, such modern luxury is continued to be taken advantage of, where we prioritise the efficiency of next-day Amazon Prime deliveries over preserving our suffering bookshops. 

Yet, The New Beacons Bookshop is more than just your average Waterstones — it is a haven of Black heritage. Specialising in African and Caribbean Literature, it is pivotal for the growth of the Black Education Movement as it attempts to decolonise school curriculums by allowing Black writers to feel included in the mainstream literary discourse. It is a place for vital education, a place where marginalised communities feel connected, and most importantly, a place to celebrate Black literature, culture, and art. 

We need this bookshop more than ever in our current age, so when they released a statement of their closure, the local community did everything to prolong the ending of their chapter. And their efforts paid off. The most monumental effort was by the actor and poet, Francesca Gilbert, who viewed the bookshop as her ‘second home and her heartbeat’ – her identity. Aiming to preserve such a sentimental store, she launched a crowdfunding campaign with an initial target of £35,000 to be reached by 24th of February 2022. Thanks to social media’s creation of the repost and retweet tool, every Instagram story and Twitter page was bombarded with links to the campaign. Inevitably, with this raised awareness and the goodness of people’s hearts meant the target was hit within 48 hours, with the total raised now being a staggering £81,122. 

We need this bookstore more than ever in our current age

Yet, this does not undermine every in-store book purchase following their statement, where the store was flooded daily with people eager to allow the lifeline of the bookstore to continue. The store thanked every “assistance, idea, skill, expertise offered to develop a long-term sustainable and viable plan for the future of New Beacon Books”, where all contributions were deeply appreciated. Buying just one book allowed this economic goal to be reached faster — a goal that gives future generations the opportunity to learn, to connect, and to celebrate the legacy of Black writers. 

What this shows is the importance of community efforts. It shows what is possible when we express our collective values — when we fight for what will enable individuals to intellectually progress. With Emeka Forbes claiming that “much of what she knows about anti-racism was found between the pages of the books purchased at New Beacon”, by preserving the heart of the community, this first Black-owned bookshop can now preserve the space they have created for Black writers. 

And we cannot stop supporting New Beacon Books. Every in-store or online book purchase, every effort to raise awareness and every support of their campaigns will only make their future a hopeful one. In the end, its legacy can only continue through us. I have faith that our current generation will fulfil that role. 

Image: Paolo Chiabrando via Unsplash

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