The King Street spot tackling social isolation and loneliness one book at a time
If you’ve ever seen You’ve Got Mail, then I’m pretty sure you’ve dreamed of owning an indie bookshop with a hand painted sign and a loyal customer base at some point in your life. You’ve probably also wished that you looked like Meg Ryan with short hair. Notting Hill further fuels this mismatched independent bookshop fantasy, but do little romantic gems like this actually exist in bustling modern cities?
Unfortunately, neither Meg Ryan nor Hugh Grant are opening a bookshop in Manchester any time soon. However, House of Books & Friends is a new purpose-led bookshop on King Street. Unusually, perhaps, for a bookshop it's also designed to combat loneliness and encourage social interaction. This is about as wholesome as it gets and when you think about it part of bookshops have always done.
It’s your Goodreads feed in one handy shop-cum-café
‘Charming’ is an adjective that every bookshop should aspire to have featured on its Google reviews page, and this one has charm by the bucket-load. It also has a staff that “eat, sleep and dream books” and a selection of curated titles that span everything from brand new fiction to Mancunian authors and special collectable editions.
It’s your Goodreads feed in one handy shop-cum-café.
Like a lot of new openings in and around Greater Manchester, House of Books & Friends is a lockdown brainchild. Darryl Cooke, founder and chair of the Gunnercooke Foundation - which aims to help third-sector leaders develop themselves and their corresponding businesses, had the idea after post-pandemic reports revealed that 45% of people in the UK experience loneliness.
This equates to 25 million people, with around 5% experiencing what is described as “severe loneliness”.
Darryl’s goal was to create a space within the city that tackled this silent problem. House of Books & Friends aims to be a community-led business that encourages social connections and relationships. Whether forged between staff and customers as they rifle through the shelves, or through events, shared interests and the very act of reading.
As the shop's website highlights: “reading, discussing books, listening to authors and writing can connect us physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. When we read, we are not alone.”
Whether you visit a bookshop to chat with like-minded readers or to simply support a local biz, connections and interaction lie at the heart of spaces like this, and we don’t have enough of them in a city of almost 3 million people.
The bookshop sits at the base of Bruntwood’s Manchester Club building on King Street, a site which initially opened in 1871 as a members' club. Winston Churchill was a member there.
The building also houses that golden pineapple gaff otherwise known as Grand Pacific, and is as appealing on the inside as it is from the exterior. Think worn leather seating, organised shelves, cosy lighting and a team of booksellers and baristas that love literature as much as King Street loves Neapolitan pizza royalty.
The store opened its doors officially on Monday 12 December, and working alongside charitable partners, it has a calendar packed with book clubs, creative writing sessions, children’s story times, talks and ‘meet the author’ opportunities in the works already. The book club poll is still open online, and if you’re interested you should pop some of your preferences, ideas and feedback in the comments section. Virtual bookclubs are also part of the plan.
Seeking to benefit the community rather than private shareholders, House of Books & Friends is a Community Interest Company. This means it’ll offer initiatives for customers and businesses through pay-it-forward schemes, and 100% of the profits made from book sales and the café will go back into projects that engage with the square miles surrounding the shop.
The intention remains to help tackle social isolation and a lack of connection across "a wide breadth of people including the elderly, new parents and local schools". The business seeks to engage with a wide demographic of Mancunians, ranging from students and schools to professionals, authors and other local initiatives.
Loneliness can effect anyone, and as House of Books & Friends' mission statement emphasises "it can become exaggerated by a society that values social media but has lost the value of close friends and neighbours."
The local biz aims to grow its network of bookshops across the country, tackling loneliness one book at a time like a cape-clad superhero armed with paperbacks.
This brand new bookshop on King Street is open Monday - Friday from 8am 'til 6pm, and from 9am - 6pm on Saturdays. Have a scroll down its Instagram to keep up to date with events, new releases and the staff, affectionately known as 'The Bookworms'. Keep an eye on the events and news sections of the website too as there's always stuff going on.
Get a coffee, cop a brand new release, have a chat with the staff about their favourite reads, make a new mate - it'd be criminal not to.
House of Books & Friends at Manchester Club, 81 King Street, M2 4AH
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