Update. July 2023
Once again, many thanks to those who have been so supportive over the last years - and especially through the pandemic and more recently.
We have news!
As you will see from the text of our press release below, we've come to an agreement with a locally based charity to run the store on Tonbridge High Street. It's a great little organisation that fits well with a community bookshop and we're hopeful it will raise vital funds for their work. Please support them!
In the meantime Mr Books will become an online-only brand with a more active social media presence, our podcast of course and, we hope, more of our successful events.
Please keep in touch!
27 June 2023
Tonbridge bookshop lives on!
After some months of uncertainty Mr Books, the familiar bookshop on the High Street, will be staying open and continuing to sell new and second hand books and supporting the creative life of the town.
Philip Holden, the most recent ‘Mr Books’ took over in 2017 launched an appeal to help ensure the future of the store which has been a fixture in the town for almost twenty years.
“So many people have called in expressing their hope that the shop can stay open. Now we can see a way forward that benefits the community and a good cause.”
After some months of uncertainty, the new owners of the famous shop at 142 High Street have been revealed.
Locally-based charity SWORDE-Teppa will take over in June continuing to sell both new and second hand books and offering the ordering and book-finding services that regular customers welcome.
Paul Marchant is the founder the charity. He explained that they had been trying to raise their profile for some time and a bookshop was a perfect fit, especially as their work is all about education. He is supported by Nicky Featherstone who will help with managing the shop whilst Paul is directing projects in the field in Tajikistan.
Paul was born and brought up in Tonbridge, attending Cage Green and then Hugh Christie schools before gaining degrees in zoology and in medical entomology. His expertise led him to Tajikistan in 1999 to lead a UN malaria control programme.
The Central Asian country is land-locked, surrounded by Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and is amongst the poorest in Asia with an income of just over a thousand dollars per person compared to the UK with over $40,000. SWORDE-Teppa has established six English and Education Centres including an extensive library of 32,000 books, journals and DVDs. They support the development of skills in managing the environment and tourism as well as teaching English. SWORDE-Teppa also donated thousands of books and set up three regional and district libraries in Tajikistan, many of these books being donated by Tonbridge libraries and others in the past.
“We started in earnest in 2000 and it grew. Since 2005, we've helped many thousands of English language students as well as hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries through environment and climate change, tree planting, health and hygiene, youth and sport, culture and local museums, and many other community outreach projects We support ecology and tourism too in a very challenging part of the world where it is desperately needed, but it’s work that we’d like to expand to other countries.”
Paul was particularly excited by the opportunity that Mr Books presented. “It’s not just about raising money – through we need that to continue our work. It’s also about books and the wonderful things they can achieve. There are so many wonderful examples through our work in Tajikistan of how books and their source of knowledge, creativity and inspiration can change lives in a positive way and open new doors and opportunities for the future of individuals, their families and their community.”
Phil agrees. “I’ve always said I’m not really a bibliophile, but I love what books can achieve. They can change peoples’ minds and open up new worlds and ideas. It’s remarkable what Paul has achieved over the years, and with so little money. If the shop can help him change more lives, then it would be amazing.”
Phil had recently taken to social media to explain how he’d invested thousands of pounds in Mr Books but, with rising prices, and a slowdown in the high street, was finding it difficult to keep going.
“I had hoped that I could build the business over five years so that it would stand on its own two feet, but the pandemic and now inflation have held us back. Six years on and it has been humbling that so many customers have supported us - and I think they’ll like the direction we’re taking now.”
SWORDE-Teppa will be managing the shop with enthusiastic volunteers and aims to extend the opening times. Paul and Nicky will be exploring the possibility of serving refreshments, other social initiatives and overhauling the layout of the shop.
The handover is taking place during June and July and says Paul “We’re looking forward to getting to know the regulars and meeting new customers. We want to hear from schools and other organisations that can use the bookshop. We plan to build on Phil’s work establishing Mr Books Bookshop as a cultural centre for Tonbridge.”
Contact details: Paul Marchant and SWORDE-Teppa can be contacted at SWORDE-Teppa.firstname.lastname@example.org