The Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom & Ireland Limited

Independent Bookshop of the Year Regional & Country Winners announced

17/03/2021

 
The nine shops— all praised by judges for their innovative responses to the pandemic—now go forward to the Nibbies ceremony in the quest to be crowned the top indie in the British Isles. 

The oldest entry on the list is South East England winner Sevenoaks Bookshop, which has been trading in the Kent town for 73 years. Owner Fleur Sinclair, who bought the shop in 2015, and her team tackled the challenges of lockdown restrictions in a thoroughly modern way, quickly building a brand-new transactional website, greatly expanding its social media reach and moving its popular events stream online. So successful was Sevenoaks during its lockdown periods that it doubled its floor space when a next-door premises became available and increased staff numbers.  

In contrast to Sevenoaks’ longevity, the island of Ireland winner Tertulia from Westport, County Mayo had only been trading for eight months when Covid-19 struck. But husbandand-wife owners Brid Conroy and Neil Paul quickly responded with a measures that tapped into the local community links it had built since opening its doors, such as launching its popular Tertulia TV YouTube channel, creating a membership scheme and founding a literary prize for local writers.

- East England Red Lion Books | Colchester
- Island of Ireland Tertulia | Westport, County Mayo
- London Burley Fisher Books | Haggerston
- Midlands Five Leaves Bookshop | Nottingham
- North England Cogito Books | Hexham
- Scotland Far From the Madding Crowd | Linlithgow
- South East England Sevenoaks Bookshop | Sevenoaks
- South West England Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights | Bath
- Wales Griffin Books | Penarth

Tom Tivnan, The Bookseller’s managing editor and chair of the Independent Bookshop of the Year judging panel, said: “This was certainly the most difficult year of judging this award in Nibbies history and not because the pandemic was a body blow to indies. Far from it: though booksellers obviously would not have chosen the conditions of 2020, we were inundated with some of the strongest submissions we have ever seen. Across Britain and Ireland indie booksellers not just survived but thrived in the past year—dealing with the various lockdowns by nimbly pivoting their business models with creativity and flair.   
“The most interesting thing was that while many of the shops moved to being online booksellers during lockdown periods, they did so while maintaining their identity, their support for their core customers and their links to local communities, perhaps proving that bookseller know-how and expertise will beat an algorithm any day.”   


The Midlands region was won by Five Leaves Bookshop, the radical bookseller and fixture of Nottingham’s city centre since owner Ross Bradshaw first opened its doors in 2013. Five Leaves previously won the Midlands region in 2018, and went on to claim the overall crown that year. The South West England champion—Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights from Bath, founded by Nic and Juliette Bottomley in 2006—is on the hunt for its second overall win, too, having previously claimed the UK and Ireland gong in 2011.  

The East of England champion, Red Lion Books, is a previous two-time regional winner, and has been a mainstay of Colchester’s high street for 42 years. Owners Peter and Sarah Donaldson were praised by judges for their outside the box thinking during lockdowns, with initiatives including moving their popular book clubs online, launching a bespoke range of Red Lion-branded tea and coffee and ramping up its “under wraps” mystery book subscription service.  

London, North of England, Wales and Scotland all boast first-time regional or country winners in 2021. The London entry is Haggerston-based Burley Fisher Books, opened by Jason Burley and Sam Fisher in 2016. In 2020, the East London shop used the lockdowns to renovate its premises and while pivoting to e-commerce, remained firmly rooted in its community. Unlike many shops, North of England winner Cogito of Hexham, Northumberland, eschewed launching a transactional website. Instead, owner Claire Grint and her team took a “still open, just behind closed doors” lockdown approach, encouraging customers to phone and email orders for a “personalised, curated approach”. 

The Wales winner is Griffin Books of Penarth, opened in 2014. The judges praised owner Mel Griffin and her team’s adaptability, with its flexible approach during lockdowns including remote working, diversifying its distribution when book supply became difficult and, during the Welsh October “firebreak”, negotiating with a neighbouring “essential shop” to become a collection point in order to maintain its high street presence. Far From the Madding Crowd in Linlithgow claims its first Scotland crown. Owner Sally Pattle’s shop’s innovations included its Home Learning Zone, a suite of free resources for home schooling parents; the launch of From Linlithgow With Love hampers, which featured gifts from not just her shop but other stores on the town’s high street; and Wee Three Indies, a series of online events with two other Scottish bookshops.  

The Nibbies virtual ceremony will be held on 13th May. The winner of the Independent Bookshop of the Year will also be put into the Book Retailer of the Year Nibbie, competing against high street chains, supermarkets and online booksellers.

From County Mayo to the Borough of Hackney, by way of venerable, long-established bookshops to some of the newest, nine regional and country winners have been chosen from shortlists of 48 for the Gardners Books sponsored Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards, also known as the Nibbies.