Arts and Culture

New independent bookshop opens aiming to ward off social isolation

A new bookshop in central Manchester, House of Books & Friends, has recently opened its doors, seeking to combat loneliness by providing a space for local people to establish connections.

Lockdown was a time marked by huge upheaval and uncertainty for families and communities across the country. Over time, life began to revert to some form of normality as pubs and restaurants re-opened and employees could re-enter the workplace once again. Yet for many people, the isolation effects of lockdown still linger.

In a survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation last year, it was revealed that one in four UK adults have felt lonely some or all of the time. Even more worrying was the statistic that one in eight of the adults questioned have had suicidal thoughts and feelings because of feeling lonely.

These worrying figures prompted Darryl Cooke, founder of law firm gunnercooke, to set up House of Books & Friends – a purpose-led, independent bookshop, café and events space that aims to use the medium of reading to bring people together and combat loneliness. 

As someone with a huge affinity for reading, Darryl recognises how books can be useful tools to ward off social isolation, providing a source of comfort across generations.

Cooke told MM: “We came up with books because it benefits young and old. As loneliness also affects young and old people, it’s a really good connector to people. So we thought we’d have a really high class, state-of-the-art bookshop with a really high-quality coffee shop in it and try to use that as the kind of base for what we’re trying to achieve.

“We’ve all been through loneliness. Most people move through it but for some people, it does become a real issue. So we want to try and raise the awareness of it.”

Based in the Manchester Club building, the shop offers a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books suitable for adults and children. All profits made will go to charities that help to reduce loneliness as well as projects which benefit people in the local area.

There will also be various events held throughout the year including ‘meet the author’, book clubs, music evenings, book launches and children’s story times, as well as talks and fundraisers hosted by charity partners. By hosting a variety of different events, the team hopes to accommodate everyone’s unique social needs as well as boost community connections.

Naomi Self, the manager of House of Books & Friends, said: “Some people would like ad-hoc events where they can come and meet a wide variety of people. Whereas there are other people who might like to come on a more regular basis and build up friendships with people around them.

“People who are new to Manchester might like a social mixer, they don’t know anyone so our aim is to try and help people connect with fellow book enthusiasts or perhaps up-and-coming book enthusiasts.”

With plenty of staff around to help, House of Books & Friends offers a warm and welcoming space, encouraging customers to engage with reading in whatever way suits them. For some, it can foster a sense of social connection but for others, it can be engaged with as a solitary hobby. 

Project manager Laura Jones said: “We’ve got people coming into the bookshop who are coming to have coffee and a chat. But we’ve also got people who are cosying up in one of our big armchairs and just sitting and reading with a coffee on their own and they’re quite happy to do that.

“We’re just facilitating whatever anyone wants to do, really, and if they want to have a chat with our booksellers while they’re there, that’s what they’re there for. And if they don’t we don’t pester them, it’s whatever they want really. We very much read through the person and what it is that they want out of visiting the bookshop.”

The shop opened its doors on 19 December 2022 and has already received tremendous support from the local community.

Self said: “We’ve had so much interest from people, so many messages, DMs, emails everything. It’s been wonderful to see how supportive people are of our bookshop and also the mission in general that we’re out there trying to connect people, trying to make sure that people don’t feel isolated or alone in this post-pandemic world.

“I’ve met so many passionate readers and people who are really supportive. That’s just been the loveliest thing.”

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