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Literacy is far from a given for everyone. The Literacy Trust reckon that 7.1 million adults – or 16.4 per cent – in England have poor literacy skills, for Wales it is one in eight adults and in Scotland more than a quarter of adults have been knocked back by an inability to read and write.
It is imperative that people have access to books whatever their income
For those figures to be improved, it is imperative that people have access to books whatever their income, whether through libraries or a visible presence of bookshops in town and cities. But high streets have been hollowed out by the collapse of businesses both big and small, most recently Thomas Cook, leaving vacant units all over the country.
But high streets are more than just a place to stock up on some fast fashion, they are the beating heart of communities, they are the place where people on the fringes of society can go to be socially included and stave off loneliness, they are where Big Issue vendors sell the magazine.
It is vital that independent bookshops continue to be a part of them – and figures suggest they are bucking the trend somewhat.
Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.
The Booksellers Association’s membership figures suggest that after 20 years of decline, indie member numbers have increased in the last two years, albeit just by 15 stores, with 883 now on Britain’s streets. Without them we risk eroding cultural capital, closing off a place of discovery to find the books that open up new worlds and boost the literacy skills that open up new opportunities.
Independent bookshops are increasingly offering more than just shelves of bestsellers and classics. They are the places to hold events celebrating literacy, reading and ideas with communities building up around them that offer a place for the socially excluded.
Those communities can do powerful things – as demonstrated by the Big Green Bookshop’s campaign to distribute 8,000 copies of Greta Thunberg’s book, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, into the hands of kids across the UK.
We will continue to champion their cause as we have done since the our #WhyBooksMatter campaign kicked off 2017.
It has been central to Big Issue founder Lord John Bird’s work both in and out of the House of Lords. The cross-bench peer invited the Independent Bookshop Alliance to the Lords last year as 130 indies teamed up to take on the might of Amazon
Literacy is also at the heart of Lord Bird’s latest venture: the free Chapter Catcher magazine.
As he puts it: “Every last bookshop is precious to us, our quality of life, our literature, our public spaces and communities.”
When illiteracy costs the UK £81bn a year and every £1 spent on books generates £1.91 in the wider economy, it makes sense both financially and socially to fight for our independent bookshops.
And as long as literacy greases the wheels of social mobility, The Big Issue will continue that battle on #BookshopDay and beyond.
If you can’t find a vendor on your local high street, you can order this week’s Bookshop Day Special from our The Big Issue Shop