Five Leaves Bookshop based in Nottingham is an independent bookshop with a keen eye for brilliant books, particularly those about reflect the make-up of their community, from Travellers/Roma and Anarchism, to Transgender and Black History titles, and are particularly well-known for their Jewish interest titles. In celebration of Independent Bookshop Week we chatted to Ross Bradshaw, owner of Five Leaves, about the history of the bookshop.

Q: How did Five Leaves get started as a bookshop?

A: Five Leaves has been publishing since 1995, but I had previously worked in bookselling and, much as I liked publishing, it was the cut and thrust of dealing with customers I missed as well as being excited to open parcels every day (magically I had forgotten about the admin…) and always wanted to return to the shop counter. It just took longer than I planned as we opened the shop in 2013. We still publish, but the focus is much more on bookselling.

Q: Can you share some pinnacle moments in the history of this bookshop?

A: Three things – one that we opened on 9th November 2013. We got the keys about a few weeks before that and in the time had to strip out the cafe that was there previously, employ staff, get shelving, order stock, get publicity out…. One person came to help put up shelves and seven and a half years later he is still here…. Secondly, in 2018 we became the Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards. I had to buy a bloomin’ dinner jacket, which of course I have not worn since. Nor a tie at all I suspect. Thirdly, a pinnacle of a different sort when – before the Government even thought about taking action – we decided to cancel our events, 32 of them outstanding, then closed the shop because of COVID. We’d only just distributed our seasonal brochure and had sold masses of tickets. The shop closure was not a hard decision, but the earlier abandonment of events was scarring. 

Q: What makes Five Leaves unique? 

A: Uniquish… as fortunately there are now so many new bookshops that are commercial and radical at the same time. We can see a commitment to diversity throughout the booktrade for example and even on Earth Strike Day a number of commercial bookshops closed (as we did) or took other actions. We like to think we are ahead of the curve but – really- we are swimming with the tide of independent bookshops. We do, however, do about a hundred events a year, previously live but currently online. We return to some themes again and again – LGBT for example, and have organised a number of Trans events, poetry, Irish literature and culture… but we also set up Feminist Book Fortnight that involves about 60 indies in Britain, Ireland and Italy. It’s on hold during COVID but will return next year.

Q: Why do you think bookshops are important? 

A: … because we don’t want to live in a world where badly-paid workers or robots pick and pack for a company that pays no tax and bestrides the globe. Where people come in and see books they did not know they wanted until they saw them. Where minorities of all sorts of descriptions will find books about people like them and written by people like them.

Q: What do you love most about Five Leaves? 

A: Small moments when people just find the right book… Or collectively like the first event we held on to autism, where our shop was full of autistic people including people coming out as autistic for the first time, or when Comma brought us the Gazan writer Atef Abu Saif where we heard first-hand about the complex and individual lives of people living under such, such difficult circumstances. Or the afternoon tea and scones event when the shop was packed with young people who are LGBT.  Or the Irish Halloween event when people were remembering their childhood “back home”. Those times when we can say, yes, yes, this is why we are here.

You can order books online from Five Leaves Bookshop’s website: Products – Five Leaves Bookshop

By Khadisha Thomas

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