Steyning Bookshop has packed programme to celebrate Independent Bookshop Week

Robin and Sara Bowers in The Steyning Bookshop, which they founded  in 1984. Picture: Steve Robards SR1913920
Robin and Sara Bowers in The Steyning Bookshop, which they founded in 1984. Picture: Steve Robards SR1913920

Steyning is home to one of the oldest independent bookshops in the country, now in its third generation.

The Steyning Bookshop was opened by Sara and Robin Bowers in 1984 and now, their eldest daughter, Gudrun Bowers, is a key part of the team, as well as their 16-year-old grandson, who helps out with events.

The family has turned an 18th century house into a thriving bookshop, which is being celebrated as part of Independent Bookshop Week.

Composer John Ireland’s housekeeper had lived at the High Street property and the Bowers described it as ‘crumbly’ but they worked really hard to create their dream.

The children’s section is a key part of the business, as Sara was previously a primary school teacher, and clambering on the big red wooden book train, which forms the centrepiece, is the highlight of a visit for many of the younger customers.

Sara has forged links with a number of authors over the years, most significantly with former Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson.

Sara said: “Our efforts to make books exciting for children received a boost when the acclaimed children’s writer Julia Donaldson moved to the town, with her husband Malcolm.

“Julia has been a frequent visitor to Steyning over the years and we have been very fortunate in having had her perform many wonderful shows, readings and sing-alongs in our summer garden marquee.”

The shop will be marking Independent Bookshop Week by hosting Steyning Booklovers’ Week from June 15 to 22, a packed programme including a celebration of the Gruffalo’s 20th birthday with Julia Donaldson and friends.

Bookseller Alice Garner, who has worked at the shop for more than ten years, said: “Julia is amazing. She seems to be tireless.”

Alice has known the Bowers family since she was a child and has always loved the shop.

She remembers sitting in the extension, which houses the children’s section, when it was struck by lightning some years ago.

Alice said: “I was about ten years old and I think I was reading Anne of Green Gables. It came down the RSJ and blew a chunk out of the wall.”

Now working in the shop, Alice enjoys helping the many customers, young and old.

Alice said: “I think it was very different in the beginning. Now, it is so much more about events. The ones with Julia Donaldson bring a wider audience.”

Gudrun organises author events for schools in the area, there are regular author suppers at the Sussex Produce Café and the shops hosts various workshops, book launches and author talks.

Visit www.steyningbookshop.co.uk for more information.