OCTOBER Books, Portswood, has been part of the local retail landscape since 1977. Few will stop to consider how fortunate we are to have an independent bookshop in the city, or wonder how, in these days of Amazon and national chains, it ever managed to survive?

Today’s bookshop has its origins in the radical bookshop movement which was fuelled by a desire for access, in those pre-internet days, to alternative political ideas.

For the first three years the SWP ran the shop after which a co-operative of at least seven people took over, some of whom were also workers in the bookstore.

Ian Lamming provided a link from the SWP days and continued to maintain an overview until a new team took over in 2016.

The move from Onslow Road to Portswood was in large part due to the poor state of the original building and a need for a better location.

October Books, Portswood Road, Southampton. Picture: Chris Moorhouse.


So how was October Books able to survive when so many independent bookstores fell by the wayside?

Ian puts it down largely to serendipity and the quality of the people who served on the cooperative, sometimes for long periods, and the amount of hard work they invested in the project.

Another key factor was Southampton University.

When the humanities department moved to the Avenue campus, October Books provided a book display geared towards the courses on offer.

They continued to have a university stall at Avenue campus until 2019.


Opening of October Books follow its move to the former bank in Portswood.

Opening of October Books following its move to the former bank in Portswood

The pandemic meant there were no students to buy books, so the stall was no longer viable. However, the connection to both Southampton and Solent Universities remains strong, and the shop has recently worked with The Parkes Institute, Writers in Conversation, and their Student Innovation Programme.

After 15 years in Portswood and an increase in annual rent to £30,000 the business was struggling.

The new team, led by Clare Diaper, made the decision to search for other premises.

Coincidentally, the old NatWest bank in Portswood High Street came on the market at the time.

Plans were drawn up, and with the help of the community,£330,000 was raised, and the bank was bought.

Human Chain along Portswood road to move October Books to new store- Credit October Books

Human Chain along Portswood Road to move October Books to the new store

At one end of the High Street a new space was being created and at the other end years of accumulated clutter had to be cleared.

The creative solution to the move from one shop to another came out of a conversation with a customer and the human book chain was born. It was to go viral on social media.

Initially there were about two dozen people passing books from one to another, down the road.

As passers-by realised what was happening, they joined in, and numbers swelled to over 200.

Numerous photos were taken, some appeared in the Echo, the Guardian and then the Washington Post.

The run up to Christmas was amazingly successful.

Opening of October Books follow its move to the former bank in Portswood, Author Ali Sparkes cuts the ribbon.

Opening of October Books following its move to the former bank in Portswood, Author Ali Sparkes cuts the ribbon

The community room at the back was used for the Veg Out café and was hired by groups as diverse as the Quakers and yoga groups. The arrival of covid brought new challenges; the shop closed during the first lockdown but thereafter the sale of food, including fresh items, allowed it to stay open.

October Books emerged into 2022 with an expanded team and plans for a new business model – to become a Community Benefit Society.

They also want to promote their role as a community business and social enterprise, one which provides something for everyone in the local community and beyond.

Customers will be pleased to hear that the move to a Community Benefit Society will mean a continued focus in providing a happy place to browse books and lots of other things not necessarily available in mainstream bookstores and where friendly staff will always do their best to help.

You never know, you might bump into old friends or perhaps even make new ones.

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Ally Hayes is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .