During lockdown, book sales have soared as people rediscovered the positive power reading has on our mental health. Books help us slow down, increase empathy, decrease stress, learn and grow.

Bookbag was born out of a love of reading and a desire to boost this positivity.

After nearly two decades of working in the creative industries, Charlie Richards began developing the idea of creating a social purpose website that would enable independent booksellers to sell directly to their customers. An ethical Etsy for bookworms.

It’s a far cry from her previous career in marketing and events which saw Charlie involved in a temporary art and music venue in the Capital’s Shoreditch, music stages for London Food Month’s street food market and the CredFest arts festival in mid-Devon.

It was in 2016 that she began volunteering at her local community-owned bookshop and she says she noticed changes taking place: “The shop served as a vital arts hub to our small town. I became aware of how footfall was falling and the changes in customer behaviour due to the internet were impacting on independent bookshops, particularly in less wealthy or rural areas.”

Armed with research and a notebook full of ideas, she applied for the Start Something scheme, hopeful that their tailored programme of mentorship, practical advice and the opportunity to work alongside fellow entrepreneurs would help get Bookbag off the ground.

Then disaster struck. An American website, Bookshop.org, launched in the UK. Like Bookbag, it’s a social purpose website with a plan to sustain bookshops by helping them sell online.

But, in the true spirit of 2020 – down and not out – Charlie started looking for opportunities elsewhere.

She lives near Exeter, a city which was last year awarded Unesco City of Literature status; but doesn’t actually have an independent bookshop. Charlie says this is about to change: “I enquired about a unit in an independent arcade and began to plan what books I would stock if I instead opened a bookshop.

“My plan now is to open a small independent bookshop in McCoys Arcade, in the cities independent quarter. A small yet diverse range of fiction and non-fiction, art and design, nature and wellness for all ages.

“I firmly believe in the power of the arts – and our creative venues – to positively impact and uplift lives. In the future I’ll also run small events, workshops, book clubs and poetry slams.”

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