White Rose Books Cafe

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by White Rose Books Cafe's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from White Rose Books Cafe is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Director Sue Lake
The bookshop continuously
Yorkshire-based White Rose Book Café is an award-winning
independent bookshop. Its expansion over the years has
included a large café, garden and lively events programme.
Their “garden party” book launches showcase all aspects of the
business, attracting customers from across the north of England.
Sales are buoyant, with a 7 per cent increase last year despite the
high street more generally reporting its worst Christmas since
2008. Locally, they are part of an active independent traders’
association that shares news and offers to promote the town. Sue
Lake, the business’s director, tells
TheParliamentary Review
The collapse of the Net Book Agreement (a rule that fixed book prices) in the week we
opened changed the landscape for bookselling, paving the way for heavy discounting.
Books became another commodity where price could be a marketing tool. Traditional
bookshops were suddenly under threat from supermarkets and another new player:
Amazon’s online bookstore. Our commercial experience, love of reading and local
knowledge were distinct advantages in this challenging scenario. We embedded
ourselves in the community, contacting local authors, librarians and schools.
Powering through great difficulties
In 2001, after protracted negotiations, we finally secured the purchase of the three-
storey freehold, created an architect-designed mezzanine floor, added a café and
immediately tripled our sales floor and product ranges. At the time of opening our
newly extended shop, I was pregnant with our second child. Moreover, having recently
lost my mother a few months before, I felt the weight of bereavement and family and
»Director: Sue Lake, shared
ownership with Caroline
Nicholls (sister) and David
Clements (brother)
»Founded in October 1995
with parents Stephen and
»Based in Thirsk, North Yorkshire
»Services: Bookshop, café, events
»No. of employees: 18 (1 full-
time, 17 part-time)
»British Book Awards
Independent Bookshop of the
Year – Regional Finalist 2019
»Tearoom of the Year – Flavours
of Herriot Country Awards 2018
»Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
praised our “community
involvement” and “the
exceptionally high standards
they achieve with a willing
staff prepared to go the extra
mile for the customer”
White Rose Books
Highlighting best practice
business demands. My sister joined us,
and we started to build a dedicated
team of booksellers and baristas.
Our café quickly became a community
hub, hosting author events, book
signings, spoken word evenings and
poetry readings. Immediately, we were
involved in enhancing the cultural
offer of our town. Noticeably, many
customers came into our café on
their own and appreciated the warm
welcome, manners and friendliness
of the staff. Customers started asking
what was on next and signing up to
our loyalty scheme.
Book sales rose substantially and were
helped by outreach work, with Sure
Start Children’s Centres investing in
their libraries. Our local authority invited
us to training events to showcase books
to teachers and childminders, resulting
in increased school supply. When the
local children’s bookshop came on
the market, we bought their business,
relocating their expertise and goodwill
to our premises.
Tragedy struck again in 2007 when
our father suddenly passed away.
This coincided with a time of seismic
change that affected our business
model and the wider retail landscape.
The 2008 recession, growing internet
sales, squeezed school funding and the
introduction of local parking charges
put our organisation at a disadvantage.
The arrival of a chain bookseller in town
seemed the last straw. Our future,
suffice it to say, appeared veryuncertain.
For the next five years, we suffered
financial losses. Despite increasing
wage costs, staff were retained, as
exceptional customer service had
always been at the heart of our
philosophy. Customer demand in our
café encouraged us to expand our
kitchen and catering staff; we invested
£30,000 and added a cycle-friendly
garden. Café profits, driven by in-
store cooking, sustained the business
at a time of deep discounting in the
A James Patterson Bookshop Grant
enabled us to develop a spacious
Story Room, with seating, baskets of
books to browse and activity tables
for children. Over the years, this has
been used for weekly story time,
school group visits, craft activities and
author workshops and provides a
meeting room for our three book clubs.
Developing the bookshop ambience
and becoming a destination for families
kept us relevant to ourcustomers.
Garden party book
launches attract
customers from afar
Customers are
encouraged to browse
in the cafe
This coincided
with a time of
change that
affected our
model and the
wider retail
Working to our strengths
The world-famous vet, James Herriot,
was born in Thirsk, so when Channel 5
started filming a new TV documentary
The Yorkshire Vet
, in town, visitor
numbers swelled. We hosted four book
launches for the starring vets, most
recently attracting over 200 fans. In
14 months, we sold more than 1,500
copies of the first memoir – phenomenal
for an independent bookshop,
outstripping sales of JKRowling.
The Yorkshire Vet
is bigger than Harry
Potter in Thirsk. Building on this success,
we developed a transactional website
selling signed copies, and we receive
orders from across the UK. An increased
profile with major publishers allows
us to work with famous authors such
as Alison Weir, Simon Armitage, Kate
Atkinson and Andrew Motion. Giving
a reader the opportunity to meet their
favourite author is one of the most
rewarding aspects of ourwork.
Back in 1995, our original vision
was to replicate a corporate high
street chain, both in style and stock.
Today, in response to online and
digital platforms, this vision has been
replaced by a deliberate repositioning
towards a more tailored offering. We
relish the exchange of ideas we gain
from bookseller conferences and are
further inspired by retail innovation
showcased at the International Spring
Fair. Differentiation is now key, and we
feel part of a renaissance in physical
bookshops, promoting literacy,
offering entertainment and bringing
people into the town centre.
The demands of business
Over five years, turnover and gross
profit have grown, but it is increasingly
difficult to build net profits, essential
for future investment. Overheads rise
at an alarming rate due to wages, new
pension costs, utility bills and rates.
Our future concerns are the continuing
shift towards online shopping and
the urgent need for imaginative
high street regeneration to include a
more complementary and sustainable
Empty shops and loss of banks
leads to declining footfall, and, with
fewer reasons to visit, it becomes
an unwelcome environment for
entrepreneurs. Encouragingly, we
welcome small business rate relief
and the provision of a digital services
tax to companies with a competitive
advantage over physical businesses.
More rebalancing is needed as the
high street is disproportionately
A bookshop is a cultural asset and
brings vitality to its local community;
moreover, bookshops nationally
contribute £1.9 billion to the UK
economy and create 24,000 jobs.
We remain indebted to the British
Independent Retail Association and the
Booksellers Association, both of whom
fight for a level playing field. Good
news has also emerged that, in the UK,
the number of independent bookshops
opening has outstripped closures for
the second year running, and Nielsen
data reported that print book sales are
up. The future looks promising.
Empty shops
and loss of
banks leads to
footfall, and,
with fewer
reasons to visit,
it becomes an
environment for
Lively spoken word and
musical events take
place regularly


This article was sponsored by White Rose Books Cafe. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Michael Gove.

Rt Hon Michael Gove's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Michael Gove

This year's Parliamentary Review comes at a momentous time for parliament, as we collectively determine the destiny of the United Kingdom. 

On October 31, the UK will leave the European Union. The successful implementation of this process is this government's number-one priority.

Three years after a historic referendum vote, we will deliver on the decisive mandate from the British people. Trust in our democracy depends on it. Until that final hour, we will work determinedly and diligently to negotiate a deal, one that abolishes the backstop and upholds the warm and close relationship we share with our friends, allies and neighbours in the EU. But in the event that the EU refuses to meet us at the table, we must be prepared to leave without a deal.

As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it is my job to lead on this government's approach, should that scenario happen. Preparing for Brexit is my department's driving mission. But while I am leading this turbocharged effort, the whole of government is committed to this endeavour.

Ministers across Whitehall are working together to ensure that every possibility is considered, every plan is scrutinised and every provision is made. A daily drumbeat of meetings means that we are holding departments accountable, so that preparations are completed on time.

The chancellor has confirmed that all necessary funding will be made available. And we have mobilised thecivil service, assigning 15,000 of our most talented civil servants to manage our exit from the EU.

We will make sure that on November 1, there is as little disruption to national life as possible. Our trade relationships will continue to thrive, thanks to agreements with countries around the world worth £70 billion. Our country will remain secure, thanks to nearly 1,000 new officers posted at our borders. And the 3.2 million EU nationals now living and working among us can remain confident, with absolute certainty, of their right to remain in the UK.

Above all, our goal is to be transparent. Soon, we will launch a public information campaign so that citizens, communities and businesses are ready and reassured about what will happen in the event of “no deal”.

In my first few weeks in this role, I have travelled to ports and tarmacs, borders and bridges, all across the UK –from the seaside of Dover to the rolling green hills of County Armagh. I have heard from business owners and border officials, farmers and hauliers. They are ready to put an end to uncertainty. And they are ready to embrace the opportunities ahead.

Our departure from the EU will be a once in a lifetime chance to chart a new course for the United Kingdom. Preparing for that new course will be a herculean effort. But this country has made astounding efforts before. We can do it again.
Rt Hon Michael Gove
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster