Freewheel Bookshop first opened in Norwich at 56 St Benedicts Street in 1979. It was a shabby building owned by the City Council with structural problems, especially with the roof, but that meant that the rent was cheap. Legend has it that the bookshop was the brainchild of the University of East Anglia anarchist group. The idea behind Freewheel was to provide radical literature that wasn't available anywhere else in the region. Two German students donated £2000 to rent the shop and buy stock.
To keep costs down it was decided to run the place with volunteers.
The books stocked in the shop reflected the climate of the times. It was decided to label the shop as "radical " and "community" rather than anarchist. Freewheel also tapped into the feeling of protest by offering its space for meetings. The bookshop spoke about itself in an article in the Waveney Clarion:
"As well as selling the Clarion we try to offer a few other worthwhile community services.
What we aim to be is an information centre, providing information in the form of books, magazines etc. We are not a 'left wing' bookshop, the Norwich branch of Bader Meinhof, or affiliated to any political party. The bookshop aims to provide alternative books difficult to obtain elsewhere, based on the criterion of self-help, spiritual or practical (this necessarily has a political overtone).
We use our cafe area, behind the book space, not only to provide cheap food, but also as a meeting place. For example - it is so important to note that the
Claimants Union hold their meetings there on Wednesday's from 12 til 2, and everyone is welcome to come along. If you have any Social Security hassles - and more of us do these days - bring them along to the Union, and they will be glad to work with you - going to SS interviews etc.
Various groups meet here on weekday evenings - and if anyone wants to hold a small meeting in Central Norwich, we'd love to help if we can.
The cafe area also provides room for small exhibitions. At the moment we have an alternative technology exhibition by NATTA. (this could be the Network for Alternative Technology and Technology Assessment)
Freewheel facilities also include Ketts Press - our press was bought with the money donated by the Norwich Community for the purpose, and consists of two duplicators and an A4 offset litho so we are able to provide cheap community printing services.
THE WAY WE WORK
At Freewheel we all work voluntarily as we share a commitment to changing awareness through self-help and to the possibility of an open communal 'shop' owned by no-one, where there are no managers, leaders or owners. We try to demonstrate that a non-heirarchical collective working situation is possible.
We have, of course, been through our growing pains in the past two years, but we hope we have grown through them - and, after all, we have survived so far!
WE'LL BE AT THE FAIRS AS WELL
We look forward to seeing our old friens and meeting new ones at the Fairs this year. Please drop in at our stall for a chat - we're always happy to hear your ideas and suggestions for the shop too. One of the best things we have got from Freewheel is the chance to meet alot of really great people.
Thank you, everyone. 'Freewheel.'
Here we have a couple of shots of the said 'cafe area' with our old friend Tim Sillence (in hat) and Pat Hornby under the nice macramé plant pendant. Everyone looks cold and malnourished but such was life for the disenfranchised under Thatcher! Photos courtesy of Pete Hoida and the estate of Tim Sillence. The picture below shows the fine selection of protest badges and a jumble of leaflets under a big damp patch on the wall and belongs to Lefty Wright.