The Ocracy


Jeni Paul, Shop Manager 1994 - 2004, writes:


In 1994 the Gateshead (North East England) churches were praying for a Christian bookshop in their area, seeing the river Tyne as a definite barrier to the shops in Newcastle city centre. Was it really a coincidence that at the same time, having had experience in Christian retailing, I happened to be available and at a loose end. Bored out of my skull and unfulfilled career wise I was encouraged by friends to look into the possibility of taking a handcart in the Metro centre. Unsure that this was the way life was to lead I challenged God to provide the £2000 needed to go ahead. As usual the last laugh was on me as £20,000 in money, goods and labour made it possible to consider the opening of a shop. Strangers became friends as churches and individuals gave of their time and money. One lady held a jewellery party in her home and gave us the proceeds. Anonymous cheques arrived in the post. Gifts from typewriter to notepads were given by young and old alike. And Chris encouraged by committing to handle the finance end of the business, definitely not my gifting. It soon began to feel like the whole venture was spiralling out of my control and into God's hands.

Despite the unquestionable need and selfless support there were still doubts, mostly about my ability to hold this thing together. As the reality came closer my doubts and fears grew and grew till sleep became a luxury. In the early hours one morning, a dream so vivid that at times I believed it to be real, showed me a shop, wedge shaped with light streaming in through coloured glass. An arched window at one end, a white counter at my back, and as the light streamed in it also poured out onto a mall. Light shining in the darkness. Not sure if this was the result of a tired mind or a glimpse into the future, I told only a handful of close friends what I had seen. We were given the keys of four shops to view, one was far too small, one was dark and depressing, the one I wanted wouldn't open no matter how many times we tried. As we walked into the fourth unit... yes it was exactly as the dream. Over the next weeks as different people came to pray in the unit with no knowledge of the dream, they would all pray in the same way, "let light shine from this shop" "let this shop be light in the darkness".


Derelict unitBrendon fitting lighting

In June we signed the paperwork and the race began. We had three weeks rent free to decorate a trashed unit. Volunteers appeared out of the woodwork to clean, paint, price and stack. Two gentlemen gave us a week of their holiday to fit shelving, charging us only for materials. Brendon my eldest son training to be an electrician made sense of the spaghetti of wires we had inherited. Chris and I took a crash course in business management and finance, and still the gifts rolled in. It was our intention to work with volunteers and send our profits overseas. Simon, my youngest son, and Jill from Lobley Hill offered to give generously of their time for little in return, we were a team, destined to work together for at least the next year. Just an hour before the grand opening a lady walked in with a box full of dried flower arrangements "just in case you can use them"!

Stocking the shopOriginal full time staff

We opened with a bang. Food, music, coffee, friends, exhausted but happy a well deserved party after a lot of work, the sense of "we did it" creating a shop for the people, by the people. The Ocracy has always been owned by the Christians in Gateshead, they wanted it and they brought it into being.

Finished shopOpening day


My biggest fear after opening day was that there would be no customers. A totally unfounded concern. From day one the response was overwhelming. Very early on we realised that because of our location our customer base would be predominantly those with no church connection and to be overtly Christian in appearance would be off-putting. Without much effort the overall look and sound of the shop became new-age, enhanced by Jeni padding around bare footed with masses of frizzy hair and hippy clothes. This was purely cosmetic and at no time have we compromised on the Christian content of our stock. The result has been almost daily opportunities to talk to new-agers, spiritualists and occultists of our faith, and to give away literature. We know of at least six people becoming Christians through this approach.

Since opening, at least 25 volunteers have trained and worked in the shop, gaining experience and a good reference enabling them to go on to full time paid employment in the career of their choice. This rapid turnover of helpers meant that at short notice full 12 hour shifts would land fully on the shoulders of the full time workers. Eventually the stress involved necessitated the decision to pay permanent workers to ensure continuity of service.

Jeni at CBC with award

In 1998 all the hard work was rewarded by being nominated for the Christian Booksellers Association Small Bookshop of the Year award. At a banquet resembling the Brit Awards I was thrilled as our shop was announced overall winner, and handed a plaque to prove it.

For almost ten years we continued to meet the needs of both church and passerby, entering this hi-tech millennium through the Internet and on-line shopping, reaching out to a new generation through books and music and teddy bears and fridge magnets and pens and more... until closure was forced in January 2004 by Metro Centre redevelopments.

The Ocracy was one of the first independent Christian Bookshops to sponsor
the UK Christian Bookshops Directory. Their support is sadly missed.