Farewell to Police Square: forty years of history

On 27 July Cicerone Press said farewell to 2 Police Square, home for around forty years, and moved to new offices on the outskirts of Kendal. Lesley Williams recalls some standout memories.

So what memories do we have of Police Square since 1999?

The Outbreak of Foot and Mouth

We were just eighteen months into our new venture running Cicerone, having taken over from Walt and Dorothy Unsworth and Brian and Eileen Evans, when Foot and Mouth broke out on an Essex farm in February 2001. Within a few months the disease had spread rapidly, Cumbrian farms were hit badly, and the countryside was effectively closed to walkers. It didn’t feel like a good start for a publisher of walking guides!

The following year we were thankfully celebrating the re-opening of the countryside to walkers, had considerably strengthened our range and sales of overseas guidebooks, and the very first ‘Outdoors Show’ was held in one of the NEC’s smallest halls. We were there, with a small stand full of guidebooks, which had sold out by the end of the first day, prompting a desperate phone call to the office for Jonathan and Paddy Dillon to bring more books. ‘Which ones?’ I was asked.’Just more books, ANY books!!’ I replied.

Losing staff to Nepal...

Some time in that first couple of years we had an unexpected shortage of staff, one of our ladies was trekking in Nepal, and the other fell ill. I battled on for about a week typing in orders, picking, packing and posting the parcels, and collecting more books from our warehouse, as well as my ‘usual’ marketing and sales jobs. I desperately needed help so advertised in the local post office, and the following day in came Clare from the pouring rain, (it sometimes rains in Cumbria). She was looking for a job, and has been with us ever since, her role changing from order processing and packing to becoming one of our two designers.

One of the important aspects of developing the business has been getting the right kind of help visiting retailers and building our trade sales. Over the years we’ve been assisted in this by Dave, a climber and professional rep, then Clive, who carried on helping us after the book sales force were using folded, and now we have James – who for the first few months was buying every ‘bargain’ piece of outdoor equipment imaginable… sleeping bag, tent, various items of clothing, a bike…. He enjoys his job! While Dave was working for us, we also had another Dave working back in the office for us. There have also been two Sarahs and two Catherines (one with a ‘K’). Generally though, people come and they stay.

Some long waits for manuscripts

8000M: An Excellent Book Once It Was Delivered
8000M: An Excellent Book Once It Was Delivered

Caroline, our other designer, reminded me of the time when everyone gathered in Jonathan’s office to witness Alan Hinkes signing the contract for his book, ‘8000 metres’. It was an important moment for a small publisher such as ourselves, as the book would not be a guidebook, but a stunningly illustrated ‘coffee table’ size book, with Alan’s accounts of each of the himalayan expeditions to climb the world’s 8000 metre peaks. Little did we know that the manuscript would be six years late!

Moments of drama

Police Square was built over 150 years ago, originally as two cottages. When it rained (you may remember it occasionally rains in Cumbria), we were starting to have more and more of a problem with drips coming through the ceiling. Buckets had to be more or less permanently positioned under the worst bits. It was time to replace the roof. Up went the scaffolding, and the local builders were working hard on the roof when Sarah suddenly yelled in alarm. An elderly lady had just visited the doctors surgery opposite, and while in the act of getting into her car, managed to release the brake. The car rolled gently down the hill and thumped into the scaffolding, rocking the framework and causing a few anxious moments for us all, not least the roofers above. Fortunately although the elderly lady was a little shaken, nobody was hurt.

Flies. So. Many. Flies.

Three years ago we had the day of the flies. Not just a couple of little fruit flies. These were massive bluebottles, that seemed to have hatched from somewhere downstairs, and invaded the marketing and sales team. So, once we had shooed them all outside, we put up little sticky ‘sunflowers’ on the windows, just in case we had any more come in. Day two. We counted 123 dead bluebottles on the windowsill. Day three, none. They had all hatched (presumably) and had departed, fortunately never to return.

Cake. So. Much. Cake.

From ice cream to cake. One thing you need to know is that publishing businesses run best on cake. We have cake for people’s birthdays. That’s pretty normal I guess. Then we have cake because someone might be having a bad day and needs cheering up. Then there is cake on Friday, cake when it’s left over from home, baking disasters – they’re never that bad, and cake just because we feel we NEED it!

Shivering or sweating - nothing in between

Being an old building we have the inevitable heating problems, In winter, those who work downstairs need to wear fleeces, sometimes two or three fleeces to keep warm, while those in the production room swelter in relative warmth created by the server and four big computers, as well as the benefit of any heat rising from downstairs. In summer the comfort is reversed, those downstairs remaining a moderately cool and comfortable temperature, while folk upstairs wilt. We have had several official ‘ice cream afternoons’, which have gone down well, (sometimes down us) and everyone has agreed that ice cream is much more fun than air conditioning.

Trying new things

We have always tried to embrace technology, and decided to embark on some podcasts one year, scheduling two days early in the new year for Bob Cartwright of the ‘Outdoors Station’ to come to the office to interview and record podcasts with a number of our authors, and members of the team. All very exciting. This involved something of a party, converting two offices into temporary ‘studios’, with about eight or ten authors involved. It would have been fine, except for the slightly surreal sight of Rob, our wonderful ‘techy’ friend sitting in the corner working hard on various website issues, seemingly oblivious of the conversations and disruption going on all around him. The most impressive demonstration of the ability to concentrate I have ever seen. Well done Rob.

The end of an era

So now we have moved out of Police Square, and into our new office in Juniper House. I’ve vacuumed up most of the cake crumbs, and we’ve also vacuumed up all the dog hair, paper clips, spare bits of wire, broken pencils, broken plaster (there’s a lot of that) and elastic bands. Police square is set to revert to becoming two small cottages, which will be both full of character, and full of happy memories. Juniper House feels strange and a little too professional at the moment, but we've already had cake so it's beginning to feel like home.

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