The French van now making its mark in middle England

Following on from our recent article about readers who love their old Citroëns, here’s how one vintage van can be spotted around villages in the UK

A vintage Citroën van has been converted into a travelling bookshop that vists events across the Midlands of England.

The ‘Festival Bookshop’ van was taken over to England in 2017, after being used on a donkey farm near Bourges in France for most of its life.

It is owned by the independent UK publisher Troubador, who wanted to bring the books that they sell to a new audience at festivals, markets and fairs in rural Leicestershire. 

Troubador’s sales and marketing manager, Jonathon White, said: “While we spend a lot of time talking to our authors we less often talk to the customers who are actually buying the books that we publish and so we thought it would be a great way to get out and talk to readers.

“When we decided that we were going to create a mobile bookshop, we realised that we wanted to have the most distinctive moving shop that we could come up with - which is where the idea for the Citroën van came from.”

Read more: Readers and their Citroëns

The Citroën dates from 1966. It took just under a year to renovate as it had to be converted from a flatbed truck to a standard enclosed van - otherwise it has retained almost all its original features. It still sports its original three-gear 1.9litre engine and has a top speed of 45mph. It also still has the classic corrugated body work and left-hand drive position.

Mr White added: “They’re very popular in the UK as street food stalls and so we thought it would be a nice variation on that, as this is the first time anyone has ever asked one to be made into a bookshop.

“It’s an iconic design that everyone knows and we needed something that would be capable of carrying shelving but something that also that really stood out so that people would remember it and enjoy it. We get so many people coming to buy books from us but also to look at the van because they love the way that it looks, it’s such a distinctive presence wherever we go.”

The back of the van has been custom-built with a lift-up side that contains bookshelves for displays at events, and it is also supplied with LED lights and full electrics, meaning that it can go to any event and function by itself. The van has been nicknamed ‘Le Bleu’ for the striking sky-blue colour of the paintwork. 

Mr White added: “The colour of it feels very French and it seemed to work really well with the design, look and feel of the van. There’s quite a lot of people scouring rural France for these vans as I don’t think it was ever on sale in the UK.

“When we went to see the company who converted the van for us they had a whole load of them in various stages of being renovated and there were ones that had been used by SNCF.

“They were great because they had steps on them so that the workers who needed to get up to the electricity lines above the tracks could use the van as a kind of ladder and climb up the side of it.

Read more (subscribers only): Celebrating Citroën’s centenary of innovation

“One of the first things we had to learn about was what year the van was made and what to say to get it right as everyone kept coming up and asking us, particularly men of a certain age.

“We are often approached by festival organisers and invited to their events as they see us and think that the van would be such a great thing to have at their festival – they really see it as an attraction in itself.

“You can’t help smiling when you’re driving it and you even see people smiling as they go past on the other side as it’s so distinctive.”

The van is also available to hire, for anyone who wants to pack a punch with an unusual book launch or promotion event – see festivalbookshop.co.uk

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