Tuesday, 22 July 2008

'Cease and desist' demand from Mark Brewer

This morning I was sent a ‘cease and desist’ demand from Mark Brewer relating to the posts I have made about the former SPCK bookshops. The demand says ‘Confidential - not to be redistributed or posted’, so I am not posting the text.

The demand says that if I do not remove all SSG-related material by noon today, July 22, 2008, an injunction will be sought against me and legal action taken for damages for libel.

I have therefore removed all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this blog, as, although I believe I have not done anything wrong I do not have the money to face a legal battle. The removal of these posts is in no way an admission of guilt.

To say I am not happy about the decision I have been forced to take here is an understatement. I feel as if I have let many people down who have relied on this site over the last year or more.

I am not allowing comments on this post, though I can be contacted as usual. I cannot of course stop you writing about this elsewhere.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

My silence

I’ve been aware that this has been a sad week for many readers of the Cartoon Blog. Many of those visiting have been mourning the death of Steve Jeynes, the Worcester bookseller, who, judging from the comments posted on this site was loved by many. In the circumstances the usual nonsense that I write on this site has not seemed appropriate, hence my silence.

The memorial service for Steve Jeynes took place yesterday. The Worcester News has a report: Tributes paid to exceptional man. Doug Chaplain was there and has written about it. See also on the SPCK/SSG blog: Steve Jeynes: A Life Remembered.

This will be one of the last former-SPCK-related posts that I expect to do until September as I am away doing one thing and another. I have one more bookshop-related thing that I need to post about which has arisen as a result of a comment (not yet visible) on this site on Sunday morning. I will hopefully do that post today (Tuesday) or tomorrow (Wednesday).

The place to go for former-SPCK-related posts for the next month or two is SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info. [Aside to Phil: hopefully you will post Plans Coming Together for New Christian Bookshop in Cardiff on the SSG/SPCK site when the time is right - a post well worth sharing.]

I hope to post a bit more on this blog this week, including an announcement about my new book and plans for Lambeth.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Memorial service for Steve Jeynes

The memorial service for Steve Jeynes is now to be held at Worcester Cathedral at 3.30pm on Monday 7th July, followed by refreshments at Worcestershire County Cricket Club.

There is a news item in the Worcester News today, and another in the Worcester Standard. Update: Also Worcester News: Hundreds expected to bookseller’s memorial

Many tributes have been left in the comments of my previous post and on other sites linked from there.

Image: the former SPCK shop in Worcester

Friday, 27 June 2008

SPCK / SSG: Tragic news from Worcester

There is some tragic news from the Worcester Diocese. This note was sent out today to clergy within the Diocese by the Communications department:

I am very sorry to tell you that Steve Jeynes, has been found dead, apparently having taken his own life. Many of you will know him from his work at the SSGT (ex-SPCK) shop in Worcester, from where he was made redundant two weeks ago.

Please hold (the) family in your prayers, together with the many friends whose lives have been enriched through Steve’s loving generosity in serving the Lord.

Details of the funeral arrangements will be made available in due course.

Doug Chaplain has posted here: In Worcester the SSG / SPCK saga turns to tragedy

Please remember Steve’s family, friends and all affected in your prayers.

Update: A service of Thanksgiving for Steve’s life will take place on Monday 7 July 2008 at 3:30 pm at All Saints’ Church, Deansway, Worcester. The Thanksgiving Service has been moved from All Saints’ Church to the Cathedral at 3.30pm on Monday 7th July followed by refreshments at Worcestershire County Cricket Club.

Further tributes have been posted here and here.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

SSG: Bankruptcy papers received, employees not paid

Bankruptcy papers received
Some people in the UK have been receiving papers relating to the SSG ‘bankruptcy’ from the US Bankruptcy Court of the District of Southern District of Texas. There will apparently be a ‘meeting of creditors’ on 22 July in Houston.

Having done a quick search I notice that there was, on 18 June a ’status conference’ for St Stephen the Great LLC in the bankruptcy court (this can be found on a cached Google page saved here). Information on the chapter 11 bankruptcy process can be found via this page: Chapter 11 - Bankruptcy Basics

All of this must be seen in the light of Usdaw’s statement yesterday, now available on the Usdaw website:

Usdaw firmly believes that the bankruptcy proceedings in the US have no effect in the UK, because this is a UK company with entirely UK-based assets and activities.

Also, from John Hannett, the General Secretary of Usdaw:

These loyal staff are being given misleading information about these US bankruptcy proceedings and the effects this may have on their rights to take legal action in the UK. Our fear is that the Brewers’ actions may be an attempt to move assets away from the business and out of the reach of our members with legitimate claims.

“We will carry on as before with the claims against the Brewers who are accumulating wealth whilst riding roughshod over hard working employees. We will continue to assist all our members affected by this messy situation and work to rectify it as soon as possible.”

Employees not paid
On a related note some (all?) of the people who work or worked in the shops have not been paid today (the 25th) as they would usually be. See for instance these blog comments. [Update: some employees have now been paid]

Telegraph blog post
Christopher Howse (who wrote Saturday’s comment piece) has written on his Telegraph blog about the Orthodox church in Poole: Orthodox Exodus. As others have pointed out this isn’t new information, but I thought I’d post the link anyway.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Usdaw press release about the former SPCK shops

Usdaw fights for mistreated bookshop workers

Shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, has submitted 15 employment tribunal claims against the Brewers, US-based brothers who have taken over a chain of UK bookshops and were seeking to impose a new contract on staff, drastically reducing their contractual rights. The Union has over 50 members at the bookshops and is expecting that the number of employment tribunal claims will rise.

The Brewer brothers were gifted the St. Stephen the Great Christian bookshops in 2006 by SPCK. The chain includes 23 bookshops, many of which are historic buildings in prime retail positions.

Following the change of ownership, a new contract was drawn up increasing the working week from 37.5 to 40 hours with no additional pay, turning all part-time staff into casual staff with no guaranteed hours every week and taking away all rights to company sick pay.

Now, virtually all Usdaw members have been dismissed with no notice, some by email, and have received little or no information about what this means for their rights and their pay.

The Brewer brothers have now filed St. Stephen the Great for bankruptcy in the US. Usdaw firmly believes that the bankruptcy proceedings in the US have no effect in the UK, because this is a UK company with entirely UK-based assets and activities. Staff have been told that they can apply for jobs with ENC Management Company, which is also owned by the Brewers, but that they no longer have jobs with St. Stephen the Great.

Usdaw is also aware that the Charity Commission has been alerted to these actions because of its role in regulating the activities of the linked charity, St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary, stated:

“It is clear that staff, many of whom have been long standing loyal workers, have been mistreated and many are understandably very upset and concerned. We are very concerned at a new company (ENC Management Company) being set up in these circumstances, while our members are losing their jobs. These loyal staff are being given misleading information about these US bankruptcy proceedings and the effects this may have on their rights to take legal action in the UK. Our fear is that the Brewers’ actions may be an attempt to move assets away from the business and out of the reach of our members with legitimate claims.

“We will carry on as before with the claims against the Brewers who are accumulating wealth whilst riding roughshod over hard working employees. We will continue to assist all our members affected by this messy situation and work to rectify it as soon as possible.”


St. Stephen the Great shops at which Usdaw members are affected:

§ Cambridge
§ Carlisle
§ Chester
§ Exeter
§ Lincoln
§ Newcastle
§ Norwich
§ Sheffield
§ Worcester
§ York

Usdaw is the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers

Update: This press release is now available via the Usdaw website: Usdaw fights for mistreated bookshop workers

Friday, 20 June 2008

Today's former SPCK bookshop news

From the Chester Chronicle: Christian bookshop sacks staff by e-mail

From the Eastern Daily Press: Christian bookshop stripped of stock

From the comments below:

The article in the Eastern Daily Press concerning the Norwich shop mentions three potential future tenants.
One of the bids is from the Norwich Christian Resource Centre, a new Community Interest Company with six directors from various denominations, all with a wealth of business experience.
They are giving their time and talents free of charge and are all passionate to re-establish the centre that had become such an integral part of the community of Norfolk and beyond, as quoted in the article.
The company would run as a non-profit making business and strive to return the centre to it’s original ethos, offering the widest breadth of stock, knowledgable staff, a high level of customer service and the ‘best capuccino in town’.
Prayers for this venture very welcome.

Also, from the comments yesterday, this by ‘concerned dad’:

My daughter applied for holiday work via an agency in Newcastle and took up a job in the Newcastle shop - we were completely unaware of the situation. She is expected to work completely on her own for 6 hours a day several days a week, somebody else does the other days - both are temps, no permanent staff, no training or guidance. She has creditors and people chasing book orders ringing up but no information to be able to respond to them. She is employed and paid by the agency (that is the theory anyway, will be interesting to find out what happens on payday!) If we had known about the situation we would not have got into this, but the agency were not very forthcoming with details about the shop until it was virtually too late…. So Newcastle is open - after a fashion, but far from satisfactory situation.

Update (lunchtime) Phil Groom has posted: SPCK/SSG News Archives. (I’ll try to say something about the blog idea later or over the weekend.)

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Website updates

The SPCKonline website is now the same as the Third Space books website. Details of most shops have been updated. Some, like Salisbury (above - thanks to ezlxq), are on very limited hours and appear to be relying on voluntary labour. I’m aware that I need to keep updating the shop roundup page - updates appreciated.

The entry for the Norwich shop says ‘You are not authorised to view this resource’. That is probably because there is no resource to view - I am informed that a removal firm packed up all the books, fixtures and fittings and was taking them to the Chichester shop today.

Meanwhile the St Stephen the Great LLC website has been updated today “Last Updated ( Thursday, 19 June 2008 )“, but there is still no mention of the ‘bankruptcy’.

I have updated the Church Times blog with a list of news reports and letters about the former SPCK shops.

Melanie, the former manager of the SPCKonline site has written an interesting comment on Phil’s bookshop blog.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Norwich / York


Network Norwich has the following: Norwich Christian bookshop closes its doors

Meanwhile, from the comments section of this blog:

In 2003 I was taken to a city centre deconsecrated church by Stephen Platten, then Dean of Norwich. We both thought how splendid it would be to relocate the SPCK Bookshop, it’s decrepid premises huddling in a side street, to this magnificent medieval building.
In January of the next year Bishop Graham James officially blessed the vision along with representatives from virtually every denomination.
After many trials and tribulations and delays of several months, the centre opened on 13 July 2004. I had been privileged to help plan the layout and the concept.
Over 180 people attended the rededictation of the church to it’s new use in on a Friday morning in October 2004!
Within 3 years the loyal team had doubled the turnover of the previous shop and provided access to thousands of visitors from the Christian faith or none, to be offered an exceptionally broad range of product, a place to meet and be refreshed in the cafe.
We held events on a monthly basis. Highlights included: a lecture by Bishop Tom Wright attended by 350 plus, an Advent evening with Ronald Blythe during which three Salvation Army bandsmen managed to ascend the spiral staircase complete with trombone and play from the balcony, debates between bishops and humanists; Professor Brian Thorne and Ian Gibson MP and a Fawlty Towers evening!
This morning I visited the centre with my two sons, on the last day of trading. It was in fact open after 11-00.
To describe it as semi-vandalised would not be overstating the sight of half-empty boxes relocated from the London shop several weeks ago still blocking the porch and what is left of the stock lurching across the shelves.
Visiting the church on a regular basis over the past months I have been moved from frustration, to anger, to sadness, to disbelief as to how such a thiving resource could be laid to seed.
Today is a very sad day for the ex-staff, all but one of whom have yet to find new employment and the Christian community, who are voicing that ‘their’ centre has been lost - a high compliment indeed.
I count myself blessed to have been offered an alternative position within the Christian retail environment and have thus stayed in touch with so many of my customers who had become friends.
However, it’s never over until the Canary sings as we say in Narwich, so please keep praying for an unlikely resurrection in the not too distant future.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’


‘Richard and Gill’ on Flickr have a recent picture of the former SPCK shop in York.

Meanwhile, I found this blog post written in Chinese on June 16. It sounds as if it is by someone working in the York shop. Google translated it as follows:

I should be very fortunate, at least in this area to work, to York the second week, it began a career Part-time job. However, this is not so much a subjective initiative, I found, than to use a blind cat encountered more aptly described as dead mice. At that time, purely in the City Centre Luancuan, Okay, I admit that, in fact, I had lost. The results of the accidents that have been in SPCK work.

This is one in the entire United Kingdom has 28 Chain stores of the Christian Bookshop, a harmonious working atmosphere, have fixed the breakfast 11am and 3pm the afternoon tea time and all the break are paid. However, however, however, but, boom is not long, SPCK be acquired. A U.S. company called SSG took over the bookstore this. British indeed are born of hatred of Americans, the shop all the old staff have left, but Fortunately, the Manager of new people is pretty good. I want to go to the SSG, also by the nature of the work before the development of a simple cashier to accountant, gradually began to contact the bank’s work. Sense of accomplishment that is not an ordinary Youranersheng ah.

Boom is not really long, SSG recently went bankrupt, another bookstore was an American company take over. David and Olga have left, I left the bookstore on the people. Optimistic, I am now boss hey. Pessimistic, I really do not know Bookstore will close on this, I have on unemployment.

SPCK in the UK with my life is inseparable from, I Baijia all have come from the capital where wages. However, it also sacrificed a lot with my family Dear Amanda travel out of time. Switzerland, Rome, Prague, Barcelona, Fuluolunsa I have no time to. My dear SPCK, you can see in my youth to take all the copies to you, will not be so quick to close OK. You, and so I kept enough money to the United States, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Arctic Circle, and so I kept enough money to buy Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Prada to the temporary close it, but I travel back and so on, then opened the door for ah

This might or might not mean that the York shop is open.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Charity Commission to investigate SSG

News reports

Closures and openings

  • We think that the shops that have closed since the bankruptcy announcement are:
    Birmingham, Canterbury, Chester, Exeter, Newcastle, Norwich (closing on June 14) Worcester, York. These may be temporary or permanent.
  • Salisbury is now open again.
  • I’m still attempting to maintain a complete list here.

New map

  • On the Third Space books site (Is Third Space books bankrupt or not? Not sure.) a new map of the SSG shops appeared on June 7. Bristol, Carlisle, Lincoln and London have been taken off. Cardiff remains. ‘Leichester’ (not on the old map) has been added.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Former SPCK bookshop closures

I have been attempting to update my SPCK bookshop roundup page. Please take a look and tell me whether I am being accurate.

In the last few days I have been told that the following shops have been closed, but some of these closures might be temporary:

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Who are the 'ENC Management Company'?

I was interested to find out about the 'ENC Management company', the company operating most of the former SPCK bookshops. I looked them up on the Companies House website, along with the new companies for the Durham Cathedral and Chichester shops. The name given on the Companies House site is the 'ENC SHOP MANAGEMENT CO.'

Here are the company 'appointments':
Company Number: FC028292

Company Number: FC028290

Company Number: FC028291

For comparison, the 'bankrupt' Saint Stephen the Great:
Company Number: 06110519

It is, quite blatantly the same people.

Dyfrig made some really useful extra points on my site before it died mid-morning. Here are some of them:
The company that's filed for bankruptcy in the US is SSG-LLC. The first thing to note is that companies go bankrupt in America; in the UK, individuals go bankrupt, companies go into liquidation. The Chapter 11 filing protects the American company in America and under any contracts with people or bodies outside America which are expressed to be under American law. So only if an SPCK worker's contract is expressed to be with SSG-LLC will that person be affected by the change in employment.

In order to trade in England & Wales, an organisation must either be a limited company (this includes charities that are limited by guarantee) or a limited liability partnership (it could be an unlimited partnership, but this is unlikely). Overseas companies therefore normally create a company in England & Wales. Saint Stephen the Great is a registered company in Poole. As at today, June 10th, it is neither in adminstration nor liquidation.
Just because SSG-LLC is in bankruptcy in the US doesn't mean that SSG Ltd in Poole is subject to the same protection, because it's a separate legal entity from SSG-LLC.

On the whole St Stephen the Great Ltd / SSG-LLC issue, there is indeed only one company with that name registered in England & Wales, and that company is NOT in administration according to Companies House. Something called SSG LLC may have applied for Chapter 11 in the States, but I'm not clear how that can apply to an Englishregistered company. (ENC is actually registered with an "FC" number, which means it's a foreign company - perhaps ENC has been registered in England and THEN gone into Chapter 11 in the States?).

The Trust's website purports that there is a company called Saint Stephen the Great LLC, but that is incorrect, as companies is England & Wales cannot have that suffix - they must carry "Ltd" (or "Cyf"). The Trust may hold itself out as "SSG LLC" but that is not its identity and the legally registered company is Saint Stephen the Great Ltd, a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Former SPCK bookshop tribunal adjourned

The first former SPCK bookshop employment tribunal case was due to take place today at the Sheffield Employment Tribunal. The case, Alison Speddings vs Mark Brewer, was adjourned. I understand that this was because of the 'bankruptcy' situation. Neither of the Brewers were in attendance.

I spoke to Alison on the phone a short time ago. She thanks everyone for their thoughts and prayers.

Former SPCK shops: is SSG's 'bankruptcy' legitimate?

The fallout from SSG's 'bankruptcy' continues. Phil Groom asks whether their bankruptcy claim is legitimate.

A commenter on Phil Groom's site says that the new company ENC Management 'consists of the Brewer brothers and one of their wives'. Also 'the two independent shops have been told to deposit takings in a new bank account in the name of Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust'.

Phil asks whether 'filing for bankruptcy in the USA can, in any case, apply to SSG as a UK registered charity'. A good question.

If I have the date right Alison Speddings' tribunal case begins today in Sheffield. All best wishes to you Alison.

The Chester shop is closed (above). I am also told that the Newcastle shop is closed. Please update me as to the status of any others.

If you can help get the word out about this then please do. The world needs to hear.

[Thanks to Peter for the photo]

Friday, 6 June 2008

SSG files for bankruptcy

[Post updated Friday lunchtime]

SSG (St Stephen the Great), owners of the former SPCK chain of bookshops have filed for bankruptcy.

The following e-mail was sent to most if not all of the former SPCK shops by Mark Brewer:

SSG (St Stephen the Great - limited liability company) has been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK Bookshops.

Additionally, SSG-LLC has been placed into reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

SSG-LLC is not authorized to employ any person or incur any debt. With immediate effect, SSG-LLC payroll, redundancy and other such obligations will only be payable through the bankruptcy court. SSG-LLC employees of record as of 4 June 2008 will receive further notification directly from the bankruptcy court about how to submit a claim.

The bookshops will now be operated by ENC Management Company. Former employees of SSG-LLC are invited to apply for a position with ENC Management Company. If you wish to apply, please reply to this email so indicating.

The following message is being returned when e-mail is sent to the spckonline 'vendor accounts' address:

SSG (St Stephen the Great), the charitable trading company conducting business at the former SPCK Bookshops, has filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in Houston, Texas.

The case number is 08-33689-H1 11.

This case is recorded in England and accordingly, all adverse actions and all actions in either the U.S. or the U.K. purporting to affect the property or rights or liabilities of SSG are prohibited in
accordance with the automatic stay provisions of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Similarly, efforts to collect an alleged debt from SSG are subject to the automatic stay provisions of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Saint Stephen the Great LLC

I have been told that a number of suppliers are owed significant sums of money.

New companies have been set up to run the shops. The Durham Shop is now 'Durham Cathedral Shop Management Co', Chichester is 'Chichester Shop Management Co' (both can be found on the Companies House website). An e-mail from Phil Brewer to one of the shops said that the shops are now run by 'ENC management company'.

Phil Groom sent me this via the comments on my backup site (Thanks Phil):

Anne, one of my respondents, says:

Chapter 11 bankruptcy is often considered a "milder" form of bankruptcy than other filing methods that are available. It generally signals that a business wants protection from its creditors while re-organizing itself, working out payment methods, and so forth. It also often means that the people operating the business intend for it to continue to exist. More severe forms involve the shutting down of a business and the liquidation of its remaining assets to pay off creditors.'

(Thanks to Phelim for the tip about the 'vendor accounts' e-mail.)

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Former SPCK shops - now run by 'ENC Management Company'?

More confusion from SSG, the owners of the former SPCK shops. Phil Groom posted details yesterday.

The shops are now apparently now run by a new company called ‘ENC management company’. Staff in the Chester shop shop were e-mailed to inform them that they had to apply for their own jobs, but this might now have been reversed. Keep an eye on Phil’s blog.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Former SPCK shop latest

I’m hearing that there have been some developments in the former SPCK shops saga - feel free to use the comments to this post to discuss them if you know more than I do.

In the meantime this is a report that appears on the front page June edition of the ‘Outlook’ Canterbury Diocesan newspaper - a link to a a larger version of the text is here.

Phil Groom has posted about various former SPCK/SSG-related articles in Christian Marketplace here.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Christian bookshops

Christian Marketplace has an article on the former SPCK/ SSG bookshops that I don't think I've linked to: Robust response from Brewer re SSG Bookshops turmoil

The blogger at Long withdrawing roar is shocked by a visit to a former SPCK shop: Flee from the wrath to come

Phil Groom addresses the 'Why shouldn't I buy my books from Amazon?' question: Christian Bookshops, who needs them?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Former SPCK shops must remain Christian bookshops

From last week's Church Times: Bookshops withdrawn from sale. An extract, talking about the reasons that the four shops that were to have been auctioned this week were withdrawn from the sale:

There are thought to be two reasons for the halt. One is that the transfer of ownership to SSG has not been completed. The other is that the Brewer brothers, who run SSG, have been reminded of a seven-year restrictive covenant that accompanied the transfer of all the freeholds from SPCK in October 2006. This states that the shops can be used only as Christian multi-denominational bookshops. The covenant would apply to any prospective purchaser.

As an aside, the Church Times feature from a week or two back about Thomas Bray, the founder of SPCK is online here: Leaven in the Anglican lump

People have written in the comments about a number of the SSG / former SPCK shops: It is rumoured that Lincoln might reopen and that Carlisle might close again.

It was great to see so many people at the gathering on Wednesday. From my point of view it was great to meet some of the faces behind the names, and I know others found it useful for a variety of reasons. Phil Groom has written about the gathering, as has Phelim McIntyre in the comments below.

I might go back to the CRE tomorrow, this time to do some drawing. It depends whether I get all of my work done this evening.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Former SPCK shops: Church Times letters / Shops withdrawn from auction

Church Times Letters

This week's Church Times has several letters that relate to my news item from last week's paper, 'Former SPCK shops to be auctioned'. An extract from the letter from Mrs Margery Roberts about the Westminster premises (click through for the whole thing):

This bookshop is leased by the Society of the Faith to the SPCK. Some months ago, we were asked to consider an assignment of that lease to St Stephen the Great (SSG). We made considerable efforts to obtain appropriate and satisfactory information about SSG's finances and management structure, but, in the end, our trustees had to consider the proposed assignment without any reassuring material. They turned down the application, and the SPCK then decided to surrender the lease on the break date provided for in the lease, which happens to be this May.

Mrs Roberts says that my report 'may have been misleading', but I'm not quite sure what she means by this. I said in the report that "The Westminster bookshop at Faith House was closed on 11 April", but I didn't go into any further detail apart from a sentence or two about the rare books side of things.

Shops are withdrawn from auction

The four shops due to be auctioned by Colliers CRE in London on 13 May have been withdrawn from the auction (Thomas mentioned this in the comments last week). I understand that the shops have been withdrawn because there are covenants in the deeds which restrict the use of the buildings in some way. The shops, in Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter, and York are apparently still for sale.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Church Times report on former SPCK shops

Church Times: Former SPCK shops to be auctioned

Update: Guide prices for the four shops for sale have now been posted on the Colliers CRE site.

14 North Parade Bradford Guide Price: £150,000
7 St Peter's Street Canterbury Guide Price: £520,000
1-2 Catherine Street, Cathedral Yard Exeter Guide Price: £500,000
28 Goodramgate York Guide Price: £320,000

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

St Pauls to open shop in York

PRESS RELEASE - for immediate release.

ST PAULS is delighted to announce they are to open a shop in York.

The shop at 5 King's Square, in the heart of the shopping centre of York, is a short walk from York Minster and the Shrine of St Margaret Clitherow on the famous Shambles.

Covering 2,000+ square feet, it will stock a full range of books, devotional articles, church furnishings, vestments, Christian cards, gifts, audio/visual material etc..

It will also contain a second-hand religious book department - itself a new venture for ST PAULS.

The shop will open in September and will be a valuable addition to their shops in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Hinsley Hall and Athlone (Ireland).

This will make ST PAULS the largest chain of Catholic bookshops in the country.

Stephen Moseling, Operations Co-ordinator for ST PAULS said:
"At this time of change and uncertainty within the Christian publishing and retail trades, with shops from various denominations closing, it is very exciting for us at ST PAULS to be opening a shop in York. Over the past 18 months many Christian publishers have expressed concerns about the future of Christian retail, but with the opening of our shop in York my hope is that we can reassure them, and the public, that ST PAULS is determined to keep a Christian presence on the High Street. As in all our shops, we will be at the service of Christians of all denominations and we ask for their support and prayers at this exciting time."

ST PAULS is an activity of the Society of St Paul, a worldwide religious congregation of priests and brothers whose apostolate is to proclaim the Gospel through the various means of communication. See www.stpauls.it

Further information may be obtained from Stephen Moseling at the above address or via email stephen (at) stpauls.org.uk

St Pauls UK
Società San Paolo

Former SPCK staff gathering

A gathering of former SPCK bookshop staff is being organised. It will be at 2 pm on Wednesday 14th May at The Bear public house, 71 High Street, Esher, London, Surrey, KT10 9RQ. This is a 5 to 10 minute walk from Sandown Park where the Christian Resources Exhibition will be taking place. Publishers reps are welcome to come and say hello. Some members of the press have been invited, but there is no compulsion to speak to them.

Phelim McIntyre, a regular contributor to the comments here, is organising it and I believe still has some free CRE tickets. You can e-mail him on phelimmcintyre (at) hotmail.com - I'm sure he will respond to questions left in the comments as well.

I'm planning to be there. As an aside - please note that the telephone number that I have posted on this site is no longer working. The answerphone still works, but I can't get the messages. It isn't anything to do with the fact I have lost the phone or anything embarrassing like that.

Monday, 21 April 2008

SSG sells four shops

Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter and York to close

Four SPCK shop buildings owned by St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust are up for sale:


These were gifted to SSG by SPCK on 31 October 2006 along with fixtures and fittings and stock. The net book value given to the properties in the 2007 SPCK Annual Report was £1.665 million.

The shops will be sold at auction in London by Colliers CRE on 13th May 2008.

I have been told that SSG also hold the freehold to the Truro shop, but I need clarification on that point. If so it will be the only shop building still owned by SSG if and when the sales of the other properties go through.

The other shops are all rented or, in the case of 6 shops, owned by SPCK but subject to a 7 year
covenant. Details of the status of the various shops can be found here.

News reports:
• The Bookseller: SSG to sell four shops

On a happier note - there are plans to open a new shop in place of the former SPCK in Cardiff. Details here.

I can confirm that the London shop at Faith House, Tufton Street, Westminster closed on 11th April 2008. This post on the subject has been updated with pictures.

To find all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this site see the Save the SPCK category.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Former SPCK shop roundup

I thought it would be useful to have a definitive list of the SSG (former SPCK) shops and their current status along with information about who owns the building (as that will be the most important factor influencing the likely future for each shop).

This is the situation as I understand it on 19th June 2008. Please note that there are likely to be some errors here for a few days as the situation is continually changing. The details I have put here are no doubt incomplete - it would take a long time to tell the whole story for each shop but I have tried to explain the situation concisely. If you can help by improving or correcting what I've written it would be much appreciated.

In north to south order (more or less):

Building owned by SPCK, but subject to 7 year covenant(1). The shop closed in early June 2008 when SSG LLC declared itself bankrupt and told staff they needed to reapply for their jobs with ENC Management Co. As of 19 June the shop was open, staffed by temporary agency staff.

The building was rented. The shop closed on 31st March 2008 was reopened with new staff. I understand that the shop is now closed and that the building has reverted to the landlord (the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle Cathedral).

Durham Cathedral bookshop. There was controversy in October / November 2007 when the manager was sacked following negotiations about the possible transfer of the shop. The cathedral authorities allowed this to occur without public comment. A new company has now been set up to run this shop. The shop is currently open.

Shop building owned by SSG (gifted by SPCK, October 2006)(2). The shop building was to be sold but it was later withdrawn from the sale. The shop closed in early June 2008 when SSG LLC declared itself bankrupt and told staff they needed to reapply for their jobs with ENC Management Co. It is possible that the shop is now open, staffed by temporary agency staff.

Shop building owned by SSG (gifted by SPCK, October 2006)(2). The shop is currently open. The shop building was to be sold but it was later withdrawn from the sale.

Shop building rented. The staff were sacked on February 5th and the shop closed following an exchange of press releases between SSG and the Cathedral authorities, but it has now reopened with new staff. The shop is currently closed. It is not known whether this is temporary or permanent.

The building is rented. The staff were sacked on February 5th and the shop closed. The shop was reopened, but closed again on Friday March 14th. The property is being advertised as available to rent (property Reference: CP7383). The shop is closed.

Building owned by SPCK, but subject to 7 year covenant(1). The shop closed for a time in early June 2008 when SSG LLC declared itself bankrupt and told staff they needed to reapply for their jobs with ENC Management Co. There are reports that the shop is now open two days a week.

The building is rented (?). The staff were sacked on February 5th and the shop closed. I am told that the cafe at the Norwich shop closed on 2 June and the shop itself closed on 14 June. The stock and fixtures and fittings have apparently been removed.

This shop was said to be independent, but I don't know whether that is the case or the details of the arrangement. It has been renamed 'Christian Resources' and has a basic website here. The shop is currently open.

The status of this shop has changed several times in the last couple of months. I have heard reports that this shop closed in early June 2008. It is not known whether this closure is temporary or permanent.

The building is rented. The shop building was advertised to be let and closed in June 2008.

Building owned by SPCK, but subject to 7 year covenant(1). The staff were sacked on 7th February and the shop was apparently being run by just the manager. The shop then closed in early June 2008 when SSG LLC declared itself bankrupt and told staff they needed to reapply for their jobs with ENC Management Co. It is not known whether this closure is temporary or permanent.

Building owned by SPCK, but subject to 7 year covenant(1). It has been said in the comments on this site that this shop is closed, but I have no further information. Another report says that the shop is now semi-independent. Can anyone confirm this?

The shop was in the City Church United Reformed Church and SSG had the premises at a peppercorn rent. The shop closed permanently on 31st March 2008, but there are plans for something new - see this webpage. I am told that the Churches Together Bookshop in Cardiff looks set to open at the end of July 2008.

The original building was sold by SPCK and was not part of the transfer to SSG. The building used by the shop for the last year had been rented. The shop was closed permanently towards the end of March 2008.

The building was rented. The shop was closed on Friday 11th April 2008.

Shop building owned by SSG (gifted by SPCK, October 2006)(2). This shop was to close, but was then reprieved. The shop building was to be sold but it was later withdrawn from the sale. The shop might have closed in early June 2008 - confirmation required. It is not known whether this closure is temporary or permanent.

Building owned by SPCK, but subject to 7 year covenant(1). As far as I know this shop remains open two days a week.

Building owned by SPCK, but subject to 7 year covenant(1). The current manager rents the building from SSG but the shop is now independent in terms of stock etc. The shop is open.

The building is an historic church owned by the Diocese of Chichester. SSG uses it rent free but are responsible for the upkeep of the fabric of the building. At one point a plan to turn it back into a church was mentioned by Mark Brewer. A new company has been set up to run this shop. The shop is open.

Shop building owned by SSG (gifted by SPCK, October 2006)(2). The shop made the news in October 2007 when the entire staff resigned. The shop building was to be sold but it was later withdrawn from the sale. On 11th June 2008 the shop was reported as being closed but a notice says that this is a temporary state of affairs.

Shop building possibly owned by SSG (gifted by SPCK, October 2006)(2) or owned by SPCK and subject to a seven year covenant. I am told that this shop is now semi-independent. The shop is

(1) If certain conditions are met the ownership of these buildings transfers from SPCK to SSG after 7 years - I make that October 2013. From the 2007 SPCK Annual Report: "SPCK also agreed to grant leases to SSGCT, at peppercorn rents, on certain other freehold properties for a period of seven years, after which time they will be transferred to SSGCT if the SPCK Bookshops Group remains in operation on an agreed basis."
(2) Again, from the Annual Report: "In the event, it was decided by a unanimous vote at the trustees' meeting that the bookshops should be transferred to St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. This charity undertook not only to take on all the staff and to try to keep all the shops open, but also to ensure that the stockholding carried a breadth of materials from a variety of Christian denominations, including those of differing views on contentious current debates. This transfer seemed significantly better than any achievable alternative, leaving the staff in place and the Society with the opportunity to re-group and begin to move towards a more sustainable financial future"

In case anyone is confused:
SSG: Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust run by Mark and Phil Brewer. Took over the running of the bookshops in October 2006. Also known as Third Space Books on some occasions.
SPCK: Anglican Missionary society founded in 1698. Former owners of the bookshop chain. SSG was allowed to trade under the SPCK name until October 2007.

Summary of ownership of the buildings:
If my maths and information are correct:
• 4 or 5 shop buildings were given to SSG.
• 6 or 7 shop buildings are still owned by SPCK, but subject to a 7 year covenant.
• The rest of the buildings are rented or (in one or two cases?) subject to a rent-free arrangement of some sort.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

SSG / SPCK bookshop reports

1. I have learned that the Cambridge SSG shop is to close and that the building is being let. I understand that the current rent, £54,000 per year, is the highest of all the shops. The shop has has 1496 sq feet of sales and storage space and is to be let on the remainder of a lease that will expire in 2012. The agent is Colliers CRE in Cambridge.

2. The Bookseller reports that USDAW is preparing 20 SSG tribunal cases.

3. Lincolnshire Echo report today - SSG "is looking for churches or similiar organisations which would donate space for a new branch in the city". I don't have the original article, but UTB has kindly posted some of it here.

4. Tomorrows Church Times mentions the Carlisle situation (thanks Thomas) Unfortunately the situation may have changed since it went to press.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Unholy row erupts over bookshop jobs

Another article from the News & Star: Unholy row erupts over bookshop jobs. This relates to the Carlisle situation.

In its statement, SSG said that it took over the chain in October 2006 and is now operated in a highly competitive retail environment.

The company said SPCK had been desperate to rid itself to the entire chain. The chain was losing hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

Most of the shops have thrived under the management of two Texan brothers, Mark and Phil Brewer, who run SSG, said the statement, and the worst is now over. The charity continues to look for innovative ways to sell Christian books.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Has Winchester SPCK / SSG gone independent?

An announcement in Winchester Diocesan circular for April 08 ('Ministry' - Resource Pack for Clergy & Readers) reads:

Winchester Christian Bookshop - I am pleased to advise that the former SPCK bookshop in Winchester has now become an independent concern operating under the name of 'Winchester Christian Bookshop'. The owner and manager is Mr Christoph Jacob, who worked in SPCK for some fourteen years, including a period in Winchester as Assistant Manager to William Cole. Mr Jacob is keen to operate his shop along the SPCK practices, but also to make some changes to improve on customer service and to reconnect with the community. He would be delighted to welcome clergy and lay people from the Diocese and discuss any specific requirements you may have. His telephone number is 01962 866617

+Michael Winton

Thanks to James for the tip.

Whether the shop is really independent or whether there is some sort of franchise deal going on remains to be seen. If anyone has info let us know.

I also remain confused about the status of certain other 'independent' shops - Leicester for instance. Are they essentially franchises?

In other news - the OrthodoxNet.com Blog has posted the SSG video (the one where they are
rescuing Britain's Christian heritage).

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Bristol, Cardiff and Carlisle SSG / SPCK shops to close

Several people have posted in the comment thread below about the closure of the Bristol and Cardiff SSG (former SPCK) bookshops.

This from Richard:

SPCK Bristol has closed for good. I walked past the shop this lunch time, went up to the door to read the sign and saw Mr Phil Brewer peering out at me. He waved heartily, I waved heartily and then I moved on. Rapidly. No point in having a conversation. Nothing really to say. Well, not that would be constructive. The shop was being packed up and that's an end to it all in Bristol.

The keys were left with Wesley Owen over the weekend and when Mr Brewer went to pick them up I gather he mentioned that there was no intention to open up in Bristol again. That may or may not be true.

What a sad end to nearly 200 years of Christian bookselling by SPCK in Bristol.

I am told that the Cardiff shop is to close on Monday. Cardiff was the only SSG shop in Wales.

Update (Thursday 27th 9.30am): The forthcoming closure of the Carlisle shop on Monday the 31st March has also been confirmed.

Update (Monday 31st): News and Star: Cathedral bookshop to close

Friday, 21 March 2008

Stand Firm comments on SPCK / SSG

From the Stand Firm blog:

In more ways than one, it looks like a very good thing that the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG) have taken over the bookstores of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Stand Firm is one of the most read conservative Anglican blogs. I don't know whether Sarah Hey, the writer, has made this pronouncement having only read the Ruth Gledhill feature. I have asked her to clarify her remark.

Visitors from Stand Firm - you can read the whole of the SPCK bookshop saga in the 'Save the SPCK' category of this site.

As an aside I was quite pleased with one comment left on the site about me and my leaning:

"Mr Walker clearly leans to the left. Why should we trust anything he has to say about anything?"

A balanced approach if ever there was one.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Date for SPCK bookshop tribunal set

A date has been set for the case of one of the former SPCK / SSG bookshop employees to be heard before an employment tribunal. The case, Alison Speddings vs Mark Brewer, will be heard at the Sheffield Employment Tribunal on Monday 9th, Tuesday 10th and Wednesday 11th June 2008. Alison will be represented by USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.

I can't say a lot more except to say that Alison is entirely happy for this information to be made public. The tribunal is, as I understand it, open to the public.

Media enquiries - please get in touch.


Employment Tribunal - Homepage
Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers: Homepage

Saturday, 15 March 2008

SSG / SPCK in The Times

Feature by Ruth Gledhill in today's paper*: SPCK bookshop staff fear final chapter

*At least, I assume it is. I was told a few days ago that it should be, but it doesn't appear in the list of articles posted on the website. We'll find out in the morning.

Update (Saturday PM): The article is in the actual paper version of the paper - page 83 in the 'Register' section.

Friday, 14 March 2008

SSG / SPCK in the Lincolnshire Echo

Front page on the Lincolnshire echo website: Texan brothers in city store takeover dispute.

Update (18th March): Follow up article - Christian bookshop staff 'sacked via e-mail'

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Lincoln SSG (former SPCK) shop to close this week

This photo (and the one below) were taken in Lincoln this afternoon.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

SSG advertise in the Jobcentre as the 'SPCK bookshop'

SSG are advertising themselves as the 'SPCK bookshop' in the Job centre in Lincoln, despite the fact that (according to the SPCK website) SPCK have forbidden them from using the name, and SSG have stated they will trade under the Saint Stephen the Great name.

Here is the job description in question:

Wage £5.52 - £6 PER HOUR
Work Pattern Days , Weekends
Employer SPCK Bookshop
Pension No details held

Retail experience preferred. Full training will be given. Duties to include serving the public, cash handling, stock replenishment, general housekeeping of the store and any other related tasks as required. This is a temporary position for 6 months but could become permanent for the right candidate.

Please call at the store Wednesday, Thursday or Friday only for further information.

How to apply
You can go and see the employer about this job without telephoning beforehand. Ask for Ian Vollands at SPCK Bookshop, 30A Sincil Street, Lincoln, 30 Sincil Street, Lincoln, LN5 7ET.

To find the job go to 'search for a job' at the bottom of this page. Put in reference number LOS/18198 . I couldn't manage to make a direct link work I'm afraid.

Thanks to UTB for the tip.

New on the SSG website: pictures of the consecration of 'St Stephen the Great'.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

SSG article in Christian Marketplace

There is an article about the SSG (former SPCK) shops in the latest issue of CCP's 'Christian Marketplace' magazine. It is available online here: Christian Marketplace: Bleak month for SSG Staff and customers.

On Saturday I went into the Cambridge SSG shop for a look around. The photograph below shows the posters that were in the window:

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Canterbury SPCK in the Diocesan Newsletter

The March issue of 'Outlook', the Diocese of Canterbury newspaper, has the SPCK bookshop story as its main front page headline:

A couple of quotes:
Closure notices on SPCK's Bookshop in Canterbury have been taken down after Outlook contacted the Texas-based Chairman of the owners, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. However Canterbury Cathedral Shop is looking at ways to fill the gap should this be just a temporary reprieve.

In October 2007, against a background of disturbing allegations about the affairs of the ailing bookshop chain in the church and national press, both the Bishop and Simon Kington resigned from SSG citing 'conflicts of interest' and currently SPCK (with its lawyers) is "trying to work through the agreement with SSG". One of the issues could be the name. SPCK has insisted that SSG stop using their name for the bookshops, but few, if any, shop facias have changed! On its website SSG claimed in December to have "successfully re-energized their financial performance in order to make them self-supporting and hence, viable retail outlets for Christian bookselling".

The full newspaper can be downloaded here, but it is a large download (5.7mb) and was running quite slowly when I tried. In order to spare the diocesan servers I have put up a jpeg version of the front page containing the whole story here (jpeg, 345kb, will open in new window)

In related news
I have heard that the Sheffield SSG/SPCK shop reopened last week. Apologies for being behind with the news.

Friday, 22 February 2008

SSG / former SPCK bookshop developments

Phone lines go down
The phone lines at the SSG / former SPCK bookshops went down yesterday lunchtime. At the time of writing (Friday 8.30am) phoning any of the bookshop numbers gives you three beeps followed by 'This number does not receive incoming calls'. There have also been reports that the PDQ machines which take credit card payments will be affected.

Bookseller article
There's an article in the Bookseller by Graeme Neill: Christian chain mulls franchising.

Cambridge reprieve?
I have heard that there is to be a reprieve for the Canterbury SSG / former SPCK bookshop. The closure notices in the windows have been taken down. I have no information on the details, whether it is temporary or permanent etc. More about this within the next few days.

Another article on the Network Norwich site: Norwich SPCK closure goes on as union steps in. I notice that there is a comment from a bishop on this page, albeit a retired one. Bishop David Leake is the former bishop of Argentina. This is possibly (please correct me of I'm wrong) the first supportive public statement of any sort by any bishop about the plight of the former SPCK shops - lets hope it isn't the last.

Publisher makes statement
My own publisher SCM-Canterbury press has made this statement on its website.

Monday, 18 February 2008

SSG on BBC Look East

A 2 minute news item about the Norwich and Cambridge SSG shops was broadcast on BBC Look East tonight. You can watch it via the latest stories page on the Look East site, or this should be a direct link. Several former SPCK staff speak in the piece as does Phil Brewer. The Norwich shop is reported as not opening today despite the sign on the door saying it would do.

A transcript for those who can't see the video:

The sign says it all. New staff are needed at both East Anglian shops. The Norwich branch was due to reopen today, but customers were met with the lights off. Jim Channell and four other staff were fired by e-mail after refusing to sign new contracts.

Jim Channell: That effectively puts all our part timers on zero hours, it means that overtime for all staff is completely unpaid, and it also means, I am absolutely certain, that we would not be able to do any event which wasn't Eastern Orthodox in style or content.

The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was set up in 1698 by Anglican priest Thomas Bray. Two years ago all twenty three bookshops were sold to an Eastern Orthodox charity called St Stephen the Great. Run by two Texan brothers, they deny they've acted improperly and say they've operated within UK employment law.

Phil Brewer: When people say well it would be nice if we did this and it would be nice to do that, absolutely, it would be nice if everybody got up every day and didn't have to work and, you know, didn't have to worry about pay cheques etcetera, but the bottom line is is that there has to be fiscal constraints to all decisions.

Lucy Sparrow worked in the Cambridge shop for 19 years. She says the problems are more than just about staff contracts.

Lucy Sparrow: We weren't being allowed to order any stock, and so when it gets to Christmas, no general Christmas stock in the shop, no general Easter stock in the shop now. It gets down to that sort of level - you can't actually do your job.

It's not know when the Norwich branch will reopen. The staff complaints are now being investigated by the Shopworker's Union.

Louise Holmes, BBC Look East

Various technical asides: If anyone knows how to save a BBC Realplayer clip let me know. I have recorded it on my phone, but that will be rubbish. Also, if you try to watch the programme via "See the latest programme in full" you may not find it as it seemed only to be on the BBC Cambridgeshire version. I've learnt a lot about BBC Look East tonight.

Please excuse previous complex instructions, since deleted.

In related news:

• There was no sign of life at the Sheffield shop today from what I've heard. A sign on the
door promised it would reopen today, Monday the 18th of February.
• The Facebook group "A group for all those people who mourn the tragic demise of SPCK
" is now up to 200 members. If you are on Facebook and would like to join or
invite some people who might feel the same way then please do.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Photos from the former SPCK shops

In Cambridge the SSG (former SPCK) shop has been open for a couple of days with this sign in the window:

Note that the SPCK sign continues to be used

[Thanks to Jeremy for the photos]

Meanwhile in Sheffield Mark took a couple of photos (see his site for links to large versions of two pictures):

The shop is due to reopen on the 18th of February - ie this coming Monday. As you can see the Third Space Books site is now being advertised as the SSG site.

If anyone else has pictures of signs in windows please send them in.

Friday, 15 February 2008

USDAW letter about the former SPCK bookshops

A letter from John Hannett, General Secretary of USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers was printed in the Church Times a week ago. The letter is now available on the Church Times website: Employment rights at SPCK bookshops.

Also in last week's Church Times: Ex-SPCK shops close branches and cut staff and hours.

From the Network Norwich website: Norwich SPCK sackings e-mail is revealed.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

In Canterbury

I was in Canterbury yesterday. I was there for a Lambeth Conference meeting with some of the people who are doing the organising. I had a chance to wander around the university campus where the conference will be held which was interesting and very pleasant on a warm February afternoon.

Later in the day I visited the former SPCK shop in the centre of the city. The shop wasn't open by the time I got there, but I took a couple of pictures:

It was a shame to see it with the 'closing down' notice - a sad end for the Anglican bookshop in the Anglican city. As you can see there is no mention of reopening 'after re-fitting and re-stocking' as per the statement of February the 4th. The website is still openly promoted as spckonline.com.

I'm not sure whether the big image hanging over the upstairs window is St Stephen the Great. Perhaps someone who has a copy of 'I spy Saints' could advise.

Whilst we are on the subject of the Canterbury shop - if anyone who has been involved in the situation is willing to speak to someone from the media please get in touch.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Former SPCK shops: further job losses

As you may have seen from the comments sections the Birmingham shop is to close. The closure is permanent as far as I am aware. See the comments on this post for further details.

This is last week's news, but I haven't yet posted it so I'm doing so now. Four staff from the Exeter shop were sacked last week. As I understand it one full time and one part time position remain.


Get together of former staff
Phelim McIntyre is organising a get-together of former staff on Wed 14th May at the Christian Resources Exhibition. I should be able to be there, all being well. If you're interested get in touch with Phelim, or contact me and I'll pass your details on.

[Apologies in advance for delay in comment moderation today and for e-mails not yet answered.]

Friday, 8 February 2008

Former SPCK shops: some glimmer of hope?

In Norwich local Christians are mobilising themselves. See Network Norwich : Rescue plan for Norwich Christian literature. They are also 'concerned about the potential loss of Christian literature in Norwich'. [Flippant aside which should be ignored: If you see any please hand it in.]

In Lincoln Unicorn Tree Books, run by a former SPCK manager reports on recent events and asks for local support so that they can supply church supplies.

Elsewhere I'm aware that new ventures are being seriously considered. I can't say anything more at the moment, but as soon as plans can be made public, they will be.

Other news
The Church Times has an article and a letter from Mr John Hannett of USDAW, but they are subscriber-only at the moment I'm afraid.


Report from the comments section: A former manager from the Birmingham shop has set up a market stall in the Birmingham Indoor Market. It's called The Gift Centre and she mainly deals in cards, rosaries, sacred hearts, statues, candles, incense and children's books, and suchlike.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

SPCK / SSG latest

Worcester staff sacked
4 staff members at the Worcester SSG shop were sacked this afternoon.

Urgent request
Several media organisations are interested in the latest developments in the SSG / SPCK shop saga.

I'm in touch with the former Norwich staff, but it would be really useful to have some contacts who are willing to talk to the media at some of the other shops closed in the last week, in particular Sheffield. If you are willing to talk or can give me a contact please e-mail me dave at cartoonchurch.com or phone 07982 450593 (or my own personal numbers if you know them). Please indicate that you are willing for me to pass on your details - I won't pass on info without your permission. These are news organisations that you will have heard of.

Shops told to sell off stock
I'm just getting reports in that staff in the shops are today being told to:

1. Return as much stock as possible to the publishers suppliers for refunds
2. Put the remainder on sale at clearance prices
3. Approach local churches and offer them stock at a knockdown price

If anyone else can verify these reports please let me know.

Mark Brewer responds
Mark Brewer has commented on the recent shop closures:

SSG chairman Mark Brewer said: "This charity intends to carry on Christian bookselling in Norwich so long as we have the custom and support of the Christian community in the city.
"That support is particularly important at present in view of the challenging economic environment that virtually all High Street retailers are experiencing throughout the country."

Mr Brewer said the organization had not "sacked" the staff via email.

He said: "We have recently completed new contract consultations throughout the charity. Unfortunately, certain persons have chosen to terminate their employment rather than agree to the new contract. This is a matter of the employees' personal and individual choice; it is not the action of the charity."

Other links

• Phil Groom has posted 'Lies, Damned Lies and St Stephen the Great' at the UK Christian Bookshops site.
This comment by Father Gregory Hallam of the Antiochian Orthodox Church gives an insight into the feelings of those in the Orthodox church in the UK.

This site

Apologies for the 500 errors that some of you got this morning and are perhaps continuing to get. It is a mystery to me but I'll add it to the 'to do' list.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

SSG job franchises offered

From Jobs 4 Christians:

Do You Want Your Own Business But Lack the Capital?

If you have a missionary spirit, the ability to work independently and an affinity for retail, why not join our growing family of Christian resource and bookshops?

We are Saint Stephen the Great LLC (Registered Charity #1119839). We can provide a fully stocked and well-located retail shop without the usual up-front investment. We have wonderful opportunities for this exciting work throughout the country.

If you feel you have the qualifications and commitment to be in business "for yourself," we invite you to submit your c.v. along with an indication of when and where you are available.

The ad was posted on the 23rd of January 2008.

Scroll down the 'Save the SPCK' category for details of all the latest events in the SSG / SPCK bookshop saga including the staff at three shops who were sacked by e-mail this week.

Third Space Books - the new name for SSG?

A new website has appeared: Third Space Books (Update: site removed as of Thursday afternoon 7th February) (Further update: It's back again).

Is this to be the new identity for the SSG shops? Please note the question mark here and in the title to this post. I do not know the answer to the question.

The site lists the former SPCK bookshops along with 'SSG's Manningham Bookshop' and 'SSG's Poole Bookshop'. The 'About page' of Third Space Books continues to describe the chain as the SPCK Bookshops of Saint Stephen the Great LLC'. Both 'Winchester' and 'Worchester' are included.

Oddly the site is selling books through Amazon, rather than through their own SSG Online site (the former SPCK Online). It is Amazon USA, not Amazon UK.

This site raises many questions, the reason for its existence being the main one.

Meanwhile discussion of recent events continues elsewhere - on the Network Norwich site I linked to this morning (Pages 1 and 2), also here on the same site and on a revived thread at Ship of Fools.

The Facebook group and YouTube video page have also seen an update or two.

Once again, if you scroll down the 'Save the SPCK' category you'll find details of all the latest events in the SSG / SPCK bookshop saga including news of the staff at several shops who were sacked by e-mail in the last few days.

Please excuse the 5th post about SSG / SPCK in as many days, but it has been quite an extraordinary week and I feel that is important to make the information available. I haven't forgotten about all of the other topics in the world, I promise.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Further SPCK/SSG shop closures - staff sacked by email

Things have been moving very fast over the past 24 hours. Here is the latest as I understand it.

Yesterday Mark Brewer sent the following to the bookshops and media contacts:

As we move into the second month of 2008, some of the SSG bookshops have experienced the same reduced footfall and sales as most every other bookseller and High Street retailer. In some of our locations for the good of the overall chain, we have taken the decision of cost-cutting.

On Friday, we therefore closed Canterbury and Cambridge and intend to reopen both after re-fitting and re-stocking these shops. We have other locations slated either for reduced operating hours, temporary closure or permanent closure.

Mark Brewer

Today the staff at the SSG (former SPCK) shops in Sheffield, Lincoln and Norwich were sacked by e-mail and the shops are closed. Signs outside say that the shops are closed for a refit or somesuch.

The shops in Bristol and Salisbury have been put on reduced opening hours.

This follows the recent closure of the Cambridge shop and the forthcoming closure of the
Canterbury shop (report).

Canon Dr Joanne Grenfell of Sheffield Cathedral has issued a statement in response to Mark Brewer's press release, posted here yesterday.

The Bookseller has a report: Christian chain closes branches to cut costs.

Update (6th February): More on the Norwich situation here.

Monday, 4 February 2008

"Church of England launches campaign against Orthodox charity"

So claims Mark Brewer, owner of the SSG (former SPCK) chain of bookshops in the title of an email containing the following press release:


For Immediate Release
Contact: J Mark Brewer
January 29, 2008 (01) 713-725-4788


Whilst touting itself as "a place for all people," the Diocese of Sheffield of the Church of England has issued this message to Orthodox Christians: "Stay Away."

The Sheffield Diocese has been engaged in a campaign against Orthodox Christians and those who would "further Orthodox mission." The Diocese hopes to drive SSG out of business because SSG has an Orthodox "aim." In what can only be described as a mockery of Christian charity and ecumenicity, the Sheffield Dean and Chapter wrote SSG's trustees:

"Because of the stated aims of the St Stephen the Great Trust to further Orthodox mission, we feel unable to support the bookshops at the moment by purchasing goods ourselves, or by recommending to our visitors that they visit your shop in Sheffield."

In contrast, Churches Together in England which includes the Church of England is a visible sign of the Churches' commitment as they seek a deepening of their communion with Christ and with one another, and proclaim the Gospel together by common witness and service. Its strength comes from people from different traditions finding new ways to work and worship together."

The SSG "shop in Sheffield" is the Sheffield Cathedral Bookshop. It which was transferred to SSG, an Orthodox lay charity, in 2006.

According to Mark Brewer, SSG's chairman, Sheffield's hierarchy from the Bishop all the way down have rebuffed numerous attempts at dialogue.

"The Cathedral's letter came out of nowhere and was a complete and utter surprise. It was absolutely devastating to think that our charity's bookshop would be singled out because we are Orthodox Christians."

Nevertheless, 4 months have now passed, and the Diocese' boycott remains firmly in place with its position as intransigent as ever. Consequently, SSG is having to consider its options, including whether it can continue a viable trade in Christian books on the Cathedral close at 8 East Parade.

I've done my best to preserve the formatting - the original document can be downloaded here (pdf, 54kb)

Update (5th February) : Canon Dr Joanne Grenfell of Sheffield Cathedral has issued the following statement:
Sheffield Cathedral has had a fruitful relationship in the past with the adjacent bookshop [1], formerly owned by SPCK, and now under the management of the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.

There have been reports in the church and national press about the management of the chain of bookshops, which the Dean and Chapter have followed with interest. Indeed, the Chapter has discussed various issues of concern relating to the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, though, as with all Chapter discussions, these must remain confidential.

We do not feel able to make any further comment on the bookshop or the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.

The ecumenical relations between Sheffield Cathedral and our Christian brothers and sisters across denominational boundaries are generally excellent, and we hope that this will continue to be so."


[1] There is no Cathedral close, and the bookshop is not in premises owned by the

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Canterbury and Cambridge SSG / SPCK shops to close

The latest news as I understand it:

The Cambridge shop is closed, with a note on the door saying it is 'closed for renovation' or somesuch, but insiders tell me it is probably permanent. The staff were spoken to on Friday and 'two were more or less dismissed. The third was offered a change of contract which was not tenable'. (Quote from a reliable source).

The Canterbury shop (picture: above right) is apparently closing on the 28th of February. (Update: I can now verify that this is the case.)

From a comment made on my last post by Pax Vobiscum:

Cambridge and Canterbury are closing at the end of the month, although Cambridge is already closed because, allegedly, of the way the staff have been treated. The usual details are all in the mix - a situation badly handled by a poor management style.

Meanwhile, several shops have been offered a very scary franchise deal. Some have said 'no', some have said 'yes', others are considering it or trying to negotiate better terms.

AND - the whole issue of new contracts is menacing again. But best not to discuss that while the staff are considering their response. All I can say is that a source close to me received a two page letter from USDAW last week regarding the new contracts and the attempts to implement them. It makes for very interesting reading.

I hope to have more later.

If you have first hand information about the situation please do let me know.