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

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 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.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Former SPCK shops update

Above: An SPCK sign outside the London St Stephen the Great shop. I don't know of any of the former SPCK shops which aren't still showing an SPCK sign somewhere - does anyone else?

I don't have a huge amount of news for you I'm afraid, but this is a roundup of some links discovered during January:

Sarah at Deep Thought laments empty shelves and comments on plans to pipe in music from a central source.

Parablepsis asks 'whether this neo-crusader mentality is either helpful or healthy'.

Phil Groom of the UK Christian Bookshops Directory documents an exchange of e-mails with Philip Brewer.

Paul Walker (no relation) asks whether Christian bookshops are in terminal decline.