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.