Unravelling the Knots

Phil Groom writes:

Oh what a tangled web we weave
when first we set out practise to deceive…

I didn’t know the origins of that little quote but, courtesy those who’ve commented below, I do now: thank you. Corrected, it’s an even better fit for what we find ourselves facing here as the Charity Commission attempts to untangle the mess left strewn across the last two years or so by Messrs J Mark and Phil W Brewer.

Several recent comments have once again started pointing the finger of blame at SPCK and whilst I would not for one moment wish to deny SPCK’s culpability, I’m not convinced that we’ll do anyone any favours by going down that road at this stage. Please allow me to refer back to a couple of posts that addressed this side of things back in August last year:

I think Phelim McIntyre’s recent comment sums things up rather well:

SPCK are speaking, and are being sued for this – hence their silence. SPCK were not the only ones taken in by the Brewers – publshers and even some book staff said that it would be ok. When I was assistant manager at Chichester I read the SSG statement of faith on their US site and sent up warning flairs and some staff in shops around the south told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and no one can be that bad. Some even signed change of contracts when they were advised not to as they were illegal. Those who stood up, acted and spoke out to try and prevent the chaos were often in the minority. I often wonder whether I should name and shame some of those who tried to keep quiet but have decided not too as they are now in the same boat as everyone else concerning lack of justice.

Because SPCK acted and are acting about the use of the name the Brewers are attempting to sue SPCK and some of the people there for large amounts of money – we are talkign about six figure sums. Please don’t forget this.

This does not absolve SPCK from acting as much as they can but does mean that we should not get angry when they do not speak out as we would like.

As to the Charities Commission being aware whether SSG and ENC are the same thing – yes they are and unravelling such knots as the Brewers have attempted to make takes time.

So where does this leave us with the shops? Here’s how it looks to me, A-Z by location rather than from North to South or any such because, quite frankly, my geography sucks. In my world, London is South, everywhere else (including Australia) is North (except Leicester, which is Midlands, and I suppose we could make a concession for Wales and say it’s off to the West).

Links for each town are to the UKCBD listings, which I’m aware need updating. Unfortunately I always seem to have more to do than time to do it in *sigh*… other links are to reports of closures, photo-shoots where available or most recent comments, whichever seemed most appropriate whilst compiling the list. If you have more accurate or up to date info, please add it to the comments…

And to round things off, an excerpt from the January 2009 Retail Research “Who’s Gone Bust?” report (pdf, 144kb), which I discovered whilst compiling this report. A sad, succinct summary:

SPCK,  the 23-branch Church of England Bookshops,  had been acquired along with the leases at concessionary rents in 2006 by two Texan millionaires (the Brewer Brothers) who trade as SSG,  an Orthodox-Church charity. Since then it has been has been rapidly run down,  with complaints of staff ill-treatment (staff sacked by email etc) and an illiberal policy about what could be stocked. The owners attempted to close down the UK chain in 2008 by applying for personal bankruptcy in the US courts. Their bankruptcy motion was Dismissed With Prejudice (i.e. it was NBG). It is difficult to know how many stores are still left operating or what is the position regarding liabilities,  back pay,  legal liabilities, etc. Some SSG stores still trade,  but have no connection with SPCK. A poor outcome.

21 responses to “Unravelling the Knots

  1. Valiant for Truth

    The shop in Leeds was closed in SPCK days, pre-SSG.

  2. Bradford and Newcastle closed. Don’t know that I’d want to use the word “gone”.

  3. ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave
    When first we practise to deceive’

    From Will Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, methinks. Strange that you should home in on that particular quote, as I tend to associate the verb ‘practise’ with lawyers.

  4. Because of their imperfections they need to practise to get it right, but a repetition of errors only increases the potential for erring.
    What`s to be done?

  5. Trouble is, its other folk who end up paying over the odds.

  6. Optimus Prime

    The quote is from Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832, take from his piece Marmion, produced some of his most quoted (and most often mis-attributed) lines. Canto VI. Stanza 17 reads:

    Yet Clare’s sharp questions must I shun,
    Must separate Constance from the nun
    Oh! what a tangled web we weave
    When first we practice to deceive!
    A Palmer too! No wonder why
    I felt rebuked beneath his eye;

  7. Valiant for Truth

    Phelim is right to feel concerned about past behaviour of staff as some were less concerned about the welfare of others and the general good of the shops and their customers-bowing down to the wills of errant bosses is not always the right move. However, now the concern must be for ex-staff and the negotiations being undertaken by USDAW, the Agency staff who have recently become unemployed, and the future of the properties which are still technically owned by SPCK, who must fight this time to protect their interests for the future and in remembrance of all those who have supported by cash and prayer, this 300 year old charity.

  8. Well said. Hopefully the remaining properties will become the bookshops that they should be in the care of those who know what they are doing.

  9. Optimus Prime I rememeber that quote as taught to me by some Domican nuns. It came from ‘ A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Some idiot fell in love with a donkey! I really should get my jacket and join Mad Priest on Vacation wherever he might be. Apologies Phil Groom.

  10. Before the Dominicans burn me at the stake. I apologise.

  11. Thanks for the quote source: have updated above; have also updated the info against various shops to reflect recent comments.

    asingleblog :: apologies :: can’t help thinking those could almost be anagrams 😉 fear not: no apologies necessary, not from you at any rate. But will those who do need to apologise ever find the grace they need to do so?

    I just fed “J Mark Brewer Apologises” to the Internet Anagram Server — amongst many other things it suggested “A Beagle Jerk Piss Morrow”. I hereby offer my apologies to beagle lovers everywhere!!

  12. I hope you’ve given yourself an ASBO.

  13. ASBOlutely 😀 😀

  14. My friend bedesmoan the bad speller suggested:

    Joorees! barm-E prig walks.

  15. Valiant for Truth

    I should have also said that thoughts should be with suppliers, many of whom are still owed money, and with the loss of 23 good shops, have in turn lost much turnover. Also, the Church of England Pensions Board. Synod Members are debating pensions at General Synod next month, and perhaps should be also debating what to do about loss of income through such activities as the Brewers have undertaken. In the current economic climate many others could be struggling to meet obligations to the Church Workers Pension Fund.

  16. Thinking of ‘those who kept quiet’ according to Phelim. Workers kept quiet because they were in such a tricky position and their jobs were on the line. They were also being badly bullied. It was not easy to stand up and shout about the behaviour of the bullies – if you did you were pilloried. As for managers around the south arguing that the Brewers couldn’t be that bad – well everyone wanted to give the new owners a chance and out of Christian charity hoped for the best from them. But most wised up pretty quickly and did what they could, within constraints, to either publicise the situation or get out. None of them should be ‘named and shamed’, they tried to work to get the best for their colleagues and their customers who they felt very loyal towards.

  17. Pax, I would like to applaud those, such as yourself, who kept the situation alive on the Cartoonchurch blog. We are all where we are now and none should feel shame. After all, even the SPCK fell in love with a donkey.

    It was a terrible time and I suppose nobody could ever describe it properly. My first hope is that we will all find some kind of peace. My second is that Christian Bookshops will survive.

  18. Pax, Asingleblog
    I agree with your comments.
    We can’t, havn’t and won’t judge the behaviour of anyone
    The staff are not to be blamed in any way for trying to cope/ survive /carry on their mission/ try to serve their community/pay their mortgage
    We know who is to blame….and these have been extraodinary circumstances…
    Thank you Phil, many may have given up by now.
    Thank you for not doing so.

  19. Phelim McIntyre

    Pax – I would like to agree but can not. Even after I left certain staff were still pro-Brewers and rather than acting within constraints worked to support the Brewers. I respect the fact that workers were scared but does that excuse sneaking to the Brewers as at least one manager did when people acted or attempted to speak anonymously to the press? These are the people we need to be aware of, those who signed change of contracts knowing they were illegal and then try and condemn those who acted – and yes they exist.

    But if you read my follow up comments on the original thread you will see I speak about those who acted quietly. I do not condemn them, I just express my disappointment at those who supported the Brewers to the extent they did.

  20. Valiant for Truth

    Three weeks ago shops were closed and more staff suffered. Why do the Brewers appear not to be doing anything? Or are they?

  21. They certainly are not answering e-mails. Nope nothing.

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