Monthly Archives: November 2009

SPCK/SSG Creditors have 2 weeks to Act (Updated)

Matt Wardman writes:
This advert appeared in this week’s Bookseller.
Note that you only have about a fortnight to write in.

This charity has been in the press over recent years as a result of concerns expressed over its operations. In April 2009 the Charity Commission appointed Peter Gotham of Begbies Traynor as Interim Manager to take over its running – other than with respect to its religious mission in the churches it controls. This objective was made more complicated by virtue of the fact that since July 2007 the shops previously operated by the charity were managed instead by other companies appointed by the Trustees. The Interim Manager has now completed his initial work, has retaken possession of most shops, and is moving towards meeting valid claims on the charity’s assets. In order to do this he has instructed agents to put various of the Trust’s properties on sale. He is now advertising for creditors’ claims incurred before 1 July 2007 in order to ensure that no valid claims go unmet. (Any claims incurred after 1 July 2007 will be the responsibility of the various companies engaged by the Trustees.)
Creditors who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007, should write to the Interim Manager at Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT under ref S8703 before the close of business on 16 December 2009.
Presented by: Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP
Presenter’s Reference: S8703/PJG/NGA/BRS
Editorial Note: I am not at all convinced by the cut-off date, though, without seeing rock-solid evidence. For example, Mark Brewer was reported by the Bookseller as acting for SSG in November 2007 when the chain dropped the SPCK name.

And which external companies were responsible for running the shops after 1 July 2007? The company which seems to have been responsible for running most of them – ENC Shop Management Ltd – was not registered at Companies House until 11 March 2008

Groups such as the Church of England Pensions’ Board and various government agencies, and other creditors, need to take a close look at this.

And you only have 2 weeks to do so.
[Update: 27/9/1009.
We have been in touch with the interim Manager’s team during the afternoon.
The reason why responsibility is accepted for debts incurred before 1 July 2007 is that the Interim Manager was appointed to manage the “St Stephen the Great Trust” (no 1119839) charity, while a separate  charity – a Company Limited by Guarantee – had been created to manage the bookshops. The Interim Manager was not appointed to manage this Company Limited by Guarantee, and so they are not accepting reponsibility for debts incurred by this Company.
Editorial note: This is all horribly complicated, and we will try and submit a list of detailed questions to the Interim Manager and the Charity Commission over the weekend.  The Company Limited by Guarantee was merged with the parent charity (no 1119839) by direction of the Charity Commission on 27 July 2007 – see the “subsidiary charities” page on the link above, so it is not clear to us how the Interim Manager is entirely not responsible for actions of this charity.
In the meantime, there is an email address for the Interim Manager on the Charity Commission website, where you can send your precise queries.
My brain still hurts.]


STL UK puts up the ‘For Sale’ sign: who will buy?

IBS-STL UK Announces Plans to Sell Operations

IBS-STL UK Announces Plans to Sell Operations

Phil Groom writes:

In a press release issued earlier today, STL UK, the UK and Europe’s major distributor of Christian books and related products, have announced that their business is being put up for sale by their USA owners, Biblica. This decision comes in the wake of ongoing cashflow and stock movement difficulties faced by the organisation since an unsuccessful IT systems upgrade in October last year: combined with the current economic climate, the financial stress has become unsustainable.

This represents the biggest shake up in the Christian book trade for well over a decade, the SPCK/SSG debacle not withstanding, and not only puts STL’s 490 employees at risk of losing their jobs but also risks seriously undermining those hundreds of Christian retailers and suppliers who have become dependent upon STL for their supply chain.

I personally believe that this development does not need to be a disaster and at the weekend I put forward what I have called A Modest Proposal to Save STL UK. There are thousands of people whose livelihoods are likely to be disrupted if STL’s future is not secured: all the employees at Authentic Media and Paternoster Publishing; everyone at STL Distribution; all those working for Wesley Owen; and all the retailers and suppliers I’ve already mentioned. But if we stand together, between us I believe that we could stage a trade buy-out and take over the business as a shared ownership company.

But there is no reason why others — churches and other Christian organisations — couldn’t get involved. We have the means, if we have the will.

If you believe the idea of such a buy-out has merit, please spread the word amongst your friends and churches; if you have any other suggestions for a way forward, please speak out; and please pray for all those whose livelihoods are now under threat.

The UK Christian book trade and the church itself failed when SPCK hit hard times back in 2006. Many people’s lives were ruined and many are still picking up the pieces. It would be a tragedy beyond belief to see that failure repeated with Wesley Owen and its associated companies.

Related Posts

Peter Hebden, RIP

Phil Groom writes:

With great sadness, today we report the loss of Peter Hebden, former SPCK bookseller and the driving force behind the relaunch of Leicester’s former SPCK Bookshop as Christian Resources in November 2007.

I understand that Peter’s death, during the morning of Monday 9th November, followed a short illness, but have no further details at this stage.

We take this opportunity to offer deepest condolences and sympathy to Peter’s family, friends and colleagues.

Melanie Carroll, a former colleague and now owner of Unicorn Tree Books, Lincoln, writes:

Peter was a committed Christian and bookseller and invested much of himself into the Leicester Shop.

He had a good sense of humour, though on the dry side and will be surely missed by those who knew him and worked with him.


Freeholds For Sale at York and Bradford: Where Next?

York - Freehold For Sale

Former SPCK Bookshop, York - Freehold For Sale

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to the intrepid asingleblog for these photos of the York shop, now up for sale; and thanks to David Ormondroyd for the original tip off when he spotted the sign going up on Friday October 30th.

Interestingly, the company handling the sale is none other than DTZ, which readers with good memories will remember from the notices posted on the shop doors when the Charity Commission started seizing control: Changing the Locks: Official Notices as seen in Chester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Worcester. At the time of posting, this property does not appear to be listed at

Would purchase include fittings, fixtures and stock, I wonder? Judging from the photo below there’s actually quite a bit of stock left.

The other freehold properties are Bradford (For Sale sign spotted by Bradforddian), Canterbury, Exeter, and Truro. Exeter, of course, is history, but all five properties are still, if SPCK have the gumption to enforce it, subject to a seven year covenant — full details here (pdf, 745kb), excerpt below — restricting use of the the premises to trading as Christian bookshops. I wonder if the Interim Manager, having inherited the covenant, will insist upon any subsequent purchaser abiding by it?

Restrictive Usage Covenant

Restrictive Usage Covenant

York - Freehold For Sale

Former SPCK Bookshop, York - Freehold for Sale

Photos taken on Sunday evening, November 1st, 2009.