A Tangled Web for Creditors as Durham Cathedral announces plans to Re-Open Shop under its own Management

Phil Groom writes:

Update, Feb 17, 2010

The original news item this report relates to has vanished from the Cathedral website. Now copied into a comment below for reference.

Following last week’s announcement that the Brewer brothers had pulled out of Durham Cathedral ahead of schedule, the Cathedral have now announced a date, 1st March 2010, for the shop to re-open under its own management: The Cathedral Shop – A New Beginning

Due to problems with the roof of the Great Kitchen, where the former SPCK bookshop was situated, the shop will initially open in the entrance area of the original shop with a “focus on the needs of visitors to the Cathedral”. Those who have raised concerns about the need for a good theological bookshop are offered some reassurance, however, as the announcement continues, “As soon as arrangements can be made, a larger shop will open with a wide range of theology books and church supplies.” The new shop is eventually expected to be located in the Undercroft, opposite the restaurant.

Parts of yesterday’s announcement, however, could almost have been written by Philip W Brewer himself and will no doubt leave creditors scratching their heads in bemusement:

From yesterday’s announcement:

The Cathedral cannot deal with any inquiries relating to the former shop which should be directed to St Stephen the Great Trust. …

Organisations will need to establish new accounts since this is a completely new business…

From Philip W Brewer’s instructions to staff when ‘Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company’ was established in March 2008:

Please work with your suppliers as a new entity. Ignore whatever was and whoever was in the past. We are now a new company, with no relationship to the old going forward. So, contact your suppliers, tell them the drill, that you are a new company and that you would like to begin trading. When and if asked about billing, tell them they should process that at vendor-accounts, as you are not aware of how they are paying old invoices, etc. they will need to chase Saint Stephen the Great Trust as they have been doing.

Last year I and several others contacted Peter Gotham, Interim Manager of the St Stephen the Great Trust, urging him to seize control of the Durham shop as he had with others. He responded by insisting that the Durham shop did not come under his remit and refused to take responsibility or comment further on the matter.

If not the Interim Manager, to whom should those with enquiries about the former shop address those enquiries? Perhaps the Cathedral Chapter, whom one hopes has a little more integrity than Philip W Brewer, will post contact details for the division of the St Stephen the Great Trust towards which they are directing enquirers?


37 responses to “A Tangled Web for Creditors as Durham Cathedral announces plans to Re-Open Shop under its own Management

  1. I don’t think your parallel between the announcement made by the Cathedral and the one made by Phil Brewer last year is a fair one. Yes it’s a horribly tangled web for creditors, but Durham Cathedral itself is a creditor to the tune of many thousands of pounds in unpaid rent, etc etc.

    In the Brewer case this was clearly an attempt to avoid creditors and pretend to be different when in fact everything was essentially the same.

    In the case of the recent announcement by the Cathedral, everything is completely different. The cowboys have gone and the Cathedral has its shop back. OK, the wording might not be great, but the spirit of it is very different.

    As for who the creditors should chase – well, if you fancy getting on a plane to Houston and pursuing the Brewers for bankruptcy, then I wish you well. But sadly sometimes the best thing about beating your head on a wall is stopping. Or, put another, way, the cost of getting any money that might be obtainable is probably greater than the money that might be obtained.

    As for the Interim Manager, remember his job is to protect the interests of the Charity, NOT its creditors. As to why he took over Chichester and not Durham, it’s a mystery to me. They look like they have an identical corporate structure.

    • Whilst I hear what you say, furious, I have very little sympathy for the Cathedral authorities: they allowed this situation to drag on, they allowed the Brewers to abuse their staff.

      The Cathedral had more than sufficient grounds to take the initiative and seize control of the shop at any point, and could have done so even more easily once the Interim Manager began to take action elsewhere. But they chose the path of least resistance and it’s the bookshop staff and the local community who have paid — and are paying — the price.

    • Furious – As far as I can make out from listening to people the Interim Manager took over the Chichester shop under pressure from the Diocese. The staff at Durham cathedral could have applied similar pressure, why didn’t they?

  2. Valiant for Truth

    Regardless of who is to blame and for what, the outcome is that creditors (including HMRC) remain unpaid, and these same creditors have to service the new shop. If the Charity Commission (funded by tax payers) appointed Interim Managers to protect the Charity, St Stephen the Great, then this in itself is beyond belief, because this so-called charity has caused untold personal pain and financial loss to hundreds of people. Surely the Charity Commission and British law are there to protect and support the innocent victims, not the party that created these injuries.

  3. Nice priorities – the way they tell the press before those staff waiting hopefully and unpaid in the wings for a possible return to work.

  4. There is only one word for the Durham Shituation: Farcical.

  5. Phelim McIntyre

    On the Charity Trust’s website the link between SSG Trust and the various bodies (including SSG Ltd) is made clear as the same people were in charge – the Brewers Grimm. The lack of ability of the Interim Manager to take action does not bode well for justice as it means anyone can start a charity and spin off things to commit what many could see as fraud and not be touched. This is worrying.

  6. The Brewer’s Grim might well start another charity but it is up to those who care to keep an eye on them. It won’t be easy.

  7. Valiant for Truth

    I think Ezra is referring to another tangled web which has arisen. Last year when the Cathedral said they would not be renewing the original shop lease which was with SPCK, then taken over by SSG and their on-going manifestations, as from the end of April 2010, it was stated that from 1st May 2010, a new shop would be opening in the Undercroft and it was clearly understood that all staff would be transfered under TUPE. However, in late autumn 2009, it became clear that the space allocated for the new shop would not be available in May 2010. Then it was announced in January 2010 that the Great Kitchen, which housed the bookshop, was to be renovated and converted into an Exhibition area, which, in effect, made the bookshop homeless, leaving only the Gift Shop area available. Days later came the pull out by Phil Brewer, and the shop being closed. Two weeks later, the Cathedral announced the re-opening of a shop from 1st March. The question marks now are, firstly, why did this announcement appear on the Cathedral website without any of the former staff being informed? Secondly, where and when will a new bookshop appear? Cathedrals, unlike retail shopping centres, can’t just plonk down a shop anywhere. Lastly, will all the former staff be re-engaged and if so when? Because there has been a shop closure, and a gap before a new shop opens, TUPE does NOT apply, so former staff are not guaranteed a job, and terms and conditions of service do not necessarily carry over, certainly not length of service provisions. If we read the announcement properly, teher will be limited book and requisites stock in the shop on 1st March, mainly visitor souvenir items, which will be very sad at the time of year when the main customer base will be the Church. A lot of web still left to unravel.

  8. Well strike me down with a feather. All mention of the bookshop has been removed from the Durham Cathedral website.

    • Not quite all – they’ve deleted the two news items, but left the shop details on the What to Visit page. Screenshot here for when that disappears, as it no doubt will…

      Here’s the full text of the missing news item about re-opening:

      The Cathedral Shop – A New Beginning

      The Cathedral Chapter is delighted to announce that a new shop at the Cathedral, under its own management, will open on 1st March 2010.

      This marks a new beginning after three unhappy years during which time the Cathedral Shop was managed by St Stephen the Great Trust (SSG), based in Texas, which took it over from SPCK. Last year the Cathedral Chapter served notice requiring SSG to leave on 30th April 2010 but they closed the shop without warning on 23rd January. The Cathedral cannot deal with any inquiries relating to the former shop which should be directed to St Stephen the Great Trust.

      Because of roof problems which came to light with the thawing of the heavy snow, the Great Kitchen remains closed until repair work can be undertaken. Therefore the new shop will open initially in the entrance area to the Great Kitchen and will focus on the needs of visitors to the Cathedral. As soon as arrangements can be made, a larger shop will open with a wide range of theology books and church supplies. The Chapter continues to work on plans to relocate the shop permanently to the Undercroft opposite the restaurant, but the process of obtaining the necessary permissions is taking longer than anticipated. Information will be posted on the Cathedral web site and Network as it becomes available.

      We can take orders now for any books and church supplies (including those for Easter and the next editions of Bible reading notes and Sunday School materials) so please be in touch and don’t wait for 1st March. We can also supply book tables for churches. If churches know what supplies they are likely to need in the next few months, let us know in writing and we will make the necessary arrangements to have them for you in good time.

      Organisations will need to establish new accounts since this is a completely new business and later in the year we will be offering hospitality at the Cathedral for new account holders. If you would like to open an account, or notify us of order requirements, please contact us at [email address removed] or The Shop at Durham Cathedral, The Chapter Office, The College, Durham, DH1 3EH. Because the shop does not yet have a phone number, please write to us about anything to do with the shop rather than phone the Chapter Office.

      It is the hope of the Cathedral Chapter that the Cathedral Shop under Cathedral management will re-establish itself very quickly as a resource for all the churches and we look forward once again to being able to meet the needs of the region. We are very grateful to the staff of the former shop who, for over three years, have done their best under very difficult circumstances that were not of their or the Cathedral’s making. We look forward to seeing them and you in the new shop.

  9. What ( potential) sad news. Makes one wonder about the timing ….

  10. Be interesting to know if those invited back to work have any form of contract, pay or job security.

  11. Not all the comments have been removed from FB. Just the last lot.

  12. Valiant for Truth

    Ezra, according to UK law, an employee must be provided with a Contract of Employment within 13 weeks of the commencement of that employment, and a job description to accompany it, not to mention a Staff Handbook. Even volunteers these days should have a written statement of terms and conditions.

  13. A friend drew my attention to the Newcastle Journal which yesterday published an article. Sadly, they are calling SSG SGG!
    Link to the article is:
    if it works

    [Link corrected – PG]

  14. Any guesses what SGG could stand for?
    No, I know – they didn`t stand for anything but themselves; and then they folded.

  15. Try googling Newcastle Journal, yesterday`s date and Durham Cathedral bookshop and you may be able to find the article.
    They refer throughout to SSG as SGG, however.

  16. Valiant for Truth

    News also in yesterday’s “Church Times” but on subscriber link only. fair comment, Neil McKay in “The Journal”, and I suspect Barchester is still rife in Durham as confusion continues.

  17. Here’s an oddity: the new look St Stephen the Great website: what’s this all about then? And who’s behind it? The spelling’s typically Breweresque: “Christiantity” and “Tertuallian” for instance … another two-brothers scam of some sort??

  18. They seem to have swopped Stephens and are now going for the biblical one instead of the sword-swinging Saracen slayer.

  19. Valiant for Truth

    But what is the point of it, whoever has placed it? A bit of a dig about charities? A bit of garbled Christianity? And some advertising of sorts down the side for other “Brewer enterprises”?

  20. Have the Brewers ever done anything that had a logical point to it? They operate more at the stream of consciousness level.
    Think Finnegan`s Wake and see if anything hits you….

  21. The adverts down the side are not a Brewer enterprise list. If it wasn’t for the website I would say this was one of the many free 1 page websites you can get hold of on the web.

  22. Valiant for Truth

    Thanks, Phelim, you have cleared up some questions in my mind re the construction of the site, but we all still have to ponder on the purpose.

  23. Valiant for Truth

    Thoughts and prayers, please, for the Durham Cathedral Shop and its new management, as the re-opening takes place on Monday 1st March.

  24. Pingback: 2010: SPCK/SSG Blog Overview | SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

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