SPCK/SSG Two Years On: Reflections and Responses

Phil Groom writes:

Today, Saturday 26th June, 2010, marks the second anniversary of this blog. You’ll hear no trumpet fanfare, no roll of drums; and you’ll see no flags flying, no balloons, no fireworks to celebrate. But if you listen, carefully, you may well hear the sound of tears falling… yet listen more carefully still and you might just hear the sound of a baby crying. Because out of the anguish and distress through which this blog was birthed, new life has emerged, new bookshops — perhaps even new ways of being bookshop — have been born. Those include:

I invited some of those who were involved in the SPCK/SSG crisis from the very beginning to offer us some reflections on where we are now:

Melanie Carroll, former manager of both SPCK Lincoln and spckonline.com before the Brewers destroyed them, and now owner of Unicorn Tree Books — also recently described by Eddie Olliffe as “one of the most original and inspirational trade bloggers” — writes:

Hmm kind of fitting in a way as last week they (the landlords) finally cleared out the old SPCK shop of all the left behind rubbish, half-newspapered windows and general look of sadness. Now it is ready for something new to open there, to begin its life afresh without the reminder of the past.

It was a sad moment to realise fully that SPCK really is gone now – dismantled from the inside out in effect by people that had no care and no regard for it, no understanding or love for it but that saw it merely as a means to an end, something to be stripped out.

However it was also a moment of relief as now it’s not a ghost haunting us daily with its reminder of what went before it, to the carnage that had led to its desolation. A long reaching shadow blotting out the light and encroaching on new growth and rebirth.

Perhaps now people will start to put it behind them, to be able to move forward with the gleam of past remembrance, to remember now instead the good that was there, the friendships built with time and tested with fire.

Perhaps now people will start to build a new community, to come into the new shops that grew from the ruins, the other shops that sprouted new custom from the passing — perhaps now people will begin to see that life passes on, change happens, we deal with it, we move through it, and sometimes we learn from it, but whatever happens in the end it does pass on, we continue our journeys.

However despite all this what saddens me the most is the fact that sometimes despite it all, despite the trials and tribulations, despite the potential lessons that could have been learned things don’t change as much as they could, as they should – that almost immediately after the SPCK/SSG debacle was the STL Debacle — which in many ways seemed to echo what had occured before —however the thanks here is that due to the SPCK/SSG issue having been raised so strongly this time there were people more willing to step in, to not see such desolation occur, and perhaps in some ways these were helped by those that had done it before without the same degree of support but could stand as witnesses to the potential.

Now though we still see some issues of what it is to be ‘Christian’ Businesses and the principles we aspire to or not shown in how some companies behave and the tactics they use, the arguments used to justify these behaviours sometimes seem to show most strongly how lessons aren’t learned and how the terms being Christian or a Charity can be so abused and maligned by those seeking to justify their tactics of commercial gain and operation over right acting and adherence to basic Christian principles.

I am also saddened by how instead of embracing the Christian Bookshops still standing there is instead a feeling that these places are not of real value any longer unless they are cheaper than Amazon and swankier than Starbucks. That they should perhaps be scorned and rejected as anachronistic. This despite the loss of sales for publishers and detriments to communities where these shops have gone — it is a bit like the Joni Mitchell song says, “You don’t know what you got til it’s gone” – and the trouble is by that point it’s way too late.

So maybe now is the time to start moving forward, to start making the break from the past and moving into the future — a future built on right action and community mindedness, a return to good old fashioned values and community done in a bright new way? Putting each other first, supporting each other, safeguarding each other — and in so doing growing not only each other but ourselves. If that can be the lesson learned from all of this SPCK/SSG debacle, then for me it would really have been worth that pain and sacrifice.

Valiant for Truth, a frequent commenter here who has been keeping a particularly close eye on the still ongoing situation in Durham Cathedral, writes:

And so, the end is near, but not quite there yet as the staff at the Durham Cathedral Shop, who were the last to be employed by the Brewers until January 2010, may still have a Tribunal case if USDAW and the Courts can accommodate this.

Without wishing to pick over old news, the thoughts which come to mind could be bullet points to reflect the saga:

  • Why did a 300 year old, highly respected Anglican mission agency with senior clergy and business people on its Governing Body, decide on a course of action which not only destroyed the former bookshop chain but had serious consequences for much of the rest of the Christian trade?
  • Why did so many stand by and watch things happen, and a few, brave souls ignore threats and carry on giving the news which in turn informed a wider, world wide audience?
  • One former shop manager paid the ultimate price by losing his life and another has died since, but many more suffered at the hands of two brothers who can only be described as bullies, and some people who have had to move on, have still lost much and have not yet been able to truly find a new, satisfying niche for their skills and talents. What a waste of skills and experience!
  • How could the tangled web and twists and turns created by the Brewers, so defeat the English legal system, including charity law?
  • Why must the cloak of secrecy covering “work in progress” in the law, be so dense that even the parties concerned are not kept fully informed of the events and work being undertaken? Will we ever know even when all cases are closed?

Probably ultimate satisfaction will never be achieved — the world is not yet perfect after all — but if nothing else, the saga needs to have been recorded to bring healing to those who have suffered, and to serve as a lesson for the future in the hope that others will not make the same mistake.

My personal thanks to everyone who has blogged, tweeted and otherwise reported on this sorry saga. I’d especially like to thank Dave Walker for his inspirational ‘Save the SPCK’ blogging during the first two years until Mark Brewer’s threats forced him to back off; Matt Wardman for his expertise and persistence in the political blogosphere; and David Keen for his encouragement and support.

Finally — because the saga isn’t quite over yet — I’d like to reiterate my points for prayer for Durham:

Please pray:

  • For the shop staff, as they continue to seek justice after several years of bullying and intimidation by the Brewer brothers.
  • For the Cathedral authorities as they come to terms with their responsibilities after several years of evasion.
  • For grace and wisdom for everyone involved as the shop staff and the Cathedral authorities learn to trust one another and work together.
  • For openness and clear channels of communication.

18 responses to “SPCK/SSG Two Years On: Reflections and Responses

  1. Pingback: SPCK/SSG Two Years On: Reflections and Responses « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  2. Among those NOT mentioned for thanks is, of course, Phil Groom – without whom none of this concerted protest would have been possible.
    BIG THANKS to him for all his support to the sacked, bullied and browbeaten staff over the past 2 years and his ongoing fight for justice for them.

  3. Many thanks to Dave Walker for his valiant coverage of the story until he was silenced by legal threats, and thanks to you, Phil, for taking up the fight: it has meant a great deal to have a forum where the story has been made known to the wider world.

  4. Yes thanks to all who helped in whatever way they could when we could not do much – I believe we have all become stronger as people through this. It is just over 2 years for me and my collegues as we were I think the first staff to leave, either by force or by choice. Thanks to all who blogged in the face of danger and all at USDAW , and whoever it was who recommended that we join a union.

  5. I would like to echo cactus. Thanks to whoever it was that recommended USDAW. Has it only been two years? It feels like a lifetime.

    I would like to thank Phelim McIntyre for not closing down this blog when you were away on holiday Phil. The most important thing was that the devastation be reported. All who blogged and all who could not blog because of restrictions placed upon them have been heroes.

    I remember sleepless nights during the Brewer Era. I’ve struggled to keep bitterness at bay. Most of all I have not understood that in the face of injustice those in authority just turned away. It’s not like they did not know and it’s not like they didn’t read this blog.

    I would like to tip my hat to the good people of Chichester. Long may they be happily at work selling books. The people of Chichester did the right thing. They asked Peter Gotham to close the shop and he did. Durham gave the Brewer’s a years notice under the Landlord and Tenants Act when they could have given them six months notice under the same Act. Why? There might have been closure then. Instead Durham have another version of ENC (Everyone’s Nightmare Continues) to borrow from a blogger on Cartoon Church. To echo Valiant for Truth “why did so many stand by and watch things happen?”

    Given time the pain might go away. It will take lots of time.

  6. Valiant for Truth

    Reflecting on what Melanie said about the Lincoln shop, has anyone any news of what has happened to other shops, especially the ones put up for sale? This property issue, with several freehold properties originally owned by SPCK, is another issue not yet fully resolved. I can’t think there would be anyone happy to see the Brewers gaining from the sale of freeold properties.

  7. Can I say to all who reed this blog, and I know that is many,the injustice still goes on , we are nearly there. I like many will never understand, how christian people stood by and allowed to crooks to walk all over them. I would also like to thank USDAW for there support and careing. and all you lovely people ,you know who you are .

  8. Cambridge shop – well the site of – is a lovely toy shop now that moved from a tiny shop round the corner – they now have 2 wonderful floors full of toys etc.

  9. Phelim McIntyre

    Looking at the comments by Valiant for Truth I would also ask whether there is truth in the claim that one of the Trustees of SPCK stated that book selling was a waste of time and the organisation should have got rid of the bookshops years ago – before the Brewers took over?

  10. Valiant for Truth

    Well, SPCK did try to sell the shops to Wesley Owen in 2005/6.

  11. Phelim McIntyre

    This was before that, so I am told.

  12. Valiant for Truth

    Sounds most likely post 2000, and presumably the attempted sale to Wesley Owen was because of this feeling. Some shops were undoubtedly less profitable than others, mainly through changing circumstances, but if you have gangrene in one limb you remove that limb, but don’t kill the entire body.

  13. Links to a few posts/reports on the WO/SPCK merger in the news archives:

  14. I saw balloons outside the former SPCK bookshop in Truro today – celebrating its reopening as a deli! It (the business) is still owned by the Brewers’ former tenant, but the Christian stock had already shrunk from two floors to a few shelves at the back. Not sure who she’s paying rent to now – the Charity Commission?
    The balloons didn’t make me celebrate, I’m afraid.


  16. What does it do to our directory?

  17. Valiant for Truth

    It would be so good if the question about who is paying rent to whom and who actually owns which buildings could finally be answered. The original deal between SPCK and SSG was that the shops handed over had to continue as Christian bookshops, so there’s another point at issue.

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