Author Archives: davidkeen

The SPCK AGM, Unfinished Business and Unanswered Questions

David Keen writes

The SPCK Annual General Meeting is happening this Thursday – 1st October – and the annual report and accounts for 2008-9 are online. There is a passing reference to the former SPCK bookshops:

“SPCK continues to have a number of significant legal issues with Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust in regard to matters connected with the former SPCK Bookshops. The Charity Commission has appointed an Interim Manager for the Trust, and progress is being made.” (page 6)

Others have stronger views than I over how much responsibility SPCK should shoulder for handing over their bookshops (and staff, customers, and suppliers) to a family of charlatans, who have unfairly dismissed over 30 former staff, been censured in the US courts for a fraudulent bankrupcty claim, and finally been booted out by the Charity Commissioners. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Some better news for former staff: the report reveals that their pension scheme, which is managed by the CofE pension folks (as far as I can tell), had a big shortfall as a result of the CofE revaluing its pensions (though it was struggling before this). SPCK has started making additional payments into the fund of £285,000 to top it up. This is going to be paid for the next 15 years, and the whole amount has been put on this years balance sheet – £3,832,000.

As I recall from comments on this blog, there is some question about whether the Brewers have kept up with pension payments to the staff they inherited from SPCK. Whose job is it to retrieve those: SPCK? Charity Commissioners? Church of England Pensions Board? What happens if they aren’t paid? Maybe this is a question which needs to be asked at the AGM.

Though the pension fund has imploded, SPCK are at least doing their bit to support former bookshop staff on this front. But we’re not out of the woods by any means.

Couple of other things:
– SPCK have nearly £300k in a restricted fund for Newcastle Bible House, which seems to be for the purpose of Christian retailing in Newcastle. This is listed in the accounts. What’s going to happen to this?

– Do the premises of former bookshops still belong to SPCK, or were they completely made over to the Brewers? The shops, as I understand, were given over with restrictive covenant, and at least one has been sold on by the Brewers for another use. I’m not sure what the legal situation is here, whether the shops revert to SPCK if the covenant has been transgressed.

There are other questions which need asking at the AGM, so if any readers of this blog are planning to be there, here is your mission, if you choose to accept it…..

and finally….. Durham?

David Keen writes

It sounds like the bookshop formerly known as SPCK Chichester is now closed, which leaves only Durham still under the control of the Brewer brothers. Durham Cathedral have already given them notice to quit – by April next year – but the Charity Commissioners may have other views.

If Chichester has been closed because the CC’s deem it to be an asset of the former ‘Society of St. Stephen the Great’ charity, and therefore part of the tribunal settlement with former staff, then logic suggests that they do the same with Durham. Every other remaining shop in the former SPCK chain is already under Charity Commissioners control.

If you’re planning to buy anything from Durham, then you might want to get a move on. The Cathedral want to re-open the shop after they’ve evicted the Brewers, but I can’t see the Commissioners waiting until April 2010. Former staff have been promised full payment of their tribunal settlement within 3 months, so I guess the CC’s will be looking to identify assets during that time frame.

And that will be that: the end of the SPCK bookshop chain in its final incarnation. Several former shops have reopened under new management, and places like Durham will probably be viable under proper management, but there’s wider issues in Christian bookselling, and this isn’t exactly the best time to be starting up a new shop.

Still a stack of ongoing issues:
– If SPCK passed on the shops to the Brewers under a covenant stating that they should continue to operate as Christian bookshops, does that still stand now the Charity Commissioners have taken possession?
– If so, will we have a government agency running a chain of Christian bookshops? (!!??!)
– SPCK themselves have been very quiet for much of the last 2 years, possibly for legal reasons. But having made the decision to hand the bookshops over to Mark and Phil Brewer, there has to be some kind of review of that decision, and some learning of lessons.
– There are other untraced monies, like pension contributions.
– At what point will Phil and Mark Brewer be brought to justice, rather than simply be forced by the courts to cough up what they already owe?

…And so on…. please pray for all the folk caught up in this, it’s deeply sad, and bookshop staff are caught in an incredibly difficult position. However if a stocktake (of the orthodox sort) in Durham is on the cards, then that might be of some help to the Charity Commissioners.

cross posted from St. Aidan to Abbey Manor

A message to all our supporters

David Keen writes

the following was sent to the 475-odd members of the We Support Dave Walker Facebook group earlier this week:

Subject: 1 year on

Dear all,

This Wednesday, 22nd July, was 1 year to the day since Dave Walker and Phil Groom both recieved their ‘Cease and Desist’ legal threats from Mark Brewer. An awful lot has happened during that time, not least of which has been the support of hundreds of you for Dave, former SPCK bookshop staff, and others who have suffered at the hands of the Brewers.

The good news is that plenty has been achieved.
– Firstly, Mark Brewer failed to get his St. Stephen the Great charity declared bankrupt in the US, a court case in which Dave’s posts were cited as evidence.
– In April this year the UK Charity Commissioners took over the running of the St. Stephen the Great charity, after a formal investigation.
– Even though the Brewers had moved all the bookshops into a new organisation (ENC Shop Management) the CC’s are now taking possession of these shops as St. Stephen assets.
– 30 former staff, whose tribunal against SSG was being heard earlier this year, will now have their cases settled by the Charity Commissioners.
– In the meantime Durham Cathedral has (at last) served notice on the Brewers tenancy of the Cathedral shop.

As you may know, though the SPCK posts remain absent from the Cartoon Blog (see them in full at http://opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com/), Dave has mentioned the saga a couple of times on his Church Times blog. At no point have any of Mark Brewers threats been acted upon. Instead it’s Mr Brewer himself who has gone very quiet.

Thankyou again for your support of Dave, and for those of you who have blogged, commented and emailed in support. We may be at the beginning of the end – both the end of SSG’s dismal foray into UK bookselling, and the end of the bookshop chain themselves. Any further developments will be reported at https://spckssg.wordpress.com/

Your fellow supporter

Changing the Locks?

David Keen writes:

On the grapevine yesterday….

“I have just been told that this morning the locks on the door of Newcastle shop have been changed, and a notice has been placed on the door by the Interim Managers re the Charity Commission investigation.”

Can anyone else confirm this? Is there any news from the other shops?

It would make sense, with the Charity Commissioners taking control of St. Stephen the Great assets. If true, it may also show that, as far as the CC is concerned, the change of name last year to ENC Management was a smoke and mirrors exercise designed to get SSG out of its financial obligations.

There is possibly another SSG asset parked near Durham Cathedral, so if you see this go up for auction in the name of the Charity Commissioners, please give generously.

Meanwhile if you see anyone fiddling with the locks on a former SPCK shop, please ask what they’re doing. If they represent the Charity Commissioners, then bless them loudly. If they try to disguise a Texan accent and have a van with the engine running parked outside, then be suspicious.

Is this the ‘Best Use of New Media in a Christian Campaign’?

David Keen writes:

The ‘Bloggies’ – Christian Web and New Media awards – are now open for nominations. I’ve taken the liberty of nominating this blog for ‘Best Use of New Media in a Christian Campaign’.

Phil’s blog is very much the hub of the SPCK campaign, but there’s much more going on. Many of us who are involved have never met face to face, but through blogs, email, Facebook, online petitions, Google Groups, and even Twitter we’ve built a network of supporters from several countries, and in the last 2 weeks there has been a mini-avalanche of remarkable results from the pressure that the campaign has brought to bear:

  • Durham Cathedral have served notice on the Brewers to leave the premises
  • The Charity Commissioners have taken control of the assets of the Society of St. Stephen the Great.
  • Following the CC action, an out of court settlement with unfairly dismissed staff may now be possible
  • and Dave Walker is back to blogging about the SPCK story. Mark Brewers initial ICBM (inter-continental bullying manoevre) seems to have backfired spectacularly in the intervening 10 months. Welcome back Dave.

I have a slight quibble about the Bloggies, in that anyone using new media effectively will, hopefully, be using more than one website to do it. The online SPCK campaign – which effectively began as Dave Walker’s ‘Save the SPCK’ campaign on The Cartoon Blog – has diversified into several ‘new media’ as it has evolved. Any campaign simply using one platform probably shouldn’t get past first base!

If you’d like to nominate the SPCK/SSG campaign too, please do! Here’s what I put in the ‘additional information’ box:

A campaign to scrutinise and hold to account the new owners of SPCK bookshops, which recently resulted in decisive action by both the Charity Commissioners and Durham Cathedral. The campaign provides a discussion space, as well as a focus for scrutiny and lobbying.      

Use of new media includes

– Several blogs, of which the named blog is the key one. With the censorship of Dave Walkers blog, it’s been important to have several blogs reporting the story, so that ‘divide and rule’ through legal threats won’t work.  The reposting on over 70 blogs of material which the new SPCK owners attempted to censor was vital both in building a public profile, and in demonstrating support for those victimised by the new owners.
– Online petitions
– Facebook: there are two related groups on Facebook, which give the campaign an online mailing list of around 600 people, as well as a forum for spreading information.
– Google groups, as a forum for the leaders of the campaign to communicate and share information.
– more recently, Twitter.

Many of those involved in the campaign haven’t met face to face, but new media has enabled us to network, co-ordinate our efforts, and spread information to a wide group of people.

David Keen blogs at St. Aidan to Abbey Manor, and has just joined the team on SPCK/SSG News, Notes and Info.