Author Archives: Phil Groom

To all this blog’s friends and supporters: thank you; and very best wishes for Christmas and the coming year

Phil Groom writes:

THIS BLOG would be nothing without you, its friends and supporters: thank you for all your encouragement over this past year.

In recognition of your support (and rather than add to humanity’s carbon footprint by sending out dozens of cards that will mostly end up in recycling bins anyway) I’ve done my usual and bought a goat from Farm Africa, and the good folk there have kindly attached a label to it for you:

Farm Africa Presents: A Goat

Farm Africa Presents: A Goat

Click on through to farmafricapresents.org.uk and you’ll be able to watch a video that tells you all about Farm Africa’s work — and, I hope, you’ll be inspired, to buy a goat for someone else. Don’t worry if a goat’s not your thing: you can always send a beehive, a camel, a chicken or something more quirky such as a bottle of fermented cow’s urine.

Cross posted with UKCBD Blog

Good News in Leicester as Cathedral Square Relocation Plans are Confirmed

Phil Groom writes:

THE UNCERTAINTY that has hung over Christian Resources, the former SPCK Bookshop in Leicester, since the sad death of Peter Hebden (who was sole proprietor) has come to an end at last. The following brief announcement was posted to the Christian Resources Leicester facebook group on Monday 20th Dec 2010:

Christian Resources Leicester: WE ARE MOVING!

Christian Resources Leicester - WE ARE MOVING! We can now officially tell you that we will be relocating to a BRAND NEW SHOP next March as part of the new Cathedral Square Development next to Leicester Cathedral. More news coming soon....!!

In February, when I last reported on the situation in Leicester, it was hoped that the new premises would become available during the autumn of this year, but this was delayed. Although the bookshop itself isn’t specifically mentioned, this video, presented by Pete Hobson, Project Director, gives an insight into the development:

I have to say that for me personally it’s all very nostalgic: this was my school! That gym you see is where I had PE lessons and those upstairs rooms are where we had our science lessons, oh yes! And if you seriously think those little wooden knobs would stop teenage boys sliding down the bannisters, you were never a teenage boy!! And now — somewhere — the place is going to be home to Leicester’s leading Christian bookshop: bring it on!

You too can own a half-price church courtesy of St Stephen the Great

Phil Groom writes:

LET’S FACE IT, with Phil Brewer and Mark Brewer off his back, what use does St Stephen the Great have for a church these days? He can’t even let it out as a B&B — sorry, I mean use it as “hospitality units for the Charity” — so it’s yours, half-price for Christmas: was £250,000; now £125,000, put up for sale, I’m reliably informed, “By Order of P Gotham, Interim Manager, St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust”:

Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church, Bradford: Attractive well maintained grade 2 Listed church building. Suitable for a variety of community/commercial uses - subject to consents. PRICE NOW REDUCED FROM £250,000 TO £125,000!

Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church, Bradford: Attractive well maintained grade 2 Listed church building. Suitable for a variety of community/commercial uses - subject to consents. PRICE NOW REDUCED FROM £250,000 TO £125,000!

Property Search Results from sharmawilliamson.co.uk/property_search.php: type ‘church’ in the search box. Also advertised as ‘Offers Invited’:

Mary Magdalene Church, Bradford: Offers Invited
Mary Magdalene Church, Bradford: Offers Invited

This is one of at least two ‘redundant’ churches that were handed over to the Brewer brothers by the Church of England, the other being St Osmund’s in Poole, Dorset, renamed St Stephen the Great by the Brewers in 2007 then abandoned by the priest and congregation back in 2008. According to the Orthodox Wiki, which may or may not be a reliable source of information, between them the two properties are “valued in excess of £12,000,000”. Whatever the true value and whatever the outcome of this particular sale, one can only hope that the proceeds will go to those ripped off  by the Brewers — sorry, I mean those who’ve benefited from Phil Brewer’s “Major Business Accomplishments”, as set out by him for Halloween this year:

Screenshot: philbrewer.com

philbrewer.com: Trick or Treat?

Major Business Accomplishments
President of an international Orthodox Christian charity, Churches & hospitality units, sales exceeding £4 Million ($8 Million) annually.

  • 24 retail bookshops, 180+ employees located throughout the United Kingdom.
  • In this capacity, responsibilities included hiring, coaching and training retail store managers.
  • Developed flat world approach to management structure for flexibility and cost savings.
  • Implemented vibrant web presence.
  • Overseeing purchasing, suppliers, manufacturers.
  • Acquired redundant Churches from the Church of England. Responsible for maintaining Churches and bringing them back to use as Christian Churches for the Orthodox Church.
  • Established hospitality units for the Charity.

Flat world approach indeed. One can only hope that anyone thinking of signing up for the services of Flintdale Medical, one of Phil Brewer’s current projects, does a little research before parting with any cash…

Former SPCK Bookshops Four Years On: watching, waiting, wondering: it isn’t over yet

The Watcher writes:

The photograph below, sent in by a concerned individual, of the former SPCK Bookshop in Worcester, looking empty and neglected, is symptomatic of the present state of play regarding the former SPCK Bookshops four years after they were handed over to the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust aka Messrs Mark and Phil Brewer on 31st October 2006.

Former SPCK Bookshop, Worcester, 26 Oct 2010

Former SPCK Bookshop, Worcester, 26 Oct 2010

As well as handing over more than 200 staff, and we’ve seen the tale of pain and destruction which has taken place regarding that event, SPCK also handed over valuable freehold shop premises.

Five shops – Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter, Truro and York – were handed over immediately. Exeter was sold in 2008 and York is in the process of being converted into a restaurant. No doubt we shall have news of other sales in due course.

However, six shops – Chester, Hereford, Newcastle, Salisbury, Winchester and Worcester – were destined to be handed over fully to SSGCT in 2013 if they were still being used as Christian bookshops. Obviously none of them are, as the photograph demonstrates, so a logical thinker would say that ownership was still with SPCK who could do as they liked with the buildings as the Brewers had reneged on their part of the deal. [1] If only life were that easy when the Brewers are around! They fight for their rights (and they’re always right) regardless, and now the Charity Commission and their Interim Managers are also involved.

As so many legalities are involved, no one outside of the situation can be exactly sure what is happening, but it would appear that although the Interim Managers had stated they could only be involved in SSGCT affairs because that was a charity, not in any of the later organisations set up by the Brewers because they were companies, they are still working with SPCK but it could take until 2013 for any resolution.

In the meantime shops stand empty in prime high street locations and suppliers who were not paid by the Brewers from mid 2007 through to the end of 2009, are still owed money at a time when trading conditions are difficult. It is sad that they would have to take the time, trouble and expense to chase up what they are owed because of the “technicality” of the Brewers trying to separate Charity and Company. The former SPCK shops existed because of the support of thousands of ordinary Christians. Some shops had their opening funded by local Christians raising the money to enable SPCK to purchase retail premises. All shops continued to stay open over many years because customers shopped there. So, what is the answer? Can anyone ignore what is happening and think the story is over?


[1] Excerpts from SPCK’s 2007 Annual Report

 

From p.6:

On 31 October 2006, all our bookshops and their staff were transferred to St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. The Society will retain six freeholds for a period of seven years, when (subject to agreed conditions) they will also be transferred.

From p.20:

On 30 October 2006, SPCK entered into an agreement with St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT), a registered charity no: 1109008, for the creation of a new Christian Resources Group including the SPCK Bookshops open at that date. Under the terms of the agreement and in furtherance of its charitable purposes, SPCK transferred its Bookshops activities to SSGCT on 31 October 2006 including the transfer of certain freehold and leasehold properties, fixtures fittings and stock. SPCK also agreed to grant leases to SSGCT, at peppercorn rents, on certain other freehold properties for a period of seven years, after which time they will be transferred to SSGCT if the SPCK Bookshops Group remains in operation on an agreed basis.

Former SPCK York to become a Restaurant

York Press, 05/10/2010: "Christian bookshop in Goodramgate, York to be sold for restaurant use"

York Press, 05/10/2010: "Christian bookshop in Goodramgate, York to be sold for restaurant use"

Phil Groom writes:

According to a report published 5th October 2010 in the York Press, the fate of the former SPCK Bookshop in York is now sealed as businessman Ian Loftus has secured permission to turn the premises into a restaurant:

A FORMER Christian bookshop in the centre of York is poised to come up for grabs to restaurateurs after plans to transform it were approved.

Businessman Ian Loftus has secured permission to revamp the disused Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) store in Goodramgate with the aim of attracting a high-profile dining-out name to the city.

The owner of Stonegate’s Evil Eye Lounge and House of Trembling Madness bought the building following the closure of the bookshop two years ago and hopes its availability will help revitalise the street.

The site is expected to go on the market within the next week following the approval of the plans, which involve turning the ground floor of the three-storey structure into a restaurant area, by City of York Council.

York was, of course, one of the freehold premises which was subject to a seven year covenant — full details here (pdf, 745kb) — restricting use of the the premises to trading as a Christian bookshop:

Restrictive Usage Covenant

Restrictive Usage Covenant

As suspected just under a year ago when the For Sale sign was spotted (Nov 2, 2009), it appears that the Interim Manager did not regard the covenant as binding. One can only hope that the monies received for sale of the premises has been used to pay some of the company’s creditors…

The Way It Was: SPCK York, July 2008

The Way It Was: SPCK York, July 2008

Durham Cathedral Shop: Resurrection in Progress

Phil Groom writes:

RIP. I just love those initials: just when we think it’s all over, along comes Jesus and says, “Party time, people: join me?”

Parties never happen by themselves, of course: there’s a heck of a lot of work goes on behind the scenes and a lot of work involved in keeping the party going, but after the ruination visited upon Durham Cathedral Shop by the Brewer brothers — both sadly still at large when they really ought to be locked away — it did my heart good to receive these photos of the resurrected Durham Cathedral Shop from our intrepid photographer. Congratulations and well done to all involved in achieving such an amazing transformation:

Durham Cathedral Shop, September 2010

Durham Cathedral Shop, September 2010

As I write this we’re halfway through our third Day of Prayer for the UK Christian book trade: please continue to pray for everyone caught up in the ongoing situation in Durham:

  • For the shop staff — for courage, grace and patience and perseverance as they continue to seek a fair settlement…
  • For the Cathedral authorities as they struggle to come to terms with their complicity in the Brewers’ mistreatment of staff…
  • For Usdaw, ACAS and all others involved in ongoing negotiations towards a settlement that will be fair and just for all…
  • For Phil and Mark Brewer, for repentance, change of heart and justice to be served…

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.