Category Archives: Musings

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.
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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

Do we need an Anglican Books Forum?

Matt Wardman writes:

This is not within the strict remit of the SPCK campaign group, but we are a network including booksellers, readers, authors, publishers and all manner of interested parties – so I thought I would run a flag up the flagpole.

Future of Church House Publishing

Phil Groom has posted about a decision to hand over Church House Publishing, currently owned by the Archbishops’ Council which is the Church of England “Cabinet”, to the Hymns Ancient & Modern company:

The Archbishops’ Council is in discussion with Hymns Ancient & Modern with a view to outsourcing the Council’s publishing services. The proposed agreement would maintain the Council’s long-term commitment to publishing liturgy, key reference titles and other resources for the Church.

Clearly the SPCK/Brewer experience has caused us to realise that the people who will get hurt – if anyone does – who are the staff, customers and suppliers, need to have a voice. This applies even – and I need to emphasise this – if the other party is basically trusted as is certainly the case with Hymns Ancient & Modern, which is a different world from Philip and J Mark Brewer.

There are still important questions about the concentration of influence and other questions, and Phil puts this better well:

  • Does the Church of England need an independent voice for its publishing division?
  • Is it right to concede so much control of the Church’s voice to the owners of the Church Times?
  • What provision — pastoral as well as financial — is being made for staff who now face the very real possibility of redundancy?

There is more detail on Wannabe Priest’s blog.

Anglican Books Forum

That has set off the thought whether we need a group / network / whatever that can be an arena where the range of people interested in books can have these conversations.

These are some initial thoughts.

  • When the Brewer detail is finally revealed, everyone will be looking for a network or body to comment on these kind of questions.
  • The current question around CHP demonstrates the need for something independent but comprehensive to raise alarm.
  • I’m suggesting that such a setup could have its seed as a spinoff from SPCKSSG.
  • We have seen the the need for an Anglican focus, e.g., a group that can raise a hue and cry in General Synod etc if necessary, but also be consulted by e.g., the Archbishops’ Council. Of course there’s a “promote books” role as well.
  • Needs to encompass publishers /booksellers /readers /writers / bookstaller people / various other stakeholders.

Note: clearly “books” is the wrong word, since we are in a multimedia age – but it’s the best I could do for now.

Wrapping Up

This needs to be talked about more widely, since it is not our core purpose – which continues to be the scrutiny of the run down of the former-SPCK bookshop chain until the bitter (or not) end.

Also, it’s not something we can drive from here – anyone interested in picking up the baton? We can advise.

What do you think?

CBC/CRE: Will you be there? #CBC09 #CRE09

What are they saying about CBC/CRE?
For behind the scenes conversations, follow these twitter hashtags:    

Phil Groom writes:

Last year a group of us took the opportunity to get together at CRE (that’s the Christian Resources Exhibition, for anyone who may be unaware).

This year, CRE has been combined with CBC (Christian Booksellers Convention) and promises to be bigger and better than ever.

I should be there on Tuesday. Anyone else? Would be good to catch up over a coffee or maybe even lunch…

  • When: Tuesday 12 – Friday 15 May 2009
  • Where: Sandown Park, Esher, Surrey

Bishop Alan Wilson: “a learning experience…”

Phil Groom writes:

Today, I’d like to highlight a comment left by Bishop Alan Wilson on David Keen’s blog:

The whole Brewer thing has been a learning experience for us all about the dangers in selling off bits of the family silver without checking that the people to whom it goes have the character or competence to handle it. These things call for light, not a conspiracy of darkness and silence…

My thanks to both David and the Bishop for helping to keep a little light shining in this dark and wearisome situation.

On Neighbours and Building Plans

Phil Groom writes:

This isn’t so much about the Brewers as for them; for Philip (Phil) W and Mildred B (Beth) Brewer in particular, and for their neighbours in Bountiful, Tucson, Arizona. There’s been a dispute running between Phil and Beth and their neighbours (pdf | html | Links broken? Try a Google Search for P21-06-033), running parallel to our own disputes with them here in the UK. It even blew up at around the same time, late 2006, all to do with the Brewers’ building plans and their neighbours’ concerns; and if you’ve been following asingleblog’s conversation with ‘Tucson Observer’ then you’ll know that the neighbours’ concerns have yet to be entirely allayed even though the Pima County Board of Supervisors’ Meeting (alternative link) apparently wanted to uphold the neighbours’ appeal:

Uphold Appeal 5/0

NOTES/ACTION: Uphold Appeal 5/0

Given the way that Phil Brewer has ridden roughshod over the concerns and interests of British booksellers, I guess it’s hardly surprising to find him doing the same with his neighbours back home. He seems to have been much politer in his correspondence with his neighbours, couching everything in religiosity and oozing with apparent concern, than he has been with people here; although we’ve seen the same pattern here in many ways: all sweetness and light when dealing with public media outlets such as the BBC, the Bookseller and Christian Marketplace; but utter contemptuousness and dictatorial obnoxiousness in his direct memos to staff.

His neighbours weren’t fooled for a moment, though, and saw straight through the sugar-coated language to the poison pill beneath: “We felt like Mr Brewer was being dishonest at the administrative hearing…” said one group; “I am extremely opposed to this idea on the basis of being used like a pawn for the Brewers financial gain.” wrote another neighbour.

But as I said at the beginning of this piece, this post isn’t so much about the Brewers as for them; because the Brewers’ dispute with their neighbours seems to have something in common with another dispute I’ve come across recently. A Christian organisation I know here in the UK — but which I’m not going to name — has some major building redevelopment plans underway; their neighbours have objected to those plans; and those objections have been upheld by the Planning Authority: planning permission has been denied.

How the organisation intends to respond has yet to be revealed; but a letter from one member of staff came my way which, I think, expresses the way Christians should respond to their neighbours. If you should read this, Mr Brewer, then know that this is for you, too: may you find your way out of your wilderness of obsession with personal financial gain to encounter God’s grace; may that grace find its way from your heart to unlock your wallet to pay those whose wages you have withheld; and may you learn to love your neighbours in truth and in deed rather than only in fine sounding words.

Names have been removed to preserve anonymity:

I’d heard that concerns had been raised by our neighbours and I think it’s not only right and proper that the Planning Committee have heard those concerns but even more important that we as a Christian community should hear them too.

My question, quite simply, is what is ultimately more important: [our] dreams of expansion or our relationship with our neighbours? In view of the neighbours’ concerns — whether we either as individuals or at an organisational level regard those concerns as valid or not — could it ever be right to press ahead and risk alienating our neighbours in this way? Jesus said that love of God and love of neighbour are the hinge upon which everything else hangs.

Would not an attempt to ride roughshod over our neighbours’ concerns — even if done via due process of law and planning procedures — be contrary to the Gospel? If [we are] to be a beacon of light in this area, if [we are] to be the Good News here in [this town], we must think very seriously indeed about where this leaves us.

Some, I suspect, will perceive the denial of planning permission as an attack of the devil. I suggest that it is nothing of the sort: is it not rather a clash of values — Gospel values over commercial values? [Are we] in danger of being driven by commercial values rather than Gospel values?

We are now in Lent: in Lent we are called to travel with Jesus into the wilderness, to fast and pray, to resist temptation, to listen to the voice of the Spirit. Is this development the voice of the Spirit driving [us] into the wilderness, so to speak, to take stock once again of where we are and how we move ahead?

Let’s listen to our neighbours and do everything possible to work with them, not alienate them; and if [our] dreams, like [our] Lord, are to be crucified as a result, let it be so for now. Resurrection must be in God’s time, not ours.

100,000 Pageviews… and Still Counting!

Phil Groom writes:

100,022 pageviews... and counting!

100,022 pageviews... and counting!

On Thursday 29th January 2009, one of you splendid people out there had the awesome privilege of experiencing our 100,000th pageview. Was it you? Did you capture that magic moment? I captured our 100,022nd as per the screenshot, right (though I was not actually the 100,022nd pageviewer: WordPress doesn’t count my visits).

This blog was launched on 26th June 2008, just over seven months ago: that’s 100,000 pageviews in 218 days, an average of almost 459 pageviews per day… just shy of one pageview every 3 minutes.

So, for the statisticians and the incurably  curious, I take this opportunity to present some more facts and figures:

All Time Top 10 Posts & Pages
(View Count as at 9pm, 30/01/2009)

 Durham  2,726 
 Steve Jeynes, RIP  2,258 
 About  1,170 
 “SSG tribunal claims mount”  1,065 
 Joy Jeynes: Please continue to pray for God’s work in Worcester  1,003 
 Rescuing Britain’s Christian Heritage: Durham Cathedral Bookshop   991 
 A Letter to Mark Brewer  989 
 Mark Brewer says, “Remove this page. Immediately.”  984 
 Philip Brewer says, “Immediately post this…”  899 
 SPCK/SSG: My Story, by Phil Groom  872 

 

The Upsy-Downsy Chart for the last few days

Pageviews 16.01.2009 - 30.01.2009

Pageviews 16.01.2009 - 30.01.2009

Busiest Ever…

Where Next? All Time Top 5 Destinations on Leaving This Site
(Click Count as at 9pm, 30/01/2009)

 iPetitions.com: Durham Cathedral Bookshop  1,113 
 Asingleblog  511 
 iPetitions.com: Durham Cathedral Bookshop: Signatures p.1   341 
 Matt Wills China Blogger  181 
 iPetitions.com: Chichester Christian Bookshop  180 

 

There are lots more stats available, of course: feel free to ask if you’d like more details on any particular page or post. Scroll down the sidebar for live updated lists of the current top posts and pages, pageviews and departure destinations.

Now, changing the subject entirely: let’s plan ahead for February. Who’d like to design a couple of Valentine’s Day Cards for J Mark and Philip ‘Dubya’ Brewer? Let’s show them some true blogger love and appreciation.