Category Archives: News

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…

Durham Cathedral Staff Tribunal Starts

Our thanks to Valiant For Truth for bringing to our attention that in The Journal Newspaper yesterday there was an article of great import to those who frequent this site,

Durham Cathedral Bookshop Staff Launch Legal Fight

This in many ways marks the official start of Durham Staff in their fight for Justice against the Brewer Brothers and their tactics of playing fast and loose with employment law and the rights of workers to be treated fairly and dismissed in a right way.

However Durham Cathedral itself via their trading arm are also in the dock as it were, again something that may not come as any great surprise to readers of this blog who have at times been dismayed, upset and hurt by some of the Cathedrals inactions and actions throughout the saga.

The article begins by saying:

CATHEDRAL bosses could become embroiled in a complex legal fight after bookshop staff launched tribunal proceedings.

Six workers at Durham Cathedral’s bookshop are seeking compensation after their employment was allegedly terminated when the shop unexpectedly closed on January 22 this year.

But confusion has arisen over who is potentially liable for any payouts and proceedings have been listed against several different companies, including the cathedral’s trading arm, Durham Cathedral Trading Ltd.

The article then goes on to say:

Miss Jeram, representing the Trust, (inserted clarification for blog readers – that’s SSGCT) said: “There are a number of uncertainties. There has been a great deal of confusion right from the beginning over their employer.

“The only issues can be who the employer was immediately prior to the closing of the bookshop and who the employer was at any time after that, in the period between January 22 and March 1.

“We’ve got to consider whether the claims should be struck out against the first respondent. At some point after June 2007 and before July 2008 it is my understanding that the Brewers attempted to wind up SSG LLC in Houston. After that time their employer could not have been SSG so it would have become the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company.”

Claims against employers involve redundancy pay, unfair dismissal, breach of contract and unpaid work.

Sara Brody, representing the staff on behalf of shop workers union Usdaw at the hearing, argued the Trust should remain on the list of potential employers.

She said: “The claimants believe the Trust was their employer throughout, so their primary claim is against the Trust.”

Last year Durham cathedral bosses served SSG notice to vacate the shop, the last in the UK to be involved with the Trust, by May of this year.

Again these issues as raised are nothing new to anyone aquainted with this situation, previous tribunal actions and this blog.

So again we would ask that anyone who has any information, paperwork or correspondence of any sort that could help USDAW and the Durham staff to clear up the issue of employers please do get in touch with them directly.  Anything that demonstrates who people believed they were doing business with or indeed were doing business with during the time frames mentioned can all help in proving who the employers were and give credence to the staffs perception of employer, so please do get in touch with USDAW and offer your help to them in making sure justice is again done.

As always our thoughts are with those involved in this action and we hope for a swift and just outcome for the Staff at Durham.

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.

CRE 2010 – will you be there?

Phelim McIntyre writes:

CRE will soon be upon us and it would be good to see those who can make it one or more days. The Tuesday is a FREE retailers/suppliers day – so if you can make it that day your are welcome to come. Book your free ticket here christianresourcestogether.co.uk/howtobookforretailersdaysandown.htm What is better your ticket is valid for all four days.

I will be there on the Tuesday, Wednesday AND Thursday (oh the joys of being in church leadership meaning one day is not enough).  So if people want to meet up let me know.

I would like to say that we could pop open the champaigne and celebrate the removal of the Brewers and their practices but I am not so sure. Certain parts of the Brewers Grimm’s empire were not taken over by the Charity Commission so like Arnie in the Terminator I have this awful feeling that they “will be back”.  But we can raise a glass to all those people who have kept the story alive and supported the victims of the Brewers from Dave Walker to the Bishop of Salisbury who stepped in to stop the Brewer’s taking over the bookshop at Sarum and Wells theological college to the people at the Church Times to the bloggers to those around the country who have kept us informed of what is going on – you know who you.  During war you can not give honours to intelligence agents and we have been in (and in someways are still in) that situation but that doesn’t stop us drinking to your health.

Phelim McIntyre

And so it ends? SSG “Dissolved 27/04/2010”

Phil Groom writes:

A lot of our traffic these days seems to come from people running searches for the phrase “proposal to strike off” for which we have the dubious honour of occupying Google’s top result slot in recognition of my post SSG at Companies House: “Status: Active – Proposal to Strike off”, posted back in January 2009.

I decided to check where things had got to with that proposal and discovered that the status for Saint Stephen the Great, Company No. 06110519, is now “Dissolved 27/04/2010” — which happens to be in the future as I write: evidently the new Dr Who is more powerful than we thought (aside: can’t help thinking the Brewers and SSG are rather like Dr Who’s Stone Angels: they only move when you blink). Screenshot of the record taken today, 25/04/2010:

Screenshot 25/04/2010: Companies House: Saint Stephen the Great: Dissolved 27/04/2010

Screenshot 25/04/2010, Companies House - Saint Stephen the Great, Status, Dissolved 27/04/2010

Of course, as my question mark in the title implies, the story hasn’t ended yet: the trading company may have been dissolved but SSGCT, the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, still exists under the auspices of the Charity Commission, as per my last post, and there are still plenty of other loose ends and unanswered questions, but I’ll leave those for another post…

SSG to Remain under Charity Commission Control

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to ‘Mole Island’ for the pointer to the Charity Commission’s Case Summary for their investigation into the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, report issued 8th March 2010, published 12th March 2010 [1]:

Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (1109008, formerly 1119839-1)

1. In April 2009 a number of Orders were made by the Charity Commission in relation to this charity under s.18(1) of the Charities Act 1993:

i. to vest the charity’s interests in land in the Official Custodian for Charities; and

ii. to appoint an Interim Manager to the charity, with specific functions to address immediate and serious difficulties which it faced.

2. The Commission was asked to review its decisions to make (and subsequent decisions not to discharge) these Orders.

3. The review, which was conducted by Board Members John Wood and Simon Jones acting under the delegated authority of the Board, considered the evidence and the reasoning behind the original decisions, as well as representations made on behalf of the applicant.

4. The Board Members decided on 3 February 2010 that the Orders are upheld (unvaried) because it remained necessary or desirable for them to remain in place for the purposes of protecting or securing the proper application of the property of the charity.

5. The applicant has been advised of the decision, the full reasons for it and the right for persons with standing to bring an appeal against the decision to the First-tier Tribunal (Charity).

© 2010 Crown Copyright

Third Sector, the charities and voluntary services news site, have reported the story here: Christian charity to remain under crisis management, h/t Eddie Arthur.

Meanwhile a report in this month’s Christian Marketplace (Industry News, p.6, ‘SSG Tribunal claims completed’, online edition available here) notes that all outstanding payments (total £301,500) to former SPCK/SSG bookshop employees who were Usdaw members have now been made. Sadly, however, as the report concludes, whilst this is good news for the 32 Usdaw members, “there are many others who have received no compensation and still carry the scars of their experience in one of the most unhappy events in the history of Christian retailing in the UK.”