Category Archives: Shop Locations

Durham Cathedral Shop Employees win Redundancy Payout

This news is very much of the ‘we were tipped into a swamp and lost nearly everything, but we escaped the alligators with our lives after each losing half a leg’ variety, but the staff at Durham Cathedral Shop have – 4 years after the saga to which this blog is devoted kicked off – received some more good news.

It has been ruled that when the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop were thrown out of their jobs in January 2010, it constituted redundancy and unfair dismissal.

Since Mark and Phil Brewer have done a vanishing trick after running the business into the ground (don’t forget that Phil Brewer used the shop to fund his Trotter-Trading Yellow private aeroplane, and that hundreds of thousands of pounds simply went missing), the Judge rules that payment can be made from State funds.

I should also say that this decision was by a previous shop management, and the shop – and particularly the staff – deserve full support.

Employment Tribunal Report

An Employment Tribunal held on Wednesday 24th August 2011 in Newcastle, and this is a report of the proceedings.

“A sorry tale which has been going on for some time has now come to this.”

The opening comment by Mr Jim Shepherd, Employment Judge, at the Employment Tribunal held on Wednesday 24th August 2011 in Newcastle, between the claimants, the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop, and the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company and the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.

The start of the tale was on 22nd January 2010, when the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop were all dismissed. The shop was one of the 23 SPCK Bookshops taken over in 2006 by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust run by American brothers, Mark and Phil Brewer. In 2008 the Durham shop’s management transferred to the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company, a new company set up by the Brewer brothers. By January 2010 Durham was the only shop remaining under their control, and was a poor shadow of the flagship shop it had been in SPCK days. Phil Brewer contacted the staff and said the company had financial difficulties and he needed to talk to the Cathedral Chapter. On 22nd January 2010 the staff were summoned by the Chapter Clerk, following his discussion with Phil Brewer, and were told the shop was to close immediately. The staff received no written notice of dismissal, were not consulted in accordance with UK employment law and did not receive wages due to them, severance payment nor redundancy payment.

The staff were represented by Sara Devennie, of Beecham & Peacock, Newcastle solicitors, who were instructed by the trade union USDAW, of which all the staff are members. Beecham & Peacock received no fee for this work as part of their on-going commitment to a number of trade unions to fight for the rights of workers.

The Tribunal were presented with the detailed and complicated facts of the case, and ruled that it was unfair dismissal and redundancy. The Secretary of State’s office had investigated the solvency of the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company and stated it was not insolvent and was still registered as a company, with the registered trading address as the Durham Cathedral Shop. However, the Tribunal Judge stated he felt it unlikely that any money would be forthcoming from the USA.

By ruling that redundancy had occurred, the Judge legalised the claim for state redundancy payments to be made by the Secretary of State. Payments of between £2,000 and £11,000 were awarded to the staff.

The Durham Cathedral Shop, under the management of Durham Cathedral, re-opened on 1st March 2010, and all of the former staff have been re-employed by Durham Cathedral.

That is excellent news, and congratulations go especially to the one member of staff who persevered with the claim. Perhaps ways can now finally be found to look forward at Durham.

Remaining Questions

There are still some very serious questions around the whole SPCK saga, which I hope will be addressed somehow.

The Brewers still deserve to be brought to book for offences committed throughout the last several years. These include the magically vanishing funds from Durham Cathedral Shop mentioned above.

But there is also the small matter of money specifically given for the support of Christian Bookselling in Newcastle, and placed in a separate fund withing SPCK after the sale of the Bible House Bookshop, part of which seems to have been misappropriated during the time of Management by the Brewer Brothers after SPCK agreed to provide funds.

Specifically, monies were passed to the Brewers for improvements to the premises of SPCK Newcastle which – as far as we are aware – were never carried out. The sum involved was 5 figures. [Update: more detail in the comments.]

Questions around the Governance of SPCK itself, and decisions made.

And the whole question of who is going to learn which lessons from this whole Godawful Mess, and whether they actually have been learned?

Stand Up SPCK Up


Reports Elsewhere…

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The sad and empty shell of the former SPCK Christian Bookshop, Chester

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Photo posted on Flickr by majestik_12, Rob Poulson, 27 March 2011:

Former SPCK Bookshop in Chester, 27/03/2011

Former SPCK Bookshop in Chester, 27/03/2011

Sad to see the shop still sitting there like this more than a year after the removals fairies struck back in January 2010…

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…