Category Archives: Chichester

St Olav: Keeping Jesus on the High Street

The Times, Saturday 16 Jan 2010 - The call goes out to keep Jesus on the High Street

The call goes out to keep Jesus on the High Street

Phil Groom writes:

Thank you to Rebecca Paveley for a superb write-up in Saturday’s Times, p.100, outlining both the crisis facing and the future hope for the UK’s Christian bookshops: The call goes out to keep Jesus on the High Street.

And congratulations to St Olav Christian Bookshop, with their photo of opening day occupying centre spread in the article and featured as an example of the future shape of Christian bookselling:

Phil Groom writes a blog on the future of the Christian bookshop. He runs one himself at the London School of Theology which, despite having a guaranteed customer base, is still struggling. He believes the only future is for shops to be run in partnership with local churches as community hubs.

“Shops have got to be much more than just bookshops. They have to be destinations for community,” he says.

“We could ham up the guilt for Christians or local churches to get them to support us, but that would only work for so long. They have to realise that they need to work more closely with shops if they want to keep them.”

This model has led to one shop rising phoenix-like from the ashes of a former SPCK shop in Chichester.

St Olav Christian bookshop closed under the SPCK name in the summer but reopened four months later as an independent shop, with a board of trustees representing every denomination in the city.

The shop’s manager, Bradley Smith, says there is “every sign” that the shop will do well: “We have very loyal customers, we didn’t realise how loyal at first.”

More discussions about the future of Christian bookshops emerging shortly, hopefully, on that other blog Rebecca mentions: A Future and a Hope for the UK’s Christian Bookshops

Chichester Bookshop Reopens

Matt Wardman writes:

A crowd of 60-70 people squeezed into St Olav Christian bookstore at 10:00 am on Saturday 12 December for the opening service led by the Rural Dean for Chichester, Richard Hunt.  The picture shows the crowd beginning to gather, at about 9:55.

Read it all.

Chichester Shop Reopening

St Olav Christian Bookshop

St Olav Christian Bookshop, Chichester

Phil Groom writes:

CONGRATULATIONS to Bradley Smith and to the churches and Christian community in Chichester who have joined forces to reopen the former SPCK bookshop at St Olave’s Church, North Street, Chichester.

The shop  — which will be trading under the name St Olav Christian Bookshop — is due to be formally opened at 10am on Saturday 12th December 2009 with a short service of dedication led by the Rural Dean of Chichester. Refreshments will be available throughout the day and the staff  are looking forward to welcoming whoever can get along to join them.

Bradley writes:

Thank you all for your support in recent weeks and months – we have found it very meaningful indeed and we hope we will be able to serve you well in the future. We ask for your prayers for this new venture.

The new shop will be governed by the St Olav Trust, a board of trustees made up of representatives from the different churches in the city. Opening times after the official opening will be:

  • Monday – Friday, 9.30 am – 5.00pm
  • Saturday, 9.00 am – 5.00pm

Now book the date in your diary, bookmark the blog in your browser and head on over there to cheer them on — even better, to do some of your Christmas shopping!!

Chichester: The Door is Shut. Only Durham remains.

Matt Wardman writes:

These are two photos cross-posted from the ASingleBlog site. The former-SPCK Bookshop in Chichester has been closed on the instructions of the Charity Commission.

This is sad, and yet it means that – exactly as per the takeover of the SPCK-SSG charity by the Charity Commission Interim Manager – those trying to resolve this are now dealing with people of integrity, so we can at least say that Chichester is now on the way out of the swamp.

So the Brewer cash-generating, personal-expenditure subsidising, money-grubbing, supplier-swindling, staff-bullying, legality-avoiding (e.g., lack of required liability insurance), asset-stripping, and Durham Cathedral brand-poisoning, activities can now only be carried on in the Durham Cathedral Bookshop.

Every day that the Brewer-boys retain control of that shop provides a further opportunity for abuse.

Will someone in authority please finish the job?

Here are the Chichester Photos:

20090901-spck-chichester-door-and-notice1

20090901-spck-chichester-door-and-notice2


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

Taking Stock in Chichester

Phil Groom writes:

I have been informed that the Charity Commission are now closing in on the Chichester shop. Anyone in Chichester, please keep your eyes peeled and cameras ready to record any suspicious activity…

Chichester, Durham, Third Space Books: Updating UKCBD Entries

Phil Groom writes:

Figured it was about time I updated the UKCBD entries for Chichester, Durham and Third Space Books. I’ve tried to keep them more or less the same, so there’s substantial repetition below, but this is how they’re looking, using my standard UKCBD layout:

UKCBD Entry for Durham Cathedral Shop

UKCBD Entry for Durham Cathedral Shop

Contentwise, I’ve tried to condense things down to the bare essentials — would get rather longwinded if I attempted to re-run the entire history! — but would appreciate feedback/suggestions, please, in case there’s anything critical I’ve missed. Please try to read the entries as if you were a complete newbie to the SPCK/SSG saga: have I given you enough info to make sense of things? Or is there too much info?

Chichester

Previously trading as SPCK St Stephen the Great Bookshop, Chichester, the Chichester Shop Management Co is one of several UK trading identities used by the Brewer family, Texas. Along with the Durham Cathedral Shop, this shop’s trading identity was changed in 2008 in what appears to have been part of a complex strategy to evade creditors and ringfence profitable shops prior to a spurious attempt to file “St Stephen the Great LLC” for bankruptcy in the Texas Bankruptcy Courts in June 2008.

Despite the claimed bankruptcy, the family (headed up by J Mark and Philip W Brewer) have continued to trade variously as SPCK St Stephen the Great Bookshops, Durham Cathedral ShopENC Management CompanyChichester Shop Management Co and Third Space Books. The parent organisation, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (also known as the St Stephen the Great Trust and commonly abbreviated to either SSG or SSGCT) is subject to an ongoing investigation by the Charity Commission in response to a number of complaints about their trading activities.

Buyer and Supplier Beware 
Trading with this shop or its associated companies is not recommended whilst members of the Brewer family remain in control. For more information, please see the Chichester page at SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info and, if you share the concerns expressed, please consider signing the online petition to the Bishop and Diocese of Chichester calling for the Brewers to be removed from St Olave’s Church.

Durham

Previously trading as SPCK St Stephen the Great Bookshop, Durham, the Durham Cathederal [sic] Shop Management Co is one of several UK trading identities used by the Brewer family, Texas. The shop’s trading identity was changed in March 2008 in what appears to have been part of a complex strategy to evade creditors and ringfence profitable shops prior to a spurious attempt to file “St Stephen the Great LLC” for bankruptcy in the Texas Bankruptcy Courts in June 2008.

Despite the claimed bankruptcy, the family (headed up by J Mark and Philip W Brewer) have continued to trade variously as SPCK St Stephen the Great Bookshops, Durham Cathedral ShopENC Management CompanyChichester Shop Management Co and Third Space Books. The parent organisation, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (also known as the St Stephen the Great Trust and commonly abbreviated to either SSG or SSGCT) is subject to an ongoing investigation by the Charity Commission in response to a number of complaints about their trading activities.

Durham appears to be the only shop in the group that has renewed its membership of the Booksellers Association.

Buyer and Supplier Beware 
Trading with this shop or its associated companies is not recommended whilst members of the Brewer family remain in control. For more information, please see the Durham page at SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info and, if you share the concerns expressed, please consider signing the online petition to the Dean and Chapter of Durham calling for the Brewers to be removed from the Cathedral.

Third Space Books

Third Space Books is one of several UK trading identities used by the Brewer family, Texas. Whilst the trading identities of the Durham and Chichester shops were changed in what appears to have been part of a complex strategy to evade creditors and ringfence profitable shops prior to a spurious attempt to file “St Stephen the Great LLC” for bankruptcy in the Texas Bankruptcy Courts in June 2008, the purpose of this particular trading identity remains unclear.

Despite the claimed bankruptcy, the family (headed up by J Mark and Philip W Brewer) have continued to trade variously as SPCK St Stephen the Great Bookshops, Durham Cathedral ShopENC Management CompanyChichester Shop Management Co and Third Space Books. The parent organisation, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (also known as the St Stephen the Great Trust and commonly abbreviated to either SSG or SSGCT) is subject to an ongoing investigation by the Charity Commission in response to a number of complaints about their trading activities.

Buyer and Supplier Beware 
Trading with this shop or its associated companies is not recommended whilst members of the Brewer family remain in control. For more information, please visit SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info where you’ll find two dedicated pages for Durham and Chichester: if you share the concerns expressed, please consider signing the online petitions to the Dean and Chapter of Durham and to the Bishop and Diocese of Chichester calling for the Brewers to be removed from these two important locations.

Each entry is then rounded off with my standard bit of blurb about the whole sorry saga, which remains as it was in September 2008:

In October 2006 the former SPCK Bookshops and their associated websites were entrusted by SPCK to the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), under the control of Messrs Philip and Mark Brewer. Unfortunately shops and staff alike suffered in the transition to new ownership, leading to staff departures, branch closures and uncertainty over opening times for those that remain… Read more.

SPCK/SSG News
Keep up to date with a free RSS or Email subscription:
(Notice updated 07/09/2008 )
Thank you.

Focus on Chichester Shop Finances and questionable Saint Stephen the Great payments

Matt Wardman writes:

Recently I posted a detailed article about questionable financial transactions in the operation of the former SPCK bookshop chain by its new owners, with a particular focus on the bookshop at Durham Cathedral – now run by a newly created (11/3/2008) company called “Durham Cathedral Shop Management Limited” (DCSML).

Questionable Dealings in Durham

In the Durham case, a debt of £80,000-£110,000 (depending on the exchange rate – it is $165,000+) to the new company was built up over a mere three month by the previous organisation – Society of Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. J Mark Brewer attempted to put SSGCT into Bankruptcy in Texas on 19 June 2008 (that is the date when the “Statement of Financial Affairs” was filed) with this debt to his new company unpaid.

In addition to the new company at Durham, another company was created on the same day to run the former SPCK Bookshop in Chichester, which is on a zero-rent 50 year lease from the Diocese of Chichester.

And also in Chichester

The Brothers Grim appear to have pulled exactly the same stunt in Chichester, for a smaller sum. Here is the snippet from the SSG Bankruptcy Schedule of Debtors Continuation 2 (page 61):

20081212-saint-stephen-the-great-chichester-bookshop-debt2

The principle is exactly the same as at Durham, this document shows an outstanding debt of $35844.10 (18,000 ukp at 1:2 exchange rate) owed to the Chichester Shop Management Co. Here are the company details:

CHICHESTER SHOP MANAGEMENT CO.
Company Number: FC028291
SECRETARY: BREWER, SANDRA K
DIRECTOR: BREWER, J MARK
DIRECTOR: BREWER, PHILIP W

(source)

Remember, the company to which this debt was owed only came into existence 11 weeks before the debtor filed for Bankruptcy.

So, repeating my previous incredulity:

how did the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) manage to build up a debt to the new company running the Chichester Shop on this scale between 11 March 2008 when that company was created, and June 4th 2008 or thereabouts when J Mark Brewer attempted to put the Charitable Trust itself into Bankruptcy in Texas?

Or, to take a view from the other side, resources or assets equivalent to $35,844.10 were transferred out to SSGCT at a time when past suppliers were simply . not . being . paid.

And what were the ethics and business practices involved?

And why did this transfer – like the Durham one – involve the soon to be bankrupt SSGCT (and anyone who has read the Bankruptcy Documents will know that they would take weeks to prepare)?

And that is all without even thinking about asking why another $75,000 (documented in the article linked above) was transferred out of SSGCT 48 hours before it was made Bankrupt into another Brewer directed organisation, when preparation for the impending bankruptcy would be well under way?

Listen to the noise from my mind: Boggle. Boggle. Boggle.

The SPCK mission society who used to be associated with the bookshop chain which includes the Chichester Bookshop is no longer involved in any way, apart from in the Legal Action sense. Nothing in this article reflects on SPCK.

Petition to Chichester Diocese about Chichester Christian Bookshop: Questions Answered

Matt Wardman writes:

Steve, a commenter on Friday’s “Chichester Petition” made the following point.

This petition is a disgrace, how dare the people who arranged it, and the people who have signed it prefer to see the shop CLOSED rather than continue as it is. The Bishop and Diocese have shown no inertest in taking over the shop or even care what is happening to the staff. It does not matter how many ex-staff sign this petition nothing will be done, if the powers that be, in the diocese decide not to take on, as the Bishop and Diocese have done sod all to solve the situation since the Brewers took over the shop I can’t see them doing so now. I have shopped in this Christian outlet for many years purchasing items for myself and as a churchwarden for my church. If I worked in this shop I would be so upset that our Christian community in Chichester and Diocese could and would treat fellow Christians so badly, by planning and hoping they lose there jobs. The Brewers are not ideal but is the Diocese any better!

Personally, I welcome trenchant criticism, as it indicates interest and gives an opportunity for detailed debate. Let me give first right of reply to Phelim Macintyre, who used to be the Assistant Manager of the Chichester Shop, and was profiled in the Chichester Observer there in April 2007 last year.

In response to Steve – you may remember me from the Chichester shop. I was the assistant manager there and left after having a nervous breakdown caused by the treatment I received from Mark and Phil Brewer. I have signed the petition because I do not want the mismanagement and abuse of staff that has happened over the last two years to continue. I agree that the Diocese have shown a complete lack of any concern, especially the Bishop, but the complete disregard of employee rights, rights of the suppliers and health and safety law by Mark and Phil Brewer can not be allowed to continue. The petition is not to cause the staff to loose their jobs – it is to put pressure on the Diocese to act rather than continue their attiude of see no evil/hear no evil.

I outlined the evidence of financial and other misconduct, especially in the case of the Chichester shop:

The Diocese are the only body in a position to really do something directly, unless regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Health dept get involved over the condition of the building. Certainly there are questions on aspects of the Diocesan Stewardship, such as whether the legally required Quinquiennial Inspection of the building has taken place (no one I know can remember that it did, but I am open to correction). However, I’d also say that with respect the Diocese probably are a damn site better than the current managers: whatever you say the Chichester Diocese do not cause their staff to have nervous breakdowns and wait more than a year for their wages.

Nor do Chichester Diocese cause 20-25% of ex-staff to go through Industrial Tribunals to obtain unpaid wages of perhaps $30k while taking $500k out of the organisation themselves in the previous 12 month period.

Nor do Chichester Diocese leave the Palm Sunday crosses charity “African Palms” hanging at the same time with $30k unpaid debts (an entire year’s turnover) that should have gone to support Masasi Diocese in Africa, as the Brewers have done in 2008.

I’ll be publishing an article on Monday showing that between March 11th this year when a new company was set up to operate the bookshop , and early June when J Mark Brewer attempted to fraudulently (as stated by the “Trustee in Bankruptcy to the South Texas Bankruptcy Court “) attempted to make the previous operating Organisation (Society of Saint Stephen the Great)  bankrupt, $35,000 was taken out of the Chichester Shop and materialised as an unpaid debt in the Bankruptcy Documents of SSGCT. That is $35k that the Chichester Bookshop may never see again.

No disrepect to you Steve, but there’s a lot of history here that I’d recommend you read. Nobody here is fighting this campaign because we want to do so or enjoy it.  Some of us have been the targets of intensive bullying ourselves.

One of our objectives is to begin to create a network in Chichester with the potential to create a new facility once the Brewers have gone. I accept that it won’t be easy, but there are at least 3 or 4 places where it has already been done.

May I suggest that you start by reading the accounts of the Bankruptcy application. Try this:

Motion for Sanctions on Mark Brewer.

This states that – in applying for bankrupcy for the UK Charity Society of St Stephen the Great, J Mark Brewer:

* attempted to perpetrate a Fraud on the Court.
* concealing a fundamental conflict of interest in not declaring that he was representing in a Bankruptcy Court an entity of which he was an officer.
* concealing the true identity of the debtor.

There’s a lot more, all on a level of deceiving the Court in order to avoid taking responsibility for debts. Mark Brewer himself is a Law Firm Principal. The concept of good faith is not even in the same universe, in my opinion.

Try the first 3 downloads on this page:

https://spckssg.wordpress.com/about/downloads/

I have referred to one above. If you haven’t read them it is worth doing so at least once.

While Phil Groom issued a challenge:

It’s not the petition that’s a disgrace: it’s the necessity for it. It’s the Brewers’ outrageous treatment of their staff that’s a disgrace: ask Usdaw if you need further clarification on that point, or any of the people who they’ve driven to despair, who to this day remain unpaid.

Ask the suppliers whose goods, unpaid for, are being sold from this and other former SPCK bookshop shelves: that’s a disgrace, if ever there was one, and it’s a double disgrace that people who call themselves Christians trade in such a way!

You’re a churchwarden: you’re a member of the Church of England in the Chichester Diocese: few people are in a better position than you to make their voice heard in the Diocese and ensure that the Bishop cannot ignore what’s been done, what’s being done, in Diocesan property.

So don’t diss the petition: make it redundant. Get on in there and get proactive — get a group of people and churches together to take control of the shop. You and your church are there on the spot, Steve: your call.

We will do our best to answer any further questions.

Rescuing Chichester’s Christian Bookshop: New Petition Launched

Phil Groom writes:

Yesterday morning we launched a new petition addressed to the Bishop and Diocese of Chichester: Rescuing Chichester’s Christian Bookshop. By midmorning 25 people had signed; by yesterday evening that number had more than doubled, and as with the Durham petition, my intention is to submit the petition to the Bishop whenever a multiple of 50 signatures is reached… so the first copy will be winging its way to him very soon.

Here’s the full text of the petition:

We, the undersigned, call upon the Bishop of Chichester and the Diocese of Chichester to rescue this once outstanding bookshop, previously part of the SPCK chain, from the control of Philip and Mark Brewer and their changing series of organisations (St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust / St Stephen the Great Limited and now Chichester Shop Management Co). 

The Brewers took control of this bookshop, of the entire SPCK Bookshop chain, with fine sounding words, but actions always speak louder than words: the former Chichester SPCK Bookshop is now but a shadow of its former self. Due to the failure of the Brewers to honour invoices for goods received, suppliers have been left high and dry at a time of recession; and the shelves stood empty until recently when stock was brought in from the former SPCK shop in Norwich, which has now been rescued by the local community in Norwich. 

St Olave’s in Chichester has a claim to be the oldest building in the city, yet is in a desperate state of repair. It was set up through covenant to provide information for the community, yet advertising anything that Philip Brewer considers contrary to the so-called ‘Orthodox’ aims of the charity is banned. Mark Brewer has claimed ownership of St Olave’s Church and has announced plans to turn it into an Orthodox place of worship. These men have abused staff, treated covenants and UK employment law with contempt, disregarded debts to their suppliers, fabricated a bankruptcy filing in the USA Courts and blatantly bullied anyone who has stood in their way: it ill-behoves the Diocese of Chichester to play host to them and their presence here casts a shadow over the mission of the wider church. 

Enough is enough: we urge you to take decisive action now to rescue this shop and St Olave’s Church from further depredation. We call upon you to step in, and to remove these men who are bringing Chichester’s Christian heritage into disarray and disrepute. We urge you, please: take back control of this building. It would be better for the shop to be closed than allowed to carry on in its current state. Then, as we see happening elsewhere around the country, people will be free to work together to create something new and bring light to this community. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the shop, you’ll find some information and photos here:

For information about the Brewers’ changing companies and their fabricated bankruptcy filing, see this post, Who are the ENC Management Company? — as cited in the USA Bankruptcy Court motions for dismissal of Mark Brewer’s case.

For information about their contemptuous disregard for UK employment law, refer to Usdaw, who have been fighting for justice on behalf of some thirty former employees (we hope to have more information about yesterday’s Case Management Discussion soon).

Finally for now, proof that those who are determined can break free of the Brewers: Norwich’s new Christian Resource Centre opens its pearly gates.

So please, if you share the concerns expressed, head on over there today and sign this petition. Let’s send a very clear message to

  1. The Bishop and Diocese of Chichester, that we will stand with them in taking whatever action is necessary to Rescue Chichester’s Christian Bookshop from further depredation;
  2. The Chichester Bookshop staff, that we stand with them and support them;
  3. The suppliers who have been robbed, that we share their distress;
  4. The Brewers, that their business practices are not welcome.

I could say more — much more! — but I’ll leave that to you: comments may be left on the petition and here.