Category Archives: Worcester

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.

Welcome to Worcester?

Phil Groom writes:

Worcester Christian Bookshop?

Worcester Christian Bookshop?

Or not, as the case may be.

Have just come back from a couple of days in Worcester, enjoying the gracious hospitality of its rather magnificent Cathedral. Naturally I couldn’t pass through without stopping by at the former SPCK bookshop, now attempting to reinvent itself as “Worcester Christian Bookshop”. You have to dig ye Olde Englishe typeface, I guess.

The shop was closed the first couple of times I passed by but it opened eventually and I wandered in.

Two gentlemen seemed to be having a rather intense conversation at the back of the shop: “We’re going to…” was all I caught before they turned and glared at me like an unwelcome guest.

I hastened away, but not before I noticed a computer monitor on the counter displaying the ‘Third Space Books’ website… resisted the temptation to surf to this site and leave it displaying our front page.

Looking around before I left, the shelves were surprisingly full, thanks to a lot of books being displayed face-out rather than spine-on; and upstairs, lots of ancient looking tomes and an old man in an armchair. I wondered if he was staying B&B.

Knowing St Stephen the Great’s record of unpaid suppliers, I wondered who all the stock belonged to. Decided not to make a purchase for fear of being caught handling stolen goods, and didn’t want to support the Brewers’ misbegotten empire anyway.

Former SPCK Bookshop, Worcester, March 13, 2009

Former SPCK Bookshop, Worcester, March 13, 2009

From the outside, all sign of the previous ownership had been removed: just a faint outline in the paintwork from the old signwriting, “The Pilgrim Shop.”

The window displays were sparse — deliberately so for Lent, perhaps? — a little stack of Easter themed books along with a key fob bearing an SPCK price label, betraying the previous ownership with its adhesive kiss. I looked around for 30 silver coins but I guess they’d been used for something else…

SPCK Price label in use in Worcester window display, March 13, 2009

SPCK price label in use in Worcester window display, March 13, 2009

I made my way back to the Cathedral. Chatting with the staff there — all very friendly and welcoming — it took only the bare mention of the fact that I was a theological bookseller to spark expressions of outrage and indignation at the treatment meted out to the former SPCK staff, the tragedy of Steve Jeynes’ suicide and the travesty that the bookshop he once managed so well has become.

J Mark Brewer’s threats against Dave Walker may have erased many of the tributes to Steve from the online record but those who knew Steve clearly remember him with admiration and respect; and Steve Jeynes, RIP is still one of this site’s most visited pages.

SPCK or SSG? Bookshop Photocall

Updated 20th Sept 2008

Earlier this month Matt Wills posted photos of the Winchester and Salisbury branches, still decked out in their SPCK colours and signage almost two years on from the handover. More to the point, it’s now almost a year since SPCK withdrew the licence to trade under the SPCK name:

SPCK Trustees' Report and Accounts, Year Ended 30 April 2008

Annual Report 2008

SSG (the former SPCK Bookshops)  

In November 2007, SPCK withdrew the licence granted to Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust to use our name in relation to the Bookshops in view of their failure to abide by the terms of our agreement. It has proved a very difficult and distressing year for the shops and staff, and the process has involved us in a considerable amount of activity. There are a number of significant legal issues between SPCK and SSGCT that have not been resolved at the year end.

SPCK Trustees’ Report and Accounts, Year Ended 30 April 2008 (pdf, 944kb)

Not wishing to be outdone, it seems, Mark Brewer put his own spin on the story: it wasn’t so much a case of SPCK withdrawing the licence but of SSG feeling uncomfortable with SPCK’s theology:

Book chain drops SPCK name

Bookseller, 07.11.07: Book chain drops SPCK name

Mark Brewer said that “with more and more SPCK [published] books carrying a decidedly ‘liberal’ agenda rather than traditional Christian values, [SSG] feel the time has come to distance themselves from SPCK”.

The Bookseller, 7th Nov 2007

Being a man of his word, of course, Mark immediately sent out a team of shopfitters and signwriters to dismantle all remaining vestiges of SSG’s association with SPCK. In fact, so worried was he by the possibility of SSG’s good name being tainted by association with SPCK that he immediately discontinued SSG’s use of the spckonline.com domain and rebranded the entire enterprise Third Space Books

That’s the fantasy version, by the way: the reality, as many readers will be only too painfully aware, proved a little different. Mark’s grasp of “traditional Christian values” (complicated things like honesty, integrity and paying your workers and suppliers, for instance) were evidently a bit much for an “exceptionally well trained” lawyer from Brewer & Pritchard to get to grips with…

Here, A-Z by location, to help illustrate that reality, we present Matt’s photos together with a few others from around the country, all pictures taken this year. If you click through the pictures to the original posts you’ll find most of the photographers asking much the same question: why are (or were, as the case may be) the shops still trading under the SPCK name so long after the licence was withdrawn and so long after Mark Brewer himself declared that he wanted to disassociate SSG from SPCK?

Birmingham

Birmingham, September 2008, courtesy of Pauline Edwards.

Birmingham, September 2008, courtesy of Pauline Edwards.

Pauline has posted more photos in facebook, but you’ll need to be logged in to facebook to see them…

Cambridge

Cambridge, 17th Feb 2008, photo by Jeremy (blog.parsonses.co.uk), retrieved from Dave Walker's blog as reposted at opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com

Cambridge, 17th Feb 2008, photo by Jeremy (blog.parsonses.co.uk), retrieved from DW

For some more recent Cambridge photos, SPCK signage cleared but SPCK/SSG carrier bags evidently in use (albeit as rubbish bags!) see Shame and Disgrace: St Stephen the Great, Cambridge

Canterbury

Canterbury, 11th Feb 2008, photo by Dave Walker (retrieved from his blog, reposted at opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com)

Canterbury, 11th Feb 2008, photo by Dave Walker (retrieved from his blog and reposted at opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com)

Chester

 

Chester, 20th June 2008

Chester, 20th June 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)

Exeter

 

Exeter, June 2008, courtesy of Neil Denham

Exeter, June 2008, courtesy of Neil Denham (with apologies to Neil for the delay in adding this!)

the Exeter shop stripped bare, 19/09/2008, courtesy once again of Neil Denham

And so it ends: the Exeter shop stripped bare, 19/09/2008, courtesy once again of Neil Denham

For more photos showing the now empty shelves — and an excerpt from an email describing what happened — see Neil’s report, SPCK Bookshop Exeter – R.I.P.

Lincoln

Lincoln, June 2008

Lincoln, June 2008, photographer unknown

Picture from Hodgson Elkington’s flyer advertising the premises to let.

Salisbury

Salisbury, 2nd Sept 2008

Salisbury, 2nd Sept 2008, photo by Matt Wills, A very ordinary title for a blog...

Winchester

 

Winchester, 31st August 2008

Winchester, 31st August 2008, photo by Matt Wills, A very ordinary title for a blog...

Worcester

 

SPCK Worcester, 26th July 2008

Worcester, 26th July 2008, photo by Doug Chaplin, MetaCatholic

York

 

Photo by Richard and Gill, Flickr

York, 22nd May 2008, photo by Richard and Gill, Flickr

York, 9th July 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)

York, 9th July 2008, photo by Peter Owen (with apologies to Peter for the delay in adding this)

 
Thanks to those concerned for permission to reuse the photos here. Any others out there? Please either send them in or point me towards where they’re posted to help complete the picture. Pictures taken this year, please.

– Phil Groom. Posted 08/09/2008; updated 20/09/2008.

Hard Questions for SPCK

So far we’ve been challenging Mr J Mark Brewer, but let’s not forget who handed the shops over to him in the first place: SPCK. Doug Chaplin has been raising questions over at MetaCatholic.

Discussing the situation in Worcester, where the shop is still trading under the SPCK name, he asks:

Behind everything, and rather overlooked, is the question whether the trustees of SPCK ever really did due diligence on the handing over of their chain to SSG in the first place. Were they so anxious about the way in which (like many independent bookshops) they were losing money in a not very friendly marketplace, that they simply took the first plausible solution that presented itself? Did they bother, in fact, to inspect the gift-horse’s mouth? They have been publicly very silent on this.

As the chain fell apart, so SPCK realised that the agreement was falling apart, and withdrew their trustees, and the licence to use the name SPCK. But how seriously have they policed the misuse of their trademark? What are they doing about such glaringly obvious breaches as that in this picture. Do they not mind that another “charity” is trading in their name?

Another part of the agreement, as I understand it (I’d be grateful for correction if I’m wrong) is that if the bookshop chain was viable after a number of years (seven?) was up, then the shop properties owned outright by SPCK would be transferred to the ownership of SSG. If (and I think the situation given UK law must be dubious) SSG has filed for bankruptcy what are SPCK doing to take back control of their property?

It might be that the SPCK trustees are acting behind the scenes. Or it might be that they have washed their hands of an embarrassing mess. But in the meantime bloggers like Dave Walker who have tried to keep this in the public eye, are effectively taking the brunt of SPCK’s failure.

I am not convinced that it is enough to say in their annual report: “There are a number of significant legal issues betwen SPCK and SSGGCT that have not been resolved at the year end.” (p7). Isn’t it time the Bishop of Gloucester as chair, and Simon Kingston as General Secretary, were a bit more overt and courageous in defending, literally, the honour of the SPCK name, standing up for all those employees they left stranded, and supporting those like Dave who have upheld their cause? I wonder if Bishop Michael Perham has been by Dave’s cartoon tent for a supportive word?

These are good questions, especially when set against the backcloth of this letter from the Revd Dr Julian Cummins (sadly now deceased), published in the Church Times back in December 2006:

Sir, — I resigned as a Governor of SPCK because I opposed the decision to transfer the 23 bookshops to the St Stephen Charitable Trust (SSG) (News, 1 December). I feared the worst, but felt that SPCK should be given the chance to prove me wrong.

[comments about SSG’s ban on selling the Qur’an]

SPCK has run bookshops across the world for well over 100 years. They have been open to theological and religious exploration. They have been a joy to visit. That is why I became a Governor of SPCK five years ago. Those principles have now been undermined at their fundamental roots.

I believe the transfer to SSG was a gross error. I opposed it as strongly as I could. The deed has now been done, and the next step must now be determined. It is time for the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, Chairman of SPCK, to come up with a credible plan for the future, and to ensure a reversal of the SSG decision.

My thanks to Mark Bennet for bringing this letter to my attention.

SPCK: your silence almost speaks more loudly than words. 

  • With objections expressed this strongly at the time, why did you still go ahead with the transfer?
  • Why did you not put adequate safeguards in place for your staff?
  • What are you doing to address the current situation?
  • Why have you left it for people such as Dave Walker and myself to — as Doug puts it — take the brunt of your failure?
  • What are you doing to support the staff you abandoned? 

It’s supposed to be books that get remaindered, not people!

A Letter to Mark Brewer

A few days ago — on the eve of Steve Jeyne’s memorial service — Mark Brewer wrote:

Now that SSG is in liquidation, you and your most of your readers must be elated . . . except whatever will you find to write about and who will you now slander?

Several people have responded. But this response from Pax Vobiscum perhaps sums up most effectively how most of us feel:

Dear Mark Brewer

The 600+ people who filled Worcester Cathedral on Monday for the Thanksgiving Service following the funeral of Steve Jeynes were not elated. They wanted to give thanks for a wonderful life of Christian witness, for a dedicated Christian Bookseller who had brought many to faith and for a husband, father, friend who meant so much to them. They were shocked, saddened, angry, but they were not elated.

The 100+ Christian Booksellers around the country who have had their careers, their ministries thrown in the gutter over the past year are not elated. They are upset, angry, struggling to rebuild their lives.

The myriad suppliers, who have not been paid are not elated. They are downhearted, some made financially unstable, others have lost an integral outlet for their goods.

The Christian communities which relied on their SPCK Bookshop as a resource centre for their mission and spiritual growth are not elated. Some, like Worcester, feel that one of their vital organs has been ripped out and stomped upon.

What has happened to the SPCK/SSG Bookshops over the last 18 months has caused so much needless hurt, so much pain, so much impoverishment of certain areas of the Christian faith in the UK that it is impossible to feel elation over the ‘bankruptcy’ of SSG. Only relief that this whole sorry episode is drawing to a close.

Steve Jeynes: A Life Remembered

Hundreds expected to bookseller’s memorial

Worcester News, 4/7/2008: Hundreds expected to bookseller’s memorial

Hundreds of people, including many ex-SPCK booksellers, are expected to gather at Worcester Cathedral at 3.30pm today to remember and show their respect for Steve Jeynes, the former manager of SPCK’s Worcester branch who was found dead, apparently having taken his own life, just over a week ago.

As reported here previously, Joy Jeynes, Steve’s widow, has issued a call to continue to pray for God’s work in Worcester. A few of the many tributes and expressions of sympathy for Steve’s family that have poured in — and continue to pour in — are reproduced below. 

Trevor Gibb, 30/06/2008:

Steve was one of the first people I knew in Worcester when I moved here in 1989. As the manager of Icthus Christian Bookshop he was a lively, loving man with a passion for Christ and a heart for the lost. Steve did not just work in the Icthus bookshop he served in it. He saw his work as ministry and was used by God to pray for and witness to many, many people.

He took this zeal with him to the SPCK shop and saw his role there in the same way as as he saw his role at the Icthus shop, serving God by praying and witnessing. This was Steves passion. I am in no doubt that Steve is with the Lord he loved so much in his earthly journey.

Steve Supported ALL the ministries in Worcester and was also committed to supporting the local churches.

Steve will be sadly missed by those who knew him. And he would be glad to know that so many are supporting Joy and the Children in prayer and concern.

Rest in peace mate your brother and fellow worker in Christ
Trevor Gibb, Director Worcester City Mission

Brian Fowler, 01/07/2008:

I am deeply saddened by the turn of events that left Steve so distressed and unable to face the future. All who have been associated with SPCK bookshops have suffered heartbreak as the bookshops chain has been devalued and decimated especially in the very short time since SSG took over the chain. Staff of the former SPCK believed passionately in the cause for which they worked, namely spreading the word of God. Steve worked untiringly for this cause and that will be his epitaph.

Mark Smith, 02/07/2008:

Oh my dear old friend and Brother in Christ. May you rest in the arms of our loving heavenly Father and may He now wipe every tear from your eyes, place a smile on your face and a song of joyous praise on your lips as you sing with the Saints in glory.

I first met Steve just over 31years ago whilst looking for some trendy clothes to wear (he was the manager of a men’s wear shop in Worcester). He always had a smile or grin on his face and, no mater what the circumstances, always had a word of encouragement. Later, when at the Icthus Christian Bookshop he was just the same and although I only saw him infrequently, after having moved from Worcester, I would sometimes bump into him and, as always, he would listen, empathize and then his face would begin to shine and then beam as he uttered a few salient words of encouragement. He was never judgmental and like others I always felt better for having spent time in his presence.

God Bless you Steve, I look forward to the time when I bump into you again and recognize you by your smile. I know that when that happens my own smile will for once, match yours.

Joy, please accept my sincere condolences and know that you and the family will be our prayers.

Janet Fuller, 03/07/2008:

Steve was a lovely, humble, caring, helpful servant of the Lord, whose work was not just a job, but a ministry to all with whom he came into contact. He will be sorely missed by us all. May you, Joy, and your family know the Lord’s eternal arms around you at this sad time, and His strength to face the coming days.

Ewan Gear, 07/07/2008:

I have only just heard. What a shock. What a loss.

Steve’s death is a great loss to all who knew him. I have maintained a friendship with Steve through the years since he began as the Manager at Ichthus. Most weeks I called in to see him and have a chat.

He never failed to greet me whith a characteristic “Hello Ewan!”, and would not only draw my attention to a book or three, but would invariably introduce me to anyone else who happenned to be in the shop. He had a real interest in people which led to him knowing everybody’s name, where they were from, and what church they went to.

I , who knew him only in passing, will miss him a lot. My deepest sympathy and compassion go out to the family and those who were closer than I.

The Christian community of the City of Worcester will be much the poorer for his absence.

We talked often of the ongoing difficulties he was having with the St Stephen the Great “charity”, and his dilemmas regarding whether to continue working with them as their behaviour towards SPCK and the staff seemed increasingly unethical and unchristian. This was balanced against his own sense of mission to the people of Worcester.

He showed me several of the e-mails he had received, and I had been shocked at their inhumane attitudes, and had formed a very low opinion of them and their ways. I personally hold them partially responsible for bringing Steve to the position where his life ended.

I pray that some good will come out of this situation and that in remembering Steve in the future, it will allways be with a grin, rather than with any bitterness towards those who added to his burrdens in life. I take confidence in the truth that God is the Judge, and that Steve’s reception into Glory will be an honourable one.

For more tributes see: 

Update 8/7/2008
Doug Chaplin has written about the service here: 

Joy Jeynes: Please continue to pray for God’s work in Worcester

Joy Jeynes, Stephen Jeyne’s widow, has written to thank us for our prayers and asks us to continue to pray for God’s work in Worcester:

Thank you so much for all your prayers and concern for Stephen. We have been following Dave Walker’s SPCK/SSG blog for some time now, but I never thought I would be reading about my own husband in this way. Steve saw his work at the bookshop more than just a job, and he had huge compassion for ordinary people. He longed to see a Christian Centre in Worcester and he persevered with the Brewers, hoping that things would change. He was deeply saddened when his staff were sacked without pay, as others had been, and he took his own dismissal very badly. However, no-one anticipated this. Please continue to pray for God’s work in Worcester.
Joy Jeynes

Tributes to Stephen and condolences to Joy and the rest of the family continue to pour in on Dave’s post, SPCK / SSG: Tragic news from Worcester.

Joy, may you know God’s strength and peace in the difficult times you now face.