Tag Archives: Christian Marketplace

Statement from the Charity Commission in Christian Marketplace

Phil Groom writes:

The July issue of Christian Marketplace is now available, with a report on the current situation on p.6, More closures at SSG bookshops. The report includes the following statement issued by the Charity Commission on 10th June:

Concerns were raised with the Charity Commission relating to governance and internal financial controls at St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust and St Stephen the Great (both registered under charity number 1119839). We contacted the trustees with regard to the issues raised with us. On the basis both of the initial concerns raised with the Commission and of the information provided by the charity in response, on 26 September 2008 we opened a statutory enquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993

On 28 April 2009, as a temporary and protective measure, the Charity Commission appointed Peter Gotham of Begbies Traynor as Interim Manager of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. Because this inquiry remains open and ongoing we would not be in a position to go into further detail at this time, but we intend, as is normal procedure, to publish a statement of the results of the inquiry setting out our findings once the inquiry is completed.

What is happening with the shops?

Phelim McIntyre writes:

OK – we have had movement with the SSG saga but I was asked a question by Clem Jackson of Christian Marketplace as to the number of shops still operating. The list on the Thirdspace website is as follows: Bradford, Canterbury, Chester, Chichester, Durham, Hereford, Manningham, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Poole, Salisbury, Truro, Winchester, Worcester, York. This list (though updated in January according to the website) is really inaccurate. So over to you – what is the latest at each shop if anything? Durham, Chichester, Chester are still open. Is the shop in the Bradford area actually the Bradford shop or the one in the church in Manningham?

The atmosphere at CRE/CBC #CBC09 #CRE09

Phelim McIntyre writes:

As some of you may be aware the Christian Resources Exhibition and the Christian Booksellers Convention were under the same roof. I had the joy of bumping into Dave Walker (of Cartoon Church), Clem from Christian Marketplace and many publishers and booksellers. So what was it like from an SPCK/SSG viewpoint? Putting aside that for many the combination of the two events was a failure there was a HUGE sense of relief. I have never been hugged or shaken by the hand by so many people.

The news of the industrial tribunials being sorted, marching orders at Durham and the Charity Commission acting is, as one person put it “the light at the end of a very long tunnel”. Yes there are more battles going on, some of which I can’t mention because silence is the better part of discretion – but I can say that the dam is about to break.

As someone who, with Dave W, Dave K, Matt W, Phil Groom, Singleblog and others (you know who you are) has been at the forefront of speaking with the press (I was one of the naughty people who sent documents to the papers when I was at SPCK), networking ex-staff, blogging and so on I have been asked was it worth it? The answer is yes. Justice must be done. So to all of you who have not been told this but have been campaigning – consider yourselves shaken by the hand and hugged.

Some one did suggest that we organise a firing squad for the Brewers Grimm but changed their mind as a firing squad would be too quick. So someone suggested that as they see us as heretics we treat them as heretics and burn them at the stake. I see some Brewer effegies this coming Novemeber.

The Church Times has reported the news here http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/75134. This is a subscriber only page this week but will probably be readable next week. Christian Marketplace will also have something soon.

Just a final word from someone at CRE/CBC. “Don’t give up until they (the Brewers) are finished”. As I said, more is happening which we hope to be able to blog soon.

Tribunals Update in Christian Marketplace

Phil Groom writes:

Christian Marketplace Feb 2009

Christian Marketplace February 2009

A warm welcome to anyone who has arrived here after reading the latest report in Christian Marketplace mag:

SSG Tribunal date set for May

Ex-employees of the beleaguered SSG bookshop chain (formerly SPCK Bookshops) moved closer to getting their claims against their employer heard with the announcement of the date for a preliminary hearing in May (11-13), to be held in Bury St Edmunds.

Christine Peacock from shopworker’s union Usdaw, which is representing thirty one former staff at the Tribunal, said, “The preliminary hearing will decide who the employer was at the time.”

Read the full article >

I’m not sure that my post New to the SPCK/SSG Story, or just feeling lost? really “gives an indepth history of the story” as generously described by that  Christian Marketplace report, but it does provide some pointers that should help you find your way through the maze.

If you’re involved in the Christian book trade or are a church leader and you don’t receive your own copy of Christian Marketplace, head on over to the UKCBD Blog to find out how to pick up a FREE subscription: Keeping Up to Date, Getting Up to Speed.

Now, whatever is going on in Bountiful, Tucson?

SPCK/SSG Roundups: Christian Marketplace and DMK

Phil Groom writes:

October’s Christian Marketplace, out now, and David Keen (DMK) both offer good roundups of recent developments on the SPCK/SSG front.

Christian Marketplace‘s Industry News section, p.6, opens with “SSG Bankruptcy filed ‘in bad faith’”:

Attempts by the owners of UK bookshop chain SSG (formerly SPCK) to enjoy the protection of Chapter 7 bankruptcy have been thrown out by a US court. In a further setback Randy W Williams, the Trustee in Bankruptcy appointed by the Bankruptcy Court, submitted a Motion for Sanctions against SSG Chairman, J Mark Brewer, seeking a number of sanctions including, ‘reimbursement of the time and expenses spent by the Trustee’ and that ‘Mr Brewer be required to complete 20 hours of continuing legal education in the area of legal ethics over the next year’.

The article goes on to note Brewer’s apology to the court but continues:

Whilst Brewer has apologized to the Court he has not offered any apology to former employees or other creditors of the failed business. 

This, I think, is one of the points that has irked those commenting here — myself included — leading to David closing his round up with this observation:

Since the attempt to get SSG declared bankrupt in the US was thrown out, comments on these various threads seem to be getting a bit bolder/harsher depending on how you look at it. There is a lot of anger and distress, which is understandable, but I hope there can be some room left for repentance and change.

Let’s hope so: repentance and change. At the moment all we have from Brewer are fine sounding words addressed to those who are in a position to do him some serious damage, the US courts. But to those whom he has trampled underfoot he continues to show nothing but contempt. 

So once again, a personal note for J Mark Brewer — apologies would be a step in the right direction, Mark, but actions speak louder than words. If you’d like to see some less harsh reporting and comments, if you’d like me to ‘Cease and Desist’, please:

  • Pay your workers — Lindsey Stokes in particular
  • Pay your suppliers
  • Withdraw your threats of legal action against Dave Walker, Sam Norton, myself and the others you have similarly threatened 

Christian Marketplace Reports on the SPCK/SSG Affair

Christian Marketplace, September 2008

Page Updated 23/07/2009

Phil Groom writes:

Figured it would be useful to compile an overview of the SPCK/SSG reports featured in Christian Marketplace magazine. Christian Marketplace and the Bookseller seem to be the only print media outlets that have continued running regular updates on the SPCK/SSG situation since Mark Brewer’s C&D threats against Dave Walker. This is in marked contrast to the Church Times, which seems to have allowed itself to be effectively gagged by the threat, a point recently noted by David Keen and Maggi Dawn. It certainly seems a little odd that the Church Times hasn’t risen to the defence of its blogger and cartoonist…

Fortunately Dave had already compiled an index of Church Times reports and letters before Mr Brewer went ballistic. But I’m getting distracted; here are the Christian Marketplace Reports, in date order, most recent first:

More closures at SSG bookshops
Following the intervention of the Charities Commission in May all but two of the original 23 bookshops acquired by SSG from SPCK in 2006 are now closed.

Major developments in the SSG Bookshops story
After a relatively quiet few months, May saw a number of major devlopments unfold in the SSG Bookshop saga in a very short space of time…

SSG Tribunal date set for May
Ex-employees of the beleaguered SSG bookshop chain (formerly SPCK Bookshops) moved closer to getting their claims against their employer heard with the announcement of the date for a preliminary hearing in May (11-13), to be held in Bury St Edmunds.

SSG Bankruptcy filed ‘in bad faith’
Attempts by the owners of UK bookshop chain SSG (formerly SPCK) to enjoy the protection of Chapter 7 bankruptcy have been thrown out by a US court…

Good News for Cardiff
On Saturday 6th September, Churches Together Bookshop in Cardiff officially opened with a service of dedication held in the shop lead by the Rev. Tom Arthur, minister at the U.R.C. City church…

Norwich bookshop re-opens
Plans are well under way for the re-opening of a bookshop and café on the site of the former SSS/SPCK Bookshop in Norwich…

SSG Bankruptcy delay could impact on Tribunal claims
A delay in the hearing of the beleaguered SSG bookshop chain’s claim for bankruptcy in the USA could have implications for the forthcoming Industrial Tribunal cases lodged by former SSG bookshop staff in the UK…

Hundreds gather to celebrate the life of Worcester bookseller
The magnificent stone nave of Worcester’s 11th century cathedral resounded to the praise of over 600 worshippers as the Christian community of Worcester and beyond came to give thanks for the life of ‘a much loved bookseller’…

SSG Shops pulled from auction
The four shops SSG Bookshops due to be auctioned by Colliers CRE in London on 13th May were withdrawn from the sale a week before…

Robust response from Brewer re SSG Bookshops turmoil
Responding to a request from Christian Marketplace for information regarding the status of a number of shops within the SSG (former SPCK) Bookshop chain, Mark Brewer, Chairman of the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) which took over the chain of 23 bookshops in October 2006, gave a robust response…

Quieter month at SSG? – No
Following the frenetic amount of activity in February surrounding the SSG Bookshop chain with shop closures, staff dismissals and shops ‘temporarily’ closed for re-fit, it began to appear that things had quietened down in the last couple of weeks…

Bleak month for SSG Staff and customers
Further developments at the SSG (former SPCK) bookshop chain have led to closures. During the first week of February the Cambridge, Sheffield, Norwich and Lincoln branches were closed…

SSG makes The Bookseller “flops” list for 2007
Writing in the 21/28 December issue of The Bookseller, the editor’s Leader column lists The Society of St Stephen the Great (SSG) as one of their flops of 2007…

More resignations at SSG bookshops
It was reported by The Bookseller.com (04.12) that staff at the Newcastle and Truro branches of SSG Bookshops have become the latest members of staff to resign from the business…

The SSG saga goes on
It’s rapidly becoming the ‘Fawlty Towers’ of the Christian retail trade in the UK. The way events at the SSG (formerly SPCK) Bookshops are evolving would probably stretch the imagination of even the most creative ‘sit-com’ writers…

SSG Bookshop in Leicester goes independent
The Leicester Diocese email news service reported last month that the former SPCK Bookshop in Bishop Street in Leicester was under new ownership from 1st November…

SPCK Bookshops staff resign
The SPCK Bookshops story continues with the news that all seven employees of the Exeter SPCK Bookshop have resigned in a row over new contracts. They terminated their employment on Saturday 13th October…

Concern rising over SPCK bookshops
A couple of months ago this magazine asked the question ‘Is it all bad at SPCK Bookshops?’ Well it seems it might be according to recent stories circulating in the trade…

New church and bookshop in Poole
The former St Osmund’s Church in Poole, closed in 2002, having been declared redundant under the “Pastoral Measures Act”, was re-opened as the Orthodox Church of Poole last month. The building was purchased in 2005 by Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, the new owners of SPCK Bookshops…

Houston, we have a problem…

Correspondence with Houston Operation, United States Courts, Southern District of Texas, forwarded by Clem Jackson, Christian Marketplace magazine. Email addresses have been split to help keep the spammers at bay. Contact info for both Christian Marketplace and the Texas Courts is available on their respective websites. 

From: Darlene Hansen
On Behalf Of Houston Operation @ txs.uscourts.gov
Sent: 11 August 2008 15:27
To: Clem Jackson
Subject: Re: St Stephen the Great – Chapter 7 case

The docket does not show any hearing on August 4th, and the motion to dismiss has not been ruled on as a today.


Clerk’s Office
United States Courts, Southern District of Texas
515 Rusk, Ste., 5300
Houston, TX 77002
Toll Free 866-358-6201

In reply to:

From: Clem Jackson, 08/11/2008 06:20 AM
Please respond by 08/14/2008
To: bankruptcy ecf helpdesk @ txs.uscourts.gov
Subject: St Stephen the Great – Chapter 7 case

Dear Sirs,

I understand that a hearing regarding the Bankruptcy claim filed by J Mark Brewer in relation to a company called St Stephen the Great LLC, and the bookshops it runs in the UK, was due for hearing on 4th August.

Could you please advise whether or not this hearing took place and what the outcome of the case was.

I am aware that Randy W Williams submitted a Motion to Dismiss this case and would like to know what the outcome was.

Christian Marketplace magazine is the trade paper for the Christian retail trade in the UK and Europe and as such this case is of great interest to my readers.

Your assistance in this enquiry is greatly appreciated.

Clem Jackson

Christian Marketplace Magazine
Broadway House
The Broadway
East Sussex

Thanks to Clem for forwarding this — Phil.

Sunday Sermon

Being Sunday, I figured we needed a sermon. Except it isn’t really a sermon: it’s the article I wrote for the August issue of Christian Marketplace magazine, but it was pulled at the last minute when Mark Brewer sent his friendly request to ‘Cease and Desist’. So for anyone who’s wondering why there’s no magazine contribution from me this month, now you know. Essentially the article is an introduction to this blog, written before Dave Walker’s situation blew up…

Another Christian Bookshop Blog

June this year saw the launch of another Christian bookshop blog: “SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info”. In the ideal world it’s a blog that should never have been necessary, but in the real world it should have been born much earlier. You’ll find it at spckssg.wordpress.com but be warned: in the words of Neil Denham, an ex-Exeter SPCK employee, “some of the commenters are very bitter and it does not make very happy reading!” (exeterblog.blogspot.com).

Alongside the bitterness you’ll find anger, a sense of betrayal, confusion and – perhaps most of all – grief: in short, the legacy left to the UK Christian book trade by Mark Brewer and his St Stephen the Great Trust. Mark Brewer himself (or, since we cannot be entirely certain of identities online, someone posting under his name [1]) has generously taken time out of his busy schedule to respond to the concerns of his customers, ex-employees and suppliers, offering the following pithy observations, both posted on July 6th, the eve of Steve Jeyne’s memorial service (reported on elsewhere):

In response to my call for a boycott of the SSG shops, Brewer writes, “What a great idea! Boycott! How very Christian of you” and, in response to the post “SSG tribunal claims mount”, he writes, “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?”

With respect to boycotting the SSG bookshops, my feeling is that a mere boycott is not Christian enough: Christianity is about following Jesus and the Jesus I read about in the Gospels had no qualms when it came to driving out unscrupulous traders from the temple. Jesus’ comment about turning a house of prayer into a den of thieves seems apposite in view of the Brewers’ record of unpaid employees and suppliers: I remain astonished that Durham Cathedral in particular continues to allow them – in whatever guise they now use – to trade from their premises.

With respect to SSG’s liquidation, a number of people have replied but this, from ‘Pax Vobiscum’, perhaps expresses best how many affected by the situation 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.

As well as updates on the ongoing situation the blog includes what should become a comprehensive index of news reports, blog posts and other related articles which should prove useful to journalists and other researchers.

If you are amongst those affected – whether as a concerned customer, an
(ex-)employee, a supplier or in any other way – please do take time to visit and join in the discussions: it’s an open forum which, I very much hope, will not only provide a catharsis but also help us find a way forward…

Phil Groom, Friday, July 11, 2008
679 words.

Phil Groom is webmaster and reviews editor of the UK Christian Bookshops Directory, a free online guide to the UK’s Christian Bookshops. Unless otherwise stated the opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Marketplace or its publishers.

Re-reading that, I honestly can’t see why it had to pulled, especially with such a very clear disclaimer on the end. There’s nothing there that goes beyond perfectly legitimate reporting and fair comment. What do you think?
Please note that no criticism of Clem Jackson is implied in this observation.

1. See: SSG/SPCK – Will the real Mark Brewer please stand up? Metacatholic, 17/07/2008 and The Mark Brewer Saga: weirder than you think, MetaCatholic, 03/08/2008. My parenthesised comment is part of the original article as written and submitted to Christian Marketplace on 11/07/2008.

SPCK/SSG News Round-up in Christian Marketplace

June’s Christian Marketplace magazine provides a fairly comprehensive round-up of recent news relating to the ongoing SPCK/SSG shenanigans.

Industry News starts on page 6 and first up is SSG Shops pulled from auction featuring Simon Kingston, SPCK Publishing’s General Secretary and CEO, expressing surprise that the shops were even being offered for sale. Whatever may happen to the shops concerned, however, he confirmed

that there was indeed “a covenant on the freeholds limiting their use for some time to that of Christian bookselling with a broad multi-denominational stockholding.”

Next comes New Bookshop for York: the closure of SSG in York certainly doesn’t spell the end of Christian bookselling in the city as St Paul’s have announced the opening of a new store in September, “making St Paul’s the largest chain of Catholic bookshops in the country.” (Not to mention, of course, the continued presence of the Barbican Bookshop/Wesley Owen on Fossgate).

Moving on to page 7, Beware spckonline.com – Google picks up on my report here warning people of the potential danger of visiting SSG online. Astonishingly, as I write exactly two months since the problem was first reported by a contributor to Dave Walker’s blog on March 31st 2008, SSG still do not appear to have got their house in order and Google’s warning remains in place today (sorry, did I say ‘astonishingly’? My typing finger must have slipped…).

The Dawkins DelusionAlso on page 7 we have SPCK Publishing off to a record start announcing “the best monthly sales in the history of the company” during January this year, “despite the company no longer having the advantage of their own chain of bookshops, following the transfer to SSG…” Part of that sales boost is, of course, due to the McGraths’ riposte to Richard Dawkins, The Dawkins Delusion.

Finally, page 9, Ex-SPCK Bookshop staff get together reports briefly on the meeting for former SPCK booksellers and others held in Esher on 14th May, which I was privileged to attend.

All in all an excellent round up of news and related stories: my thanks to Clem Jackson, Christian Marketplace’s Editor, for giving me and this blog more than a few honourable mentions along the way, and I suspect I speak for many more when I say particular thanks for helping to keep the SPCK/SSG situation in the spotlight.

If you, gentle reader, are not a subscriber to Christian Marketplace may I encourage you to consider signing up? At only £25 per year (monthly: 12 issues) it’s excellent value for money and will help keep you up to speed with both the world of Christian retail and the world of Christian publishing: never again will you need to ask “What’s new?” — you’ll know already.

May those booksellers still working for SSG find the strength they need to face an uncertain future, and may those whom the Brewers seem to have cast aside so carelessly find justice in their forthcoming employment tribunals: grace and peace to you all.