Tag Archives: Durham Cathedral

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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Durham Cathedral Bookshop: One door closes…

Durham Cathedral Shop: Due to some necessary archaeological works, as we explore ways to improve physical access to The Cathedral Shop, this entrance is temporarily closed...

Durham Cathedral Shop - this entrance is temporarily closed...

Phil Groom writes:

One door closes — but will another one open? Christians love to talk about God’s provision and guidance, don’t they? About how one door may close but another one will always open, yadda yadda yadda… but the reality that we must all face is that by and large, God has entrusted that provision to us, his people. It’s God’s people who close doors and it’s God’s people who open them. It’s God’s people who shut people out, let people in or, sometimes, lock people up and forget where they left the key…

This notice, which appeared towards the end of January at the shop entrance in Durham Cathedral, begins:

Due to some necessary archaeological works, as we explore ways to improve physical access to The Cathedral Shop, this entrance is temporarily closed. Entry to The Cathedral Shop is through the easy access off The College which can be found by following the disabled signage…

That’s no bad thing and I’m not for one moment suggesting that it is: improving access to the shop is good news, especially if it means that disabled people don’t have to take that longwinded route to get there. Bravo, those planners! Nor am I suggesting that there are plans afoot to close the shop, although one little bird (not a member of your staff, please note, O Most Venerable Dean, should you happen to read this) tells me that there are plans to reduce the size of the shop, which might well impact upon staffing requirements — and that, given all the uncertainty and door-slamming that the shop staff have faced over the past few years, is most definitely not good news for anyone.

Let’s look back briefly: first the bookshop staff were, not to put too fine a point on it, betrayed by SPCK when the shop was handed over to the Brewers without adequate diligence (please don’t anyone try to tell me that the “due diligence procedure” SPCK went through in that disastrous handover was adequate). Then when it all went pear-shaped what, pray, did the Dean and Chapter do to help and support the staff? Ah yes: they prayed; no doubt about that, I’m sure. Prayed and panicked and prevaricated because God had put the means to answer those prayers in their own hands; but terminating the lease apparently proved too hot a potato: instead, they dropped it, leaving the bookshop staff to resist the bullying and abuse by themselves…

Eventually, of course, the Brewers’ mismanagement backfired as the Charity Commission moved in on the other shops to leave Durham as the last bastion of the Brewers’ bastardised British empire; and finally that, too, came tumbling down…

Enough of the history lesson, however: where are we today? This former SPCK bookshop — once described by no less a scholar than Professor James D G Dunn as “the best theological bookshop in the world” — appears destined to become little more than yet another Cathedral tat and gift shop, books sidelined to leave the City of Durham, home to the world-renowned Shrine of St Cuthbert, without a Christian bookshop worthy of the name. The Cathedral’s own description of the shop seems to say it all:

The Durham Cathedral Shop stocks a range of guide books, gifts and souvenirs, as well as a selection of religious and theological books.

Screenshot, 10/2/2011: The Cathedral Book and Gift Shop: Books sidelined?

The Cathedral Book and Gift Shop: Books sidelined?

And what of the staff? Where does this leave them after the years of abuse and neglect? In today’s world no job is secure, of course, but one would hope that having at last secured the shop for the Cathedral’s own use, the Cathedral authorities would set out to support, reassure and — dare I suggest such a radical idea? — perhaps even reward the staff for their loyalty and commitment to the Cathedral. Because that is assuredly what has kept them there: personal dedication to the cause.

Durham Cathedral Shop staff: I salute you!

May those who have been entrusted with power to open and close doors before you always do so with the fairness, integrity and respect that becomes a renowned Christian institution; may charlatans such as the Brewers never darken your doorways again; and when your closed door reopens, may it open the way to good things and happier times for all.

Durham Cathedral | Durham Cathedral on facebook

Durham Cathedral Shop: Resurrection in Progress

Phil Groom writes:

RIP. I just love those initials: just when we think it’s all over, along comes Jesus and says, “Party time, people: join me?”

Parties never happen by themselves, of course: there’s a heck of a lot of work goes on behind the scenes and a lot of work involved in keeping the party going, but after the ruination visited upon Durham Cathedral Shop by the Brewer brothers — both sadly still at large when they really ought to be locked away — it did my heart good to receive these photos of the resurrected Durham Cathedral Shop from our intrepid photographer. Congratulations and well done to all involved in achieving such an amazing transformation:

Durham Cathedral Shop, September 2010

Durham Cathedral Shop, September 2010

As I write this we’re halfway through our third Day of Prayer for the UK Christian book trade: please continue to pray for everyone caught up in the ongoing situation in Durham:

  • For the shop staff — for courage, grace and patience and perseverance as they continue to seek a fair settlement…
  • For the Cathedral authorities as they struggle to come to terms with their complicity in the Brewers’ mistreatment of staff…
  • For Usdaw, ACAS and all others involved in ongoing negotiations towards a settlement that will be fair and just for all…
  • For Phil and Mark Brewer, for repentance, change of heart and justice to be served…

Durham Cathedral Staff Tribunal Starts

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

Durham Cathedral Bookshop Staff Launch Legal Fight

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

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

The article begins by saying:

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

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

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

The article then goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Durham Cathedral Shop: Official Reopening?

Update 5.50pm, 5/5/2010:
The Cathedral have told me on facebook that the Official Opening ceremony has been cancelled.

Phil Groom writes:

According to the following notice posted on the Durham Cathedral news section on Friday 2nd April 2010, but subsequently taken down, 12 noon tomorrow, Thursday 6th May, should see the Dean and other members of the Cathedral community  — no doubt along with a good number of well-wishers from outside — gathering for the Cathedral Shop’s official opening:

The Cathedral Shop:  We are delighted that the shop re-opened under Cathedral management on 1st March and moves back into The Great Kitchen during April when the bookshop will join the current gift shop. The official opening by the Dean is on 6th May at 12.00 and all members of the Cathedral community are welcome to celebrate this occasion. The shop has a much wider range of postcards and note cards of the Cathedral than in the past as well as different ranges of gift items, so if you are looking for gifts that support the Cathedral do call in.  (Posted on Friday 2nd April 2010)

Durham Cathedral Shop: click through for full screenshot

I take this opportunity to congratulate all concerned and wish them every success for the shop’s future under the Cathedral’s more enlightened ownership: may it truly be a resource centre that the Cathedral can be proud of.

With the notice having been taken down and no fresh information posted it’s unclear whether or not the official opening will go ahead as announced. If you’re planning to travel any distance, it may be wise to call ahead: full contact details for all Cathedral departments here.

Please pray:

  • For the shop staff, as they continue to seek justice after several years of bullying and intimidation by the Brewer brothers.
  • For the Cathedral authorities as they come to terms with their responsibilities after several years of evasion.
  • For grace and wisdom for everyone involved as the shop staff and the Cathedral authorities learn to trust one another and work together.
  • For openness and clear channels of communication.

Keep up to date:

A Tangled Web for Creditors as Durham Cathedral announces plans to Re-Open Shop under its own Management

Phil Groom writes:

Update, Feb 17, 2010

The original news item this report relates to has vanished from the Cathedral website. Now copied into a comment below for reference.

Following last week’s announcement that the Brewer brothers had pulled out of Durham Cathedral ahead of schedule, the Cathedral have now announced a date, 1st March 2010, for the shop to re-open under its own management: The Cathedral Shop – A New Beginning

Due to problems with the roof of the Great Kitchen, where the former SPCK bookshop was situated, the shop will initially open in the entrance area of the original shop with a “focus on the needs of visitors to the Cathedral”. Those who have raised concerns about the need for a good theological bookshop are offered some reassurance, however, as the announcement continues, “As soon as arrangements can be made, a larger shop will open with a wide range of theology books and church supplies.” The new shop is eventually expected to be located in the Undercroft, opposite the restaurant.

Parts of yesterday’s announcement, however, could almost have been written by Philip W Brewer himself and will no doubt leave creditors scratching their heads in bemusement:

From yesterday’s announcement:

The Cathedral cannot deal with any inquiries relating to the former shop which should be directed to St Stephen the Great Trust. …

Organisations will need to establish new accounts since this is a completely new business…

From Philip W Brewer’s instructions to staff when ‘Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company’ was established in March 2008:

Please work with your suppliers as a new entity. Ignore whatever was and whoever was in the past. We are now a new company, with no relationship to the old going forward. So, contact your suppliers, tell them the drill, that you are a new company and that you would like to begin trading. When and if asked about billing, tell them they should process that at vendor-accounts, as you are not aware of how they are paying old invoices, etc. they will need to chase Saint Stephen the Great Trust as they have been doing.

Last year I and several others contacted Peter Gotham, Interim Manager of the St Stephen the Great Trust, urging him to seize control of the Durham shop as he had with others. He responded by insisting that the Durham shop did not come under his remit and refused to take responsibility or comment further on the matter.

If not the Interim Manager, to whom should those with enquiries about the former shop address those enquiries? Perhaps the Cathedral Chapter, whom one hopes has a little more integrity than Philip W Brewer, will post contact details for the division of the St Stephen the Great Trust towards which they are directing enquirers?

Finding Phil Brewer

Phil Groom writes:

A number of suppliers and other creditors have been in touch to say that Phil Brewer is not responding to emails or other business correspondence. That’s his prerogative, of course, and hardly surprising given his shameful record of business practice here in the UK. I remain completely astonished that despite knowing the facts about his abusive treatment of his employees and the utter contempt he has shown towards his business partners, the powers-that-be at Durham Cathedral continue to provide him with a foothold and safe haven from which to operate: he should be summarily evicted.

Be that as it may, however, here’s a summary of the contact information that I have for him. All of this is drawn from publicly available sources, largely from a simple Google search for Philip W Brewer. A search for his brother, J Mark Brewer, is similarly rewarding, but for today, let’s focus on finding Phil:

You’ll find more info, as well as a round up of creditors already paid, here:

So no more excuses: send the man a Christmas card today; and why not drop the powers-that-be at Durham Cathedral a line as well to tell them what you think of the ongoing situation there? A Christmas card for the beleaguered staff at the Cathedral bookshop might go down well too, come to think of it…