Tag Archives: Former SPCK Bookshops

Charity Commission releases report on the SPCK/SSG Bookshops

Saint Stephen the Great: Charity Commission inquiry

IT’S TAKEN A LONG, LONG TIME but today the Charity Commission has at last issued its assessment of the Brewer brothers’ gross mishandling of the former SPCK Bookshops.

The nine page report (available here) fails to identify the Brewers by name but nonetheless makes damning reading as it brings to light huge irregularities in a wide-ranging and complex inquiry that examined four specific areas:

  • Conflict of interest/loyalty, trustee benefit and self-dealing
  • Exposure to financial liability of the company and the trust
  • Bankruptcy proceedings in the United States of America
  • Potential damage to public trust and confidence

After a brief introduction to the Saint Stephen the Great Trust and Company, the report  identifies the issues under investigation, summarises the Commission’s findings, reviews the interim manager’s activities and findings, and draws the following conclusions:

The interim manager concluded that the trustees had mismanaged the trust. There were unmanaged conflicts of interest and loyalty related to directorships of associated companies and contracts entered into by some of the trustees.

The inquiry considered that some conflicts were so intrinsically linked to the trust’s administration that they could not be managed. The inquiry was concerned that the trustees’ lack of ability to manage conflicts of interest and loyalty arising from their involvement in connected organisations could lead them to consider it appropriate to use the trust’s funds to satisfy the liabilities of the other entities.

The inquiry highlighted poor governance, lack of due diligence and inadequate record keeping on the part of the trust trustees and the company directors. Trustees are under a duty to be prudent with the charity’s assets, the lack of prudence in this case and the lack of trustee awareness of their responsibilities has led to the demise of the trust and the company.

The interim manager concluded that it would be expensive and risky for the trust to restart managing the shops. There was no prospect of new trustees wishing to manage the trust and no evidence that beneficiaries or interested parties wished the trust to continue. It was in the trust’s best interest for it to be wound up with surplus assets transferred to charities with similar objectives.

The inquiry concluded that there had been serious mismanagement and misconduct of the trust and company by the trustees.

It then goes on to outline the extent, cost and impact of the Commission’s regulatory action, briefly noting the vast sums involved:

Trust assets of £3,226,100 were safeguarded by the appointment of the interim manager and claims of £4,171,710 were managed. £1,928,853 was disbursed in settlement of claims and £144,486 was disbursed to Orthodox communities.

Finally, the report considers issues for the wider sector, highlighting lessons to be learned from the failings noted and highlighting the duties and responsibilities of charity trustees, who must always:

  • act only in the best interests of the charity
  • actively manage actual or potential conflicts of interest
  • familiarise themselves with the appropriate legal requirements and take professional advice
  • keep proper accounting records and an adequate audit trail

Sadly, as well as failing to name those responsible for this Christian book trade disaster, the report also fails to consider the human cost for those caught up in it — the distress, hardship and misery caused to so many — noting only that “Thirty four of the shops’ ex-employees submitted redundancy claims” and that “Settlement of the redundancy claims from ex-shop employees was made and claims were paid in 2009 and 2010.”

Final settlement with SSG worth “over a million pounds” (updated 12/10/2013)

SPCK Trustees' Report and Accounts for the year ended 30th April 2013 (pdf, 1.7mb)

SPCK Trustees’ Report and Accounts for the year ended 30th April 2013 (pdf, 1.7mb)

THE FINAL SETTLEMENT between SPCK and the Brewers/SSG was worth “over a million pounds” according to the Rt Revd John Pritchard in his Chair’s Overview in the Society’s 2013 Annual Report. This income, he continues, has strengthened SPCK’s “overall financial position” and enabled them to support the pension fund set up for former shop workers. He also acknowledges that it has been a painful process, particularly for those workers:

The very long legal struggle with the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) has finally been concluded with a settlement involving the value of the remaining shop freeholds, which were already in the process of being sold or prepared for sale. This represented over a million pounds, which has strengthened our overall financial position and is helping us to support the Designated Fund dedicated to paying into the pension scheme that was operating in the days of the shops. We are very glad to have brought this difficult matter to a conclusion at last. It has been painful for everybody, and particularly for the staff of our former shops. The settlement is good news for SPCK and good news for the church.

Update, 12/10/2013: AGM Records Vote of Thanks

The following note has now been posted on the SPCK news page as part of the Society’s AGM report:

We reached a resolution with Saints Stephen the Great Charitable Trust and the million pounds recovered will help to strengthen the pension fund to the benefit of our former bookshop staff who were in the scheme.  The valuable service which the SPCK shops gave to the Church and to their communities over many years was acknowledged with a vote of thanks and appreciation to all those who had been part of this ministry.

Freeholds Reclaimed, Disbursements and Pension Fund top-ups promised as SPCK settle dispute with SSG

IT’S BEEN A SLOW TRAIN COMING, but SPCK have at long last drawn a line under their long-running legal dispute with SSG, the charity set up by Phil & Mark Brewer to run, but which ultimately ruined, the the former SPCK bookshops. In a news bulletin posted yesterday, Friday 14th September 2012 — just short of six years since the original handover of the shops to SSG was announced — SPCK declared that it had “finally concluded” the matter with “a predicated settlement involving the return of some shop freeholds or their realised value” and further anticipated “substantial disbursements – as yet unquantified – and legal costs which will be clarified in the coming months.”

Describing the settlement, Simon Kingston went on to say,

In particular, SPCK is committed to paying substantial sums into the fund relating to the pension which was operating in the days of the shops.

Congratulations must be made to Simon in particular for his quiet determination and persistence in pursuing this matter to a conclusion. The damage done by the Brewer brothers can never be undone but most of those who suffered at their hands should now be able to begin to look forward to a brighter future and, hopefully, some measure of restitution.

SPCK News: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

SPCK News: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

Full Statement: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

SPCK is pleased to announce that it has finally concluded its long legal dispute with Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. Simon Kingston, CEO and General Secretary, says: “We are very glad to have brought this difficult matter to a conclusion at last. It has been painful for everybody, and particularly for the staff of our former shops. We therefore welcome the news that SSGCT is unlikely to continue as a charity.

“We are now in a better position to focus all our energies on our core aim of bringing knowledge of the Christian faith to the whole world.”

As part of the agreement, SPCK receives a predicated settlement involving the return of some shop freeholds or their realised value. This will be reflected in SPCK’s annual accounts. However, we anticipate substantial disbursements – as yet unquantified – and legal costs which will be clarified in the coming months.

“Funds from this settlement will be vital at a time that is so challenging financially,” said Mr Kingston. “In particular, SPCK is committed to paying substantial sums into the fund relating to the pension which was operating in the days of the shops.”

The Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, Chair of SPCK, also welcomed the announcement. “This is good news for SPCK and good news for the Church. Now that this is resolved, SPCK can look to the future with confidence.

“And there is plenty to celebrate. Last year, for example, SPCK gave away 12,000 International Study Guides to students training for ministry in some of the poorest parts of the world. Closer to home, the (free) Assemblies website had 37 million hits, and the charity sold over a third of a million books in the UK and another 300,000 overseas. There are more exciting developments in hand for 2012, including the launch of resources supporting literacy in prisons.”

 

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

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

Former SPCK Bookshop in Chester, 27/03/2011

Former SPCK Bookshop in Chester, 27/03/2011

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

2010: SPCK/SSG Blog Overview

Phil Groom writes:

THANK YOU to the stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com for the following snapshot summary of how this blog did in 2010; but EVEN BIGGER THANKS to you, its readers, without whose involvement it would all be dust and ashes. I guess the good news is that those money-grubbing scoundrels, Messrs Phil Brewer and J Mark Brewer, no longer have their snouts in the trough since it all turned to dust and ashes in their mouths, although Phil Brewer still has the audacity to brag about his involvement in the whole sorry story as if it were some sort of success. Nuff said: here’s the breakdown from 2010:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy Numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 17 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 278 posts. There were 17 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 22nd with 418 views. The most popular post that day was Removals Fairies Strike at former SPCK Bookshop, Chester.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were christianbookshops.org.uk, christianbookshopsblog.org.uk, facebook.com, mattwardman.com, and twitter.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for proposal to strike off, spck ssg, spck, active – proposal to strike off, and gemstar exeter.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Removals Fairies Strike at former SPCK Bookshop, Chester January 2010
28 comments

2

SSG at Companies House: “Status: Active – Proposal to Strike off” January 2009
14 comments

3

Final Former-SPCK Bookshop Expels Philip Brewer: Durham Cathedral January 2010
37 comments

4

Durham: Cathedral Shop Reopens March 2010
24 comments

5

A Tangled Web for Creditors as Durham Cathedral announces plans to Re-Open Shop under its own Management February 2010
36 comments

Good News in Leicester as Cathedral Square Relocation Plans are Confirmed

Phil Groom writes:

THE UNCERTAINTY that has hung over Christian Resources, the former SPCK Bookshop in Leicester, since the sad death of Peter Hebden (who was sole proprietor) has come to an end at last. The following brief announcement was posted to the Christian Resources Leicester facebook group on Monday 20th Dec 2010:

Christian Resources Leicester: WE ARE MOVING!

Christian Resources Leicester - WE ARE MOVING! We can now officially tell you that we will be relocating to a BRAND NEW SHOP next March as part of the new Cathedral Square Development next to Leicester Cathedral. More news coming soon....!!

In February, when I last reported on the situation in Leicester, it was hoped that the new premises would become available during the autumn of this year, but this was delayed. Although the bookshop itself isn’t specifically mentioned, this video, presented by Pete Hobson, Project Director, gives an insight into the development:

I have to say that for me personally it’s all very nostalgic: this was my school! That gym you see is where I had PE lessons and those upstairs rooms are where we had our science lessons, oh yes! And if you seriously think those little wooden knobs would stop teenage boys sliding down the bannisters, you were never a teenage boy!! And now — somewhere — the place is going to be home to Leicester’s leading Christian bookshop: bring it on!

Former SPCK Bookshops Four Years On: watching, waiting, wondering: it isn’t over yet

The Watcher writes:

The photograph below, sent in by a concerned individual, of the former SPCK Bookshop in Worcester, looking empty and neglected, is symptomatic of the present state of play regarding the former SPCK Bookshops four years after they were handed over to the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust aka Messrs Mark and Phil Brewer on 31st October 2006.

Former SPCK Bookshop, Worcester, 26 Oct 2010

Former SPCK Bookshop, Worcester, 26 Oct 2010

As well as handing over more than 200 staff, and we’ve seen the tale of pain and destruction which has taken place regarding that event, SPCK also handed over valuable freehold shop premises.

Five shops – Bradford, Canterbury, Exeter, Truro and York – were handed over immediately. Exeter was sold in 2008 and York is in the process of being converted into a restaurant. No doubt we shall have news of other sales in due course.

However, six shops – Chester, Hereford, Newcastle, Salisbury, Winchester and Worcester – were destined to be handed over fully to SSGCT in 2013 if they were still being used as Christian bookshops. Obviously none of them are, as the photograph demonstrates, so a logical thinker would say that ownership was still with SPCK who could do as they liked with the buildings as the Brewers had reneged on their part of the deal. [1] If only life were that easy when the Brewers are around! They fight for their rights (and they’re always right) regardless, and now the Charity Commission and their Interim Managers are also involved.

As so many legalities are involved, no one outside of the situation can be exactly sure what is happening, but it would appear that although the Interim Managers had stated they could only be involved in SSGCT affairs because that was a charity, not in any of the later organisations set up by the Brewers because they were companies, they are still working with SPCK but it could take until 2013 for any resolution.

In the meantime shops stand empty in prime high street locations and suppliers who were not paid by the Brewers from mid 2007 through to the end of 2009, are still owed money at a time when trading conditions are difficult. It is sad that they would have to take the time, trouble and expense to chase up what they are owed because of the “technicality” of the Brewers trying to separate Charity and Company. The former SPCK shops existed because of the support of thousands of ordinary Christians. Some shops had their opening funded by local Christians raising the money to enable SPCK to purchase retail premises. All shops continued to stay open over many years because customers shopped there. So, what is the answer? Can anyone ignore what is happening and think the story is over?


[1] Excerpts from SPCK’s 2007 Annual Report

 

From p.6:

On 31 October 2006, all our bookshops and their staff were transferred to St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. The Society will retain six freeholds for a period of seven years, when (subject to agreed conditions) they will also be transferred.

From p.20:

On 30 October 2006, SPCK entered into an agreement with St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT), a registered charity no: 1109008, for the creation of a new Christian Resources Group including the SPCK Bookshops open at that date. Under the terms of the agreement and in furtherance of its charitable purposes, SPCK transferred its Bookshops activities to SSGCT on 31 October 2006 including the transfer of certain freehold and leasehold properties, fixtures fittings and stock. SPCK also agreed to grant leases to SSGCT, at peppercorn rents, on certain other freehold properties for a period of seven years, after which time they will be transferred to SSGCT if the SPCK Bookshops Group remains in operation on an agreed basis.

Former SPCK York to become a Restaurant

York Press, 05/10/2010: "Christian bookshop in Goodramgate, York to be sold for restaurant use"

York Press, 05/10/2010: "Christian bookshop in Goodramgate, York to be sold for restaurant use"

Phil Groom writes:

According to a report published 5th October 2010 in the York Press, the fate of the former SPCK Bookshop in York is now sealed as businessman Ian Loftus has secured permission to turn the premises into a restaurant:

A FORMER Christian bookshop in the centre of York is poised to come up for grabs to restaurateurs after plans to transform it were approved.

Businessman Ian Loftus has secured permission to revamp the disused Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) store in Goodramgate with the aim of attracting a high-profile dining-out name to the city.

The owner of Stonegate’s Evil Eye Lounge and House of Trembling Madness bought the building following the closure of the bookshop two years ago and hopes its availability will help revitalise the street.

The site is expected to go on the market within the next week following the approval of the plans, which involve turning the ground floor of the three-storey structure into a restaurant area, by City of York Council.

York was, of course, one of the freehold premises which was subject to a seven year covenant — full details here (pdf, 745kb) — restricting use of the the premises to trading as a Christian bookshop:

Restrictive Usage Covenant

Restrictive Usage Covenant

As suspected just under a year ago when the For Sale sign was spotted (Nov 2, 2009), it appears that the Interim Manager did not regard the covenant as binding. One can only hope that the monies received for sale of the premises has been used to pay some of the company’s creditors…

The Way It Was: SPCK York, July 2008

The Way It Was: SPCK York, July 2008

Durham Cathedral 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.

SPCK/SSG Two Years On: Reflections and Responses

Phil Groom writes:

Today, Saturday 26th June, 2010, marks the second anniversary of this blog. You’ll hear no trumpet fanfare, no roll of drums; and you’ll see no flags flying, no balloons, no fireworks to celebrate. But if you listen, carefully, you may well hear the sound of tears falling… yet listen more carefully still and you might just hear the sound of a baby crying. Because out of the anguish and distress through which this blog was birthed, new life has emerged, new bookshops — perhaps even new ways of being bookshop — have been born. Those include:

I invited some of those who were involved in the SPCK/SSG crisis from the very beginning to offer us some reflections on where we are now:

Melanie Carroll, former manager of both SPCK Lincoln and spckonline.com before the Brewers destroyed them, and now owner of Unicorn Tree Books — also recently described by Eddie Olliffe as “one of the most original and inspirational trade bloggers” — writes:

Hmm kind of fitting in a way as last week they (the landlords) finally cleared out the old SPCK shop of all the left behind rubbish, half-newspapered windows and general look of sadness. Now it is ready for something new to open there, to begin its life afresh without the reminder of the past.

It was a sad moment to realise fully that SPCK really is gone now – dismantled from the inside out in effect by people that had no care and no regard for it, no understanding or love for it but that saw it merely as a means to an end, something to be stripped out.

However it was also a moment of relief as now it’s not a ghost haunting us daily with its reminder of what went before it, to the carnage that had led to its desolation. A long reaching shadow blotting out the light and encroaching on new growth and rebirth.

Perhaps now people will start to put it behind them, to be able to move forward with the gleam of past remembrance, to remember now instead the good that was there, the friendships built with time and tested with fire.

Perhaps now people will start to build a new community, to come into the new shops that grew from the ruins, the other shops that sprouted new custom from the passing — perhaps now people will begin to see that life passes on, change happens, we deal with it, we move through it, and sometimes we learn from it, but whatever happens in the end it does pass on, we continue our journeys.

However despite all this what saddens me the most is the fact that sometimes despite it all, despite the trials and tribulations, despite the potential lessons that could have been learned things don’t change as much as they could, as they should – that almost immediately after the SPCK/SSG debacle was the STL Debacle — which in many ways seemed to echo what had occured before —however the thanks here is that due to the SPCK/SSG issue having been raised so strongly this time there were people more willing to step in, to not see such desolation occur, and perhaps in some ways these were helped by those that had done it before without the same degree of support but could stand as witnesses to the potential.

Now though we still see some issues of what it is to be ‘Christian’ Businesses and the principles we aspire to or not shown in how some companies behave and the tactics they use, the arguments used to justify these behaviours sometimes seem to show most strongly how lessons aren’t learned and how the terms being Christian or a Charity can be so abused and maligned by those seeking to justify their tactics of commercial gain and operation over right acting and adherence to basic Christian principles.

I am also saddened by how instead of embracing the Christian Bookshops still standing there is instead a feeling that these places are not of real value any longer unless they are cheaper than Amazon and swankier than Starbucks. That they should perhaps be scorned and rejected as anachronistic. This despite the loss of sales for publishers and detriments to communities where these shops have gone — it is a bit like the Joni Mitchell song says, “You don’t know what you got til it’s gone” – and the trouble is by that point it’s way too late.

So maybe now is the time to start moving forward, to start making the break from the past and moving into the future — a future built on right action and community mindedness, a return to good old fashioned values and community done in a bright new way? Putting each other first, supporting each other, safeguarding each other — and in so doing growing not only each other but ourselves. If that can be the lesson learned from all of this SPCK/SSG debacle, then for me it would really have been worth that pain and sacrifice.

Valiant for Truth, a frequent commenter here who has been keeping a particularly close eye on the still ongoing situation in Durham Cathedral, writes:

And so, the end is near, but not quite there yet as the staff at the Durham Cathedral Shop, who were the last to be employed by the Brewers until January 2010, may still have a Tribunal case if USDAW and the Courts can accommodate this.

Without wishing to pick over old news, the thoughts which come to mind could be bullet points to reflect the saga:

  • Why did a 300 year old, highly respected Anglican mission agency with senior clergy and business people on its Governing Body, decide on a course of action which not only destroyed the former bookshop chain but had serious consequences for much of the rest of the Christian trade?
  • Why did so many stand by and watch things happen, and a few, brave souls ignore threats and carry on giving the news which in turn informed a wider, world wide audience?
  • One former shop manager paid the ultimate price by losing his life and another has died since, but many more suffered at the hands of two brothers who can only be described as bullies, and some people who have had to move on, have still lost much and have not yet been able to truly find a new, satisfying niche for their skills and talents. What a waste of skills and experience!
  • How could the tangled web and twists and turns created by the Brewers, so defeat the English legal system, including charity law?
  • Why must the cloak of secrecy covering “work in progress” in the law, be so dense that even the parties concerned are not kept fully informed of the events and work being undertaken? Will we ever know even when all cases are closed?

Probably ultimate satisfaction will never be achieved — the world is not yet perfect after all — but if nothing else, the saga needs to have been recorded to bring healing to those who have suffered, and to serve as a lesson for the future in the hope that others will not make the same mistake.

My personal thanks to everyone who has blogged, tweeted and otherwise reported on this sorry saga. I’d especially like to thank Dave Walker for his inspirational ‘Save the SPCK’ blogging during the first two years until Mark Brewer’s threats forced him to back off; Matt Wardman for his expertise and persistence in the political blogosphere; and David Keen for his encouragement and support.

Finally — because the saga isn’t quite over yet — I’d like to reiterate my points for prayer for Durham:

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.