Tag Archives: Third Space Books

Third Space Books: A Visual History of Time

Phil Groom writes:

Like so many of the Brewers’ bizarre business dealings, Third Space Books were first brought to our attention by Dave Walker: Third Space Books – the new name for SSG?

I’ve been visiting the site every so often taking screenshots. Here they are in date order. Ignore any dates in the screenshots: the dates I’ve given are the dates on which the shots were taken — even as I write the date displayed on the welcome page is Wednesday, 30 January 2008 and the welcome message is “Wishing you a Blessed Lent and Easter”. Enough said: a picture paints a thousand words and it’s time to let them speak…

June 2008 – Spell check, anyone?

Leichester, 16/06/2008

Leichester, 16/06/2008

November 2008 – Any new messages?

Gmail Login, 21/11/2008

Gmail Login Page, 21/11/2008

December 2008 – Another spell check, anyone?

Worchester, 07/12/2008

Worchester, 07/12/2008

February 2009 – Let’s pretend. Not a screenshot this time, just our heroes faking it in Durham:

As advertised in the Middlesborough Diocesan Year Book 2009

As advertised in the Middlesborough Diocesan Year Book 2009

Looks like someone popped in for a tidy up but had problems with the calendar:

Shop Locations as at 10/02/2009

Shop Locations claimed as at 10/02/2009

August 2009 – the FAQ department seems to sum things up rather well, methinks:

There are no items to display - 08/08/2009

There are no items to display - 08/08/2009

OK, maybe two items. Backwards in time too. Have a blessed Lent and Easter, y’all!

And then there were two...

And then there were two. 09/08/2009 (h/t asingleblog)

Hmmm. Is that blending of the Stars and Stripes with the Union Jack allowed under international law? I guess it must be, knowing the Brewer’s legal team…

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Anger in Durham as Dean Snubs Petitioners’ Concerns

Phil Groom writes:

Dean of DurhamPetitioners calling for the Brewers’ business relationship with Durham Cathedral to be terminated have responded angrily to an announcement in last Sunday’s Cathedral Newsletter that the Dean’s new book — somewhat ironically, published by SPCK — is to be officially launched from the Cathedral Shop.

One petitioner has bluntly described the Dean’s decision to host his book launch in the Brewers’ shop as verging on “a deliberate two fingers against those who’ve signed the petition”, whilst another, leaving a message on the petition itself, states equally bluntly, “The fact that this petition still exists displays a singular disrespect for those who have signed it.”

I will trust in you, by Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham

I will trust in you, by the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham

The book, entitled I Will Trust In You: Companion to the Evening Psalms, ISBN 9780281059874, is priced at £9.99 but can be pre-ordered from Amazon for only £6.59, a 34% discount.

In November 2008 the Dean responded to a concerned petitioner by issuing a strong statement distancing the Cathedral authorities from the shop, noting that “the Cathedral Chaper does not manage the shop in its Great Kichen.” [sic] and emphasising that the shop “is NOT managed, is NOT controlled and is NOT run by the Cathedral itself.”

The book’s title, however, seems to beg the question: can the Dean be trusted to maintain that distance? If you share the concerns raised here and by the petitioners, please consider writing to the Dean personally to ask him that question and encourage him to seek an alternative venue: contact details may be found on the Cathedral Who’s Who page.

The date of the proposed launch is uncertain, given in the newsletter as March 31st whilst shop staff have reportedly been told that the event is scheduled for April 7th, during Holy Week. As this report goes live there is no mention of the book launch on the Cathedral website NewsNotices or Services & Events pages.

The petition, calling upon the Dean to take urgent and decisive action to free the Cathedral Shop from the Brewers’ control, was launched in August 2008. It now carries more than 360 signatures and remains open until its objective has been reached. If you have not already signed it, please consider doing so and please spread the word.

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.

Chichester, Durham, Third Space Books: Updating UKCBD Entries

Phil Groom writes:

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

UKCBD Entry for Durham Cathedral Shop

UKCBD Entry for Durham Cathedral Shop

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

Chichester

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

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

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

Durham

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

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

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

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

Third Space Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brewers Still Faking It In Salisbury

Congratulations to J Mark Brewer on winning the much coveted Mr GAFCON 2008 award. Mark, you are truly a hero and I can think of no one else so deserving of this trophy: well done, sir, well done!

Phil Groom writes:

Is it ENC? Is it SSG? Is it Third Space Books? No: it’s SPCK!!

Thanks to one intrepid photographer (you know who you are: thank you) we can reveal that despite a Trading Standards investigation requiring the removal of their illegal SPCK signage, as of 18th December 2008 the former SPCK Bookshop in Salisbury was still using an SPCK Sale notice in its window:

Salisbury, 18th Dec 2008

Salisbury, 18th Dec 2008

Salisbury SPCK Sale Notice, 18th Dec 2008

Zooming In: Salisbury SPCK Sale Notice, 18th Dec 2008

Have to say, I was rather taken by the ‘Window Pictures by Icon Art’ backdrop to the sale notice. Very fetching; and I do hope someone closer to hand will check — and if they’re still displaying this notice, that someone will fetch Wiltshire’s Trading Standards back again…

Somebody remind me, please: how long ago was it that the licence to use the SPCK name in connection with the bookshops was withdrawn? And what did Mark Brewer himself say about wanting to dissociate SSG from that name? Something about “traditional Christian values”? One wonders which tradition he had in mind…

“It is important that the people who work for this charity want to work for it and are devoted to supporting its work because it is not ‘just a job’; it is a mission,” he said. Brewer added that he has no intention to sell off stores. “I did not agree on behalf of Saint Stephen the Great to acquire 23 brilliant locations in great cathedral cities throughout the country, only to sell them a year later,” he said.

“These shops are like the talents the Lord spoke of in the parable, and to earn His favour as ‘good and faithful servants’ we must invest these talents for His glory. That is why I have taken a bold e-commerce initiative to become the dominant online Christian bookseller. I have also opened two new shops since the acquisition.”

Splendidly said, Mark, splendidly said

David Keen writes to the Charity Commissioners

Cross-posted from:

Letter to Charity Commissioners about the Society of St. Stephen the Great, and the former SPCK bookshops

Thanks to David for this. As always, comments are welcome here; but please be sure to also post your comments on David’s original post.

Thank you — Phil Groom.

David writes:

With no reply from Mark Brewer after 2 weeks, I have re-sent the original letter from the 498 ‘We Support Dave Walker‘ Facebookers. I will also be putting the following letter in the post later today. I’m not really interested in who gets back to me first, I just want justice.

Re: St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (charity no. 1109008, registered 12/4/05, removed 8/8/07)
St. Stephen the Great (charity no 1119839, registered 27/6/07)
St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (subsidiary of St. Stephen the Great, registered 19.8.07)

Dear Charity Commissioners,

I have a number of concerns about the charities listed above, and would be grateful if you could look into them.

The St. Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) has not filed any accounts with you since March 2006, either in its original incarnation as a registered charity, or as a subsidiary of ‘St. Stephen the Great’ (SSG) SSGCT was removed from registration on 8.8.07 and re-registered as a subsidiary of SSG on 19.8.07. It is now over 30 months since any financial records have been submitted. In the meantime the company has attempted to file for bankruptcy in the USA, is subject to 30 claims through employment tribunals in the UK, and employees are reporting that pension contributions have not been kept up to date.

The claim for bankruptcy itself was thrown out by the US courts, on the basis that the main creditors were in the UK, and legal action was promptly begun against the principal SSG trustee for attempting to use the US courts to evade their responsibilities elsewhere.

Saint Stephen the Great is also the name of a trading company, registered at Companies House (Company No. 061105190), whose Directors are the same as the SSG charity Trustees. It was incorporated on 16.2.07 and as yet has filed no accounts, their last return was due in March 2008 and is now more than 7 months overdue.

SSGCT ran a chain of bookshops, which it acquired from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in 2006. In June 2008 the Chairman of SSG and SSGCT emailed shop staff to inform them that:
“SSG (St Stephen the Great – limited liability company) has been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK Bookshops…. The bookshops will now be operated by ENC Management Company”
ENC is listed on the Companies House website as Company Number FC028292, and it’s Directors and Secretary are the same 3 people as the St. Stephen the Great charity trustees, and the directors of the St. Stephen the Great trading company.

My concerns are as follows:
1. Your website states: Trustees of charities with income exceeding £10,000 in their last financial year are required to complete and submit an Annual Return and a copy of the trustees’ annual report and accounts. This must be done within 10 months of the end of the charity’s financial year. 

SSG/SSGCT has not done this. In view of the financial situation detailed above, financial transparency would seem to be vital, yet the latest accounts only cover 2005-6. As a private citizen I would be fined if my tax return was submitted more than 9 months after the end of the tax year, but this has now been 30 months and rising. What is happening, and what processes are being followed to make SSG/SSGCT publish its accounts? Many suppliers and staff remain unpaid, and there seem to be pension payments missing as well. It is vital that up to date accounts are published to enable these claims to be properly processed.

2. If the bookshops are now being run by ENC Management Company, which has no formal relationship with any of the SSG charities, then is there a proper process for the transfer of assets from a charity to a private company, and has this been followed?

3. A memo from one of the ENC Directors, Mr Phil Brewer, to shop staff in August 2008 stated: “ On all purchases of 10 GBP or more, offer a 2 GBP discount if a donation of 1 GBP or more is made. They must also fill out a gift aid form.” A scanned copy of this memo is attached, retrieved from https://spckssg.wordpress.com/2008/08/24/philip-brewer-says-immediately-post-this/

However, given that the chain is now being run by ENC Management Company (a registered company) and not SSG (a charity), then is it legitimate to claim gift aid on purchases? If not, what is the legal position of staff who are being asked to do this?

4. The memo also instructs staff (no.5) inform customers that ‘thirdspacebooks’ – a website set up to support the bookshops – ‘supports charity’. However, ordering books through the site (http://thirdspacebooks.com/) merely takes you to Amazon, and there is no indication on the site of which charities it supports.

5. The confusion of names does not help, nor does the fact that Third Space Books, in its photographs of the shops, shows them still trading under the name ‘SPCK’, a name SSG is not entitled to use.

My concern in this is as someone who has used these bookshops, and has become concerned about various aspects of the way this business is run. If you are not already looking into these irregularities, can I please ask you to do so as a matter of urgency. There are 30 former staff, and many more suppliers, who remain unpaid by this organisation, and financial transparency is essential to make sure that people receive what they are owed.

Yours sincerely
Rev David Keen

Flaming Swords, Firewalls and a Welsh Dragon

Eden Press Release, 01/10/2008

Eden Press Release, 01/10/2008


Phil Groom writes:

The borders of Eden are no doubt as well guarded as ever — but where the biblical story gives us angels with flaming swords to keep the ravening hordes of fallen humanity at bay, in the new Eden we’re faced with firewalls. And the new Eden wants to keep us in, not keep us out.

I’m talking about eden.co.uk, Christianity’s contender for the throne of Amazon; and according to a recent press release issued by Eden’s Managing Director, Gareth Mullholland, it’s not about price: it’s about Range, Availability and Convenience:

‘Range’, ‘Availability’ and ‘Convenience’ are the top three reasons that customers say they now shop with Eden.co.uk instead of their local Christian Bookshop. This is contrary to the popular opinion that ‘price’ is the primary concern.

Eden clearly have a point: it’s restricted range, limited availability and the Brewers’ astonishing mastery of the art of complete inconvenience that combined to drive customers away from the former SPCK bookshops. As Meg Gilly, one of many people commenting on the petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop, has said:

In the past I would spend £500-600 a year at the Durham Cathedral shop on books for myself and items for my churches. Now the items I want are not available and the range of books is much reduced.

But what about price? Are Eden not being more than a tad disingenuous here? As any visitor to eden.co.uk immediately notices, the company specialises in discounts, in giving away margin for increased turnover. Melanie Carroll — who many here know as the former manager of spckonline.com — offers this challenge:

Come on Gareth, Prove that statement by removing the price factor and lets see how much the price really is a factor then when a good percentage of those customers decide to visit Amazon instead to partake of their breadth and convenience?? probably not then hey – not a risk you are willing to take?

How much margin Eden are giving away may be privileged information, but one thing we can be sure of: like Amazon, Eden will be expecting ever deeper discounts from their suppliers. It looks like a feeding frenzy for the goose that laid the golden egg, and whether it will end the same way remains to be seen.

In the midst of it all, however, one company stands firm, and their name says it all: Friends and Heroes. But Gareth isn’t happy:

Unfortunately [Friends and Heroes] aren’t available through any online retailers such as Eden.co.uk, WesleyOwen.com or even your own christianbookshops.org store. This is because Friends & Heroes don’t want to supply internet retailers because they say ‘we have our own website’.

Although this kind of thinking was common a few years ago, with one distributor describing internet retailers as ‘cowboys’, things have moved on a long way and publishers recognise that customers will choose to shop with their preferred retailer.

This Christmas we will sell thousands of children’s DVDs but not a single copy of F&H. It’s a real shame because they deserve to be seen.

Unfortunate indeed. Perhaps. But why should Friends and Heroes make their products available through other websites when they’re quite capable of meeting demand through their own? It’s a world wide web, after all, a global storefront. Customers will, as Gareth says, choose to shop with their preferred retailer — and for most, that retailer is the one that offers the products they require, when and where they require them. Friends and Heroes products will be seen and people will find them without Eden’s help, and it’s a real shame because Eden won’t share in the profits…

Please don’t misunderstand me: I admire Eden’s success. I am totally committed to seeing Christian retailers make the most of the opportunities the internet brings us. Eden drives my own online store at www.christianbookshops.org and the commission from those sales helps to subsidise the costs of running UKCBD (and I should also point out that all eden.co.uk links in this post are affiliate links to the same end). But not satisfied with 75% growth whilst everyone else struggles to make ends meet, Eden’s target is 100%:

Eden.co.uk has announced that book sales in September were up 75% on last year and that the company is on course to hit a target of 100% annual growth by the end of its financial year in January.

The message of Eden’s press release seems to be: Christian bookshops beware: Christmas is coming — and Eden wants it all.

And what’s more, the Welsh Development Agency apparently wants to give it to them. For the privilege of moving just 10m across the border into Wales, the Dragon has roared its approval and is now helping to fund Eden’s further expansion:

Fast growth can be difficult for small businesses but Eden is being supported by the Welsh Development Agency who have already provided grants towards training and development. The WDA is part-funding an intense period of business planning with the School of Management at Cranfield University, meanwhile another significant investment from the WDA is expected in early 2009 to develop new sales channels for christian books in the UK.

“Last July we moved into new premises on the other side of Chester and we are now ten metres over the border into Wales. The Welsh Development Agency has recognised our potential and is helping to ensure our growth and stability by providing us financial support along with experienced ‘mentors’ from leading businesses in North Wales.”

“Fast growth can be difficult, ” say Eden. Any growth would be wonderful, say the rest of us. Congratulations to Eden on securing that funding; and I’m curious about these “new sales channels for christian books in the UK” — a new chain of Christian bookshops? A rescue plan for the former SPCK bookshops? A bit late for most, but we live in hope. Or are we talking faster servers for more websites and a bigger, brighter online presence for Eden? Or perhaps — and now we really could be onto something truly wonderful — assistance for the rest of us to develop online sales channels alongside Eden? 

In the meantime I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief and saying thank God that Third Space Books aren’t based in Wales: visions of the Brewers breathing fire after cross breeding with a dragon come to mind. On the other hand, like Donkey’s Dragon in Shrek, perhaps the Welsh Dragon would have eaten them. Suddenly, I’m a believer…