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GroomNews Christmas 2009 December 11, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Life.
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Christmas 2008 | GroomNews Archives

GroomNews Christmas 2009

GroomNews Christmas 2009 - printer friendly version (pdf, 561kb)

What? No Christmas Card??
This year, rather than add to the planet’s burden of billions of ultimately unwanted Christmas cards, we’ve decided to send out most copies of this edition of GroomNews without a card or by email only. We’re donating the money that we would have spent on cards to World Vision instead. If you haven’t already sent out your cards, may we encourage you to consider doing the same?

Challenges and Changes
2009 has been another year of challenges and changes, the most dramatic of which was our move away from London to the delightful wilds of Bedfordshire. Sue now has a new dual role as Priest-in-Charge of two semi-rural parishes, Henlow & Langford, and as Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands in the Diocese of St Albans. We’ve been warmly welcomed by the two villages, the vicarage is the best yet and we are especially delighted to have a garden again. There are numerous opportunities for ministry with three schools and all sorts of community groups. In the run up to Christmas Sue is dashing here, there and everywhere, but she is thoroughly enjoying being back in parish ministry!

Sue has put her DMin studies on hold for the current academic year but she is fulfilling the occasional teaching commitment alongside tutoring for LST’s Open Learning Hebrew course.

LST Bookshop

LST Books & Resources

Unfortunately Langford isn’t so good for Phil’s job at LST: the journey takes two hours each way so he’s cut down to working three days a week and is looking for work closer to home. Reduced hours, of course, means a reduced income, but also helps to reduce LST’s costs in running the shop: along with so many other bookshops, the LST Bookshop is struggling to break even in the current economic climate. Although students and staff have been very supportive, having the LST community as a ‘captive audience’ doesn’t help when they have limited funds and are just as liable as anyone else to shop online for lower prices.

A Less Painful Hip
Following a course of physiotherapy, a carefully planned regime of exercises and regular swimming at a very good pool in Biggleswade, Sue’s hip has been much less painful this year.

Almost
is still moored on the Kennet & Avon (K&A) canal with the Newbury Boat Company. This year’s summer holiday took us further along the K&A to Devizes, where we resisted the temptation to go through what is widely regarded as one of the most impressive flights of locks in the country. We settled for mooring at the top and watching sympathetically as other boaters went for it in the rain…

Phil Blogs On
The SPCK/St Stephen the Great bookshops situation seems to be approaching resolution: earlier  in the year the Charity Commission appointed an Interim Manager who took control of the shops from the Brewer brothers. He is now selling the organisation’s assets in order to pay outstanding debts. Read all about it at spckssg.wordpress.com

Sadly the last year has seen another crisis  building up in the Christian booktrade: in October 2008 STL Distribution (the UK and Europe’s biggest Christian wholesaler and owners of Authentic Media publishing and the Wesley Owen bookshops) attempted to install a new IT system as part of its parent company Biblica’s globalisation strategy. Unfortunately it all went pear shaped and for reasons that remain unclear, they were unable to revert to the previous system. In November Biblica announced that they were pulling the plug on their UK operations. It’s all very messy with at least 490 people’s jobs on the line, but hopefully some resolution should be found before Christmas. Please pray for everyone caught up in the situation. You can find out more on the UKCBD blog: christianbookshopsblog.org.uk.

With Our Love
As always, this comes with our thanks for your friendship, our love, best wishes for Christmas and our prayers for peace in the year ahead,

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Biblica and STL UK: A Strange Way to Attract Investors? December 6, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Watching and Waiting.
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36 comments

If you’ve been following my other blogs, UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog and SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info, then it won’t have escaped your notice that the Christian book trade here in the UK has been going through a wee bit of a crisis over the last couple of years.

On the former SPCK bookshops front, things seem to be approaching a sort of resolution as Peter Gotham, the Interim Manager appointed by the Charity Commission, has seized control of most of the shops (Durham being the most obvious exception) and is now advertising for the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust’s creditors — amongst others, the people whose goods Mssrs J Mark and Philip W Brewer failed to pay for — to submit their claims against the organisation. If that’s you, you need to pull your finger out because, as things stand, you only have until the close of business on 16 December 2009 to get your claims in.

By a bizarre coincidence of timing, that’s also about the time that we can expect to hear what’s likely to happen to the struggling IBS-STL UK empire — STL Distribution, the Wesley Owen bookshops and Authentic Media/Paternoster Press. According to Keith Danby’s latest trade update, the negotiations with Biblica’s “preferred bidders” are expected to “take us into the week commencing 14th December” and we can expect a further announcement “when the sale process comes to a conclusion”.

It’s a welcome update that has been largely hailed as good news: to quote the Church Mouse,

The vital part of that is that the offers are ‘covering all aspects of the business’. This is very encouraging. Book selling in the UK is a tough market for anyone, evidenced not just by STL’s experience, but also by Borders going into administration. Some had thought that Wesley Owen’s chances of redemption were low, but it seems there is hope.

A more disturbing note, however, is sounded by the following statement from Danby which appeared in Toby Cohen’s Religious Intelligence report, Financial disaster hits British media player, published last week, Thursday, 3rd December 2009:

We are not being forced to make this decision by any bank. We came to the decision after struggling on for 12/13 months that now was the time to give the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership to do what was best for the continuity of the ministry and all of the stakeholders.

To me there seems to be more than a whiff of something peculiar here. Even looking at this in the best possible light, pulling the plug on your UK operations and telling not only your staff but also your business and ministry partners that if buyers are not found within a few weeks then the entire enterprise will go into administration seems a rather strange way to attract new investors.

Introducing this level of uncertainty into people’s lives and livelihoods during the most critical time of year for businesses — and what is often one of the most stressful times of year for families — is hardly the way to help to ensure continuity of ministry, let alone to offer reassurance to “the stakeholders”.

If providing “the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership” to take things forward was the primary concern, then surely the way to proceed would have been to seek to sell IBS-STL UK as a going concern, not as a business that was for sale or bust?

If there was no pressure from the charity’s bankers, then why was it deemed appropriate to subject either the staff or the rest of the UK Christian book trade to the trauma that they and we have gone through since November 16th?

I do not for one moment dispute the immense effort that has been put into finding a buyer or buyers, or into securing the futures of as many of STL UK’s 490 employees as possible; but I do not believe that Biblica’s decision to pull out of its UK operations was made with the best interests of the UK Christian book trade — or even its own UK division — in mind. No doubt new investment, new thinking and new leadership will emerge: but for that we will owe no debt of gratitude to Biblica, only rather to those who have shown the courage and entrepreneurial spirit to pick up the pieces afterwards.

Loony Legal Threats Over the SPCK/SSG Bookshops: One Year On July 21, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings.
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Where were you on July 21st 2008?

Unless it’s your birthday, it’s probably not a date that means much to you, but for me it’s a date I won’t forget in a hurry: I was on holiday, cruising the Thames in somewhat better weather than we’re having this year.

A message came in on my mobile to tell me that J Mark Brewer, an American lawyer and the then-owner of the SPCK/SSG Bookshops, was threatening me with legal action unless I took down various webpages where I and several other people had been reporting on his abuse of his staff and his mismanagement of the shops.

Interim Managers Notice - No entry to this building is permitted...

Interim Manager's Notice - "No entry to this building is permitted..."

It’s been an interesting year since but we’ve now reached the point where the tables have been well and truly turned on Mr Brewer: the Charity Commission have stepped in and seized control of the shops whilst they complete formal investigations into his misdemeanors.

So today I take the opportunity to thank everyone who has shown solidarity over the past year as I and my fellow bloggers have fought against Mr Brewer. It’s your encouragement, prayers and support that have made it possible: thank you.

Even now, however, the fight continues: staff and suppliers remain unpaid and the Charity Commission face an uphill struggle as they attempt to set things right.

Please continue to pray; and if you’d like to find out more, read on:

Life: It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world May 9, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in News.
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9 comments

Title borrowed from MadPriest: thanks, mate! If you’ve not met MadPriest, you really ought to head on over there sometime; but preferably when you’ve finished here, not right now.

Two items of news broke yesterday:

1. The Charity Commissioners have, at last, taken action against the Brewer brothers and appointed an interim manager for the St Stephen the Great Trust: Brewers Skewered as Charity Commission Takes Action – Part 1

2. The new Bishop of Kensington formally announced that he was pulling the plug on Deanery Licensed Ministry as an option for ordination training in the area: Bishop Announces End of DLM Programme

The first made me want to whoop for joy: this is something that I and a group of others have been fighting for, praying for, for over two years. Mark and Phil Brewer are a pair of crooks who have been screwing over the former SPCK Bookshops in the supposed name of ‘Orthodox Mission’ ever since the SPCK board made the mistake of handing them over to them back in 2006. At last an outside agency is taking action!! If you’re new to the story, start here

The second, putting it rather less bluntly than my gut reaction, made me feel — let’s just say, a tad angry. The details of how I felt are unbecoming (oh, the joys of self-moderation!). If you happen to read this, my Lord Bishop, I do hope that you’ll take time to reflect upon the impact your approach to this matter is having, not merely upon us but more importantly upon the students currently training for Deanery Licensed Ministry, upon their families and the churches that have supported them in pursuing this calling.

Ironically, this too is something that has been part of my life for over two years, ever since Sue’s appointment as Director of Deanery Licensed Ministry. But ever since Bishop Michael, the former Bishop of Kensington, left the area to become a Residentiary Canon at St Paul’s — less than a year after Sue’s appointment — we’ve more or less known that it would come to this. But there’s a world of difference between standing on a railway line waiting for an approaching train and finally being hit by that train.

At first, there’s nothing coming: the railway line is as safe a place as anywhere else in the world; then you feel vibrations in the tracks, hear a noise in the distance; the train comes into sight over the horizon, a tiny speck in the distance; you’re aware of the danger, you want to move but somehow you can’t: your feet are stuck. Then it’s upon you, and it’s all over…

Except it isn’t. Sue and I are now in limbo. We’ve been in limbo for a while, but now it’s official. Where do we go from here?

As they say, watch this space; and please pray with us, for justice for the former SPCK bookshop workers, for those working in the remaining shops, and for wisdom for Sue, myself and all others affected by the demise of Deanery Licensed Ministry.

As I said, it’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world. Now, you can go visit MadPriest.

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