GroomNews Christmas 2009 December 11, 2009Posted by Phil Groom in Life.
Tags: Christian booktrade, Former SPCK Bookshops, GroomNews, Henlow and Langford, LST, Phil & Sue Groom, Phil Groom, STL Distribution, Sue Groom, World Vision
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.
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.
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,
Biblica and STL UK: A Strange Way to Attract Investors? December 6, 2009Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: Authentic Media, Biblica, Creditors, Former SPCK Bookshops, IBS-STL, IBS-STL UK, Interim Manager, J Mark Brewer, Keith Danby, Paternoster Press, Peter Gotham, Philip W Brewer, St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, STL, STL Distribution, Wesley Owen
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.