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This is a single-category page bringing together archived reports about the ongoing SPCK/SSG saga.

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SPCK/SSG News Archive (Most recent first)
Google Warns Visitors: Beware (Wednesday, April 2, 2008)
Betrayed by the Brewers: Lies, Damned Lies and St Stephen the Great? (Wednesday, February 6, 2008)
SSG Bookshops "truly still in business" - Philip Brewer (Friday, January 11, 2008)
St Stephen the Not-So-Great? (Wednesday, January 2, 2008)
Fund Launched to Support SPCK Booksellers (Wednesday, November 7, 2007)
Farewell to SPCK Bookshops? (Friday, November 2, 2007)
Salvation Turns Sour at SPCK... (Wednesday, May 23, 2007; updated 15/10/2007)
Future Secured for SPCK Newcastle? (Saturday, June 24, 2006)
Save the SPCK! (Saturday, May 6, 2006)

Google Warns Visitors: Beware
Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Screenshot 1: Google Search Results for 'ssg online' (02/04/2008)
Google 1st Warning: 'may harm your computer'

Screenshot 2: Google 2nd Warning (02/04/2008)
Google 2nd Warning: continue 'at your own risk'

Google Help Centre
Information about Malware Warnings
Help for Website Owners
Badware Report for

Google has posted warnings, screenshots opposite, against its search results for, the online trading division of St Stephen the Great (SSG) Bookshops.

The basic search result is flagged with the message "This site may harm your computer" and visitors who disregard that message are given a second warning: "continue to at your own risk". No link to the site is provided by Google.

The warning message was spotted by 'Steph', a contributor to Dave Walker's blog, on March 31st 2008.

Links to were removed from this site earlier this year due to the uncertain legal position over SSG's continued use of the SPCK name and the following advice has been posted against all SSG/SPCK Bookshop entries in the Directory since 19/02/2008:
Although the SPCK name is still in use over the shops and online, that use is subject to ongoing legal discussions. SPCK have emphasised "that they do not own, manage or otherwise run the Bookshops" (online statement dated 12/11/2007), whilst SSG have declined to comment. In view of the uncertain legal position no link to can be provided at present. Online fulfillment is apparently being provided by St Andrew's Bookshops: again, in view of the uncertainty, prospective customers may be wise to consider shopping elsewhere.

Betrayed by the Brewers:
Lies, Damned Lies and St Stephen the Great?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Having claimed less than one month ago that it was business as usual at SSG with opening times not only as normal but "expanded in some cases" and having bluntly accused this site of propagating "misinformation" about the status of the shops, the Brewers have made an astonishing about-face. In correspondence with this site dated 09/01/2008 Philip Brewer asserted that references to shop closures were "completely inaccurate", yet in a statement to The Bookseller magazine (report dated 05/02/2008), Mark Brewer has now said:
In some of our locations for the good of the overall chain, we have had to take the decision of cost-cutting. We have temporarily closed Canterbury and Cambridge and intend to reopen both after re-fitting and re-stocking these shops. We have other locations slated either for reduced operating hours, temporary closure or permanent closure.

Those other locations, according to Dave Walker's blog, include Lincoln, Norwich and Sheffield, with staff at the affected branches being unceremoniously dismissed by email. The UKCBD Save the SPCK Booksellers Fund is still open to receive contributions from anyone who wishes to help provide financial assistance to those who have been so shamefully treated by SSG — and those so treated are welcome to apply for help.

Coming less than a month after their insistence that all was well this announcement from Mark Brewer makes a complete mockery of both his own and Philip Brewer's previous assertions, reported below on 11/01/2008.

The previous advice given by this site to phone ahead to check opening times before visiting was removed in good faith at Philip Brewer's request upon his personal assurance that this was unnecessary as all branches were opening as normal. That faith, it seems, was as misplaced as that of SPCK in handing the shops over to SSG in the first place. Advice to phone ahead has now been reinstated for all SSG entries.

Bizarrely, having requested that the alleged "misinformation" about opening times and shop closures be removed from this site, SSG have still failed to supply any up to date information to replace it. This latest development has ensured that any such information that may be provided is likely to be regarded with extreme scepticism and will require independent verification. The trust of SPCK, its booksellers and, indeed, the entire Christian book trade seems to have been comprehensively betrayed by the Brewers, with the only winners being St Andrew's Bookshops apparently trading with the Brewers by the back door to provide their website fulfillment services.

There are lies, damned lies and statistics: have the Brewers, like statisticians, simply revealed aspects of the truth that were previously hidden from view, or have they been as disingenuous in their dealings with this site as they seem to have been with SPCK's former staff? That, gentle reader, is for you to decide.

Dave Walker's blog | EDP24 News | Save the SPCK Booksellers Fund

SSG Bookshops "truly still in business" - Philip Brewer
Friday, January 11, 2008

Philip Brewer of the Saint Stephen the Great Trust has reiterated Mark Brewer's concerns (previously reported, St Stephen the Not-So-Great?) about alleged "misinformation" about the SSG/SPCK bookshops posted on this website, asserting that the shops are open and "truly still in business". In the interests of public information, correspondence with the Brewers since the previous report is reproduced in full below, most recent message first:

From: Phil Groom
Subject: Re:
Date: 11 January 2008
To: Philip Brewer

Dear Philip,

Thank you for your enquiry and comments: it's good to hear from you and I appreciate you taking the time to express your concerns. It's also encouraging to know that you remain upbeat about your trading in such challenging times.

The generic notice now in place across your directory entries is based on the best information currently available. It does not, of course, state that you are not open for trading: rather, it states that "opening times, stock availability and levels of customer service appear to be in a state of flux and may not be as expected: prospective customers would therefore be wise to phone ahead before visiting." If you would prefer prospective customers not to phone ahead then I will gladly change the notice to that effect: please do let me know.

As per my message to Mark, my invitation for you to provide up to date information about your shops remains open: a complete list of branch addresses, a brief description of each shop, opening times, contact names and numbers along with an indication of the stock range and services provided by each branch will enable me to recompile your entries and bring them up to date. Immediately below this message you will find a bookshop registration form: if you return branch details (one copy per branch, please) in that format this will speed up the data entry and ensure that your entries are presented consistently across the site.

If reports from elsewhere continue to indicate that actual shop opening times are not as stated by you then, of course, the qualifier will remain in place.

I'd also be grateful if you could clarify the situation regarding your continued use of the SPCK name, both over the shops and in your online trading as in view of the fact that SPCK appear to have withdrawn your licence for its use. Whilst I am normally happy to include links to websites, I would draw the line at linking to a domain that is being used innappropriately.

Once again, as per my reply to Mark, I am copying this message to other colleagues in the Christian book trade for reference, and, in the interests of public information, I will also include it in a further report in the UKCBD News Section.

I take this opportunity to wish you every success in your ongoing service to the UK's Christian community, and look forward to hearing from you again when you are ready to submit up to date information.

Assuring you of my prayers,

Yours sincerely,

Phil Groom
Phil Groom,
Reviews Editor & Webmaster,
UK Christian Bookshops Directory

From: Philip Brewer
Subject: FW:
Date: 9 January 2008
To: Phil Groom

Dear Mr. Groom,

Your remarks in the email sent to Mark Brewer do not seem to make a huge amount of sense. I am only interested to know what your reference for closed shops is and how you can continue to make claims that we are not open for trading. We surely are, and in fact have added a bookshop trading to two new locations. This is not a debate. You assert we are closing shops, which we have not done. Therefore, it is completely inaccurate and a disservice to not only your readers, but our staff who loyally serve daily those people that wade through this kind of misinformation to find that we are truly still in business, serving a complete line of books, gifts and requisites as we have since we acquired the bookshops and it continues from before we acquired same.

Philip W Brewer
Orthodox Church Mission Fund
Saint Stephen the Great Trust

From: Phil Groom
Date: 4 January 2008
To: Mark Brewer
Subject: Re:

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your enquiry and observations: it's good to hear from you at long last, although I'm sorry to hear that my previous messages requesting up to date information about the shops do not appear to have reached you. Copies of those messages are appended below (beneath your message) for your reference, and my invitation to provide up to date information about your shops remains open.

I wonder if there may be a problem with your mail server or email forwarding? I'm aware that a number of others involved in the Christian book trade have also received no replies to their emails. I am therefore copying them in on this message for reference; I am sure they will be pleased to know that you can in fact be contacted.

I appreciate your concern about the two paragraphs that you quote; to the best of my knowledge, however, this summary statement accurately reflects the ongoing situation of the shops, contra your assertion that it is "completely wrong". Nonetheless I have included the full text of your email in a report in the site's news section and have appended a link to that at the end of the more general statement (as you have no doubt noticed, the paragraphs you cite are not specific to the Truro shop but are generic, featured on all SSG/SPCK directory entries, hence the disclaimer in the second paragraph: "information about the shops shown here may or may not be valid.").

I look forward to hearing from you again in due course.

Assuring you of my prayers,

Yours sincerely,

Phil Groom
Phil Groom,
Reviews Editor & Webmaster,
UK Christian Bookshops Directory

SPCK/SSG News Index

St Stephen the Not-So-Great?
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Bookseller magazine has used its final 2007 leader column to offer a round up of the year's heroes and villains in the book trade, drily identifying SSG as one of the villains alongside Fopp, which went bankrupt:
Then there's The Society of St Stephen the Great (SSG). The new owners of Christian bookselling chain SPCK managed to alienate many staff in their bid to change the identity of a venerable chain. And the founders of Fopp who managed to run a brilliant business aground. (The Bookseller, 21/28 December 2007, p.21)
But perhaps SPCK should share in the vilification for handing their business over to an organisation that has shown itself to be a rather disingenuous partner at best? In the same issue (News: Briefs, p.7) the magazine reports:
The transfer of the bookshop business of SPCK to St Stephen the Great last year cost the company £5.9m. In accounts for the year to end-April 2007, SPCK reported a deficit of £6.46m for the period, compared to a £1.03m deficit for the previous trading period. This deficit included the one-off £5.9m cost of passing control of the bookshops to SSG.
How different might the situation have been if those assets had been transferred to branch based management teams with instructions to go it alone: would we have seen the tenacity shown by the former Leicester branch mirrored across the country? It's a very sad reflection on a Christian organisation that, as in business elsewhere, it's those at the bottom of the pile — in this case the booksellers — who find themselves facing the worst of the fallout and forced out of their jobs by what Richard Greatrex, a former SPCK employee, describes as "most unbusiness-like and unchristian ways" of running the business (BBC Sunday Programme: Comments; also cited by Dave Walker).

Mark Brewer, Chairman and CEO of SSG, remains bullish, however:
Dear Sir;

I write to request that you kindly remove the following from your website which I was most shocked and disappointed to read when perusing it today:
Unfortunately the shops have suffered under their new management to the point where many staff have felt unable to work under the new regime and have left. Some shops have apparently closed down; of those remaining, opening times, stock availability and levels of customer service are in a state of flux and may not be as expected: prospective customers would therefore be wise to phone ahead before visiting.

Previous shop descriptions have been removed and SSG have been invited to provide up to date details; they have not yet responded: information about the shops shown here may or may not be valid. Updates on the situation will be posted in UKCBD News Section as and when information becomes available.
This information is completely wrong. I totally disagree that the shops have not suffered under Saint Stephen the Great. Whether or not you feel otherwise, the facts are strongly to the contrary: the Truro shop and all the 22 other shops SSG acquired in 2006 have continued to be in operation and their trading is thriving - especially considering negative comments such as on this webpage!

Another fact: had SSG not agreed to take them over on November 1, 2006, Truro and the other 22 shops formerly owned by SPCK would have "suffered" closure by the end of 2006.

I am unaware of being contacted to "provide up to date details." I can assure you that the Truro shop is open and is going to remain open including after December 24 when our manager puts in his last day of service. The hours of operation are not in flux, as he can attest (he is after all the manager).

So, please do remove these two unhelpful and incorrect comments.*

Thank you.

J. Mark Brewer
Chairman and CEO
Saint Stephen the Great LLC

(Message dated 17th December 2007)
* Updated information to replace the allegedly "unhelpful and incorrect comments" has yet to be provided.

Fund Launched to Support SPCK Booksellers
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

UKCBD has today launched a fund to offer support to SPCK booksellers who have found themselves unable to work with the shops' new owners. The fund has been set up with an initial donation of 100 from UKCBD.

Donors wishing to contribute to the fund should visit the UKCBD Save the SPCK Booksellers page where further information about the fund's administration is available. Any enquiries, offers of assistance or requests for help from booksellers should be addressed to Phil Groom, UKCBD Webmaster and Reviews Editor, who is currently administering the fund. "£100 isn't much," said Phil, "but David wasn't exactly big when he defeated Goliath, was he? The important thing is that I've set the ball rolling. Watch this space."

Farewell to SPCK Bookshops?
Friday, November 2, 2007

The tense relationship between SPCK and the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), which took over SPCK's ailing chain of bookshops just over a year ago, has reached breaking point.

A brief notice has been posted on the main SPCK home page noting that SSG run the shops independently of SPCK and "will not in future be using the SPCK name for these shops." For its part, according to a report in the Church Times, SSG has commented that "more and more SPCK books [are] carrying a decidedly 'liberal' agenda" and the SSG trustees believe that "the time has come to distance themselves from SPCK". A similar report in the Bookseller describes Bishop Michael Perham and Simon Kingston, who joined SSG from SPCK to help oversee the handover of the shops, as stepping down from their roles as SSG trustees due to "a conflict of interest" in their duties to represent both organisations.

It therefore seems that the SPCK bookshop brand is set to disappear from the UK as SSG rolls out its new trading name of "Saint Stephen the Great LLC" and focuses its energies on its primary objective of promoting Orthodox Christianity in Britain.

The shops have suffered under SSG's management to the point where many staff have felt unable to work under the new regime and have left. An advertisement for staff has been placed on the Orthodox Jobs website (download pdf). Until replacement staff are recruited, however, opening times, stock availability and levels of customer service appear to be in a state of flux and may not be as expected. Visitors to the shops would therefore be wise to phone ahead.

Previous shop descriptions are now being removed from UKCBD entries pending up to date information from SSG. Further news will be posted here as and when it becomes available.

Related Articles and Updates (Most recent first)
The Bookseller, 7/11/2007: Book chain drops SPCK name
Dave Walker's Cartoon Church, 3/11/2007: Durham Cathedral SPCK
Metacatholic, 2/11/2007: The SPCK saga and Texan "Orthodoxy"
Dave Walker's Cartoon Church, 1/11/2007: The future of the SPCK shops

Salvation Turns Sour at SPCK...
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Having narrowly escaped being closed down when a proposed merger with Wesley Owen fell through, it seemed something of a relief to many when the St Stephen the Great Trust stepped in and saved the day for SPCK last year.

Sadly that sense of relief has been shortlived as draconian measures have been introduced in the shops, first banning the sale of the Qur'an and now, according to a report by Ruth Gledhill in the Times Online, making Sunday trading mandatory. This, Gledhill further reports, has apparently been followed by a waspish memo to all branch managers upbraiding them for various infractions of the new ownership's customer service and shop cleaning standards.

"It reads like a memo from Fawlty Towers," said one independent bookshop manager, who has asked not to be named. "I'm sure Basil would be proud. A wonderful example of how not to encourage and inspire your staff. They advertised recently in the Bookseller for managers: I am so grateful that I didn't apply."

More information and discussion may be found in Dave Walker's The Cartoon Blog. Please pray for the sanity and safety of shop staff, give them a smile when you enter — and please, please try not to smear the windows or trample dirt in off the street...

Updates (most recent first)
• Update 15/10/2007 Exeter Staff Quit: Ruth Gledhill reports on staff at SPCK's Exeter branch resigning in a dispute over new employment contracts.
• Update 14/9/2007 SPCK shop staff voice concerns about their future
• Update 2/6/2007 Sunday Trading at SPCK

Future Secured for SPCK Newcastle?
Saturday, June 24, 2006

Following months of speculation about the future of SPCK's bookshops, the future of one branch at least appears to have been secured as the Newcastle upon Tyne branches have merged their business.

The Bible House in Pilgrim Street — established in 1864 as the Newcastle Bible and Tract Depot — closed its doors for the last time at 5pm on Friday 23rd June as plans got underway for the transfer of stock to Ridley Place.

In a letter to customers, Heather Place, manager of the Ridley Place branch, offered assurance that the Ridley Place shop would be kept open whilst the transfer took place:
We will combine the stock from both shops during the week beginning 26th June. We will then need to put the entire book stock onto the SPCK stock control and computer system, this will commence the week beginning 3rd July. We ask for your understanding over this period, we are doing all we can to ensure as little disruption as possible will effect the high standard of service we offer to you.
SPCK Newcastle
A Brief History of the Bible House: pdf, 120k (from Google Cache 5th May 2006; original page no longer available).

Save the SPCK Save the SPCK!
Saturday, May 6, 2006

Most visitors to this site probably already know that SPCK bookshops appear to be facing the threat of closure. It may or may not be too late to avert that threat — but it's not too late to pay your nearest branch a visit, buy a book and encourage the staff. Go SPCK today!

And join Dave Walker's blog to show you care: Save the SPCK!

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