Staff ‘in shock’ at closure of Durham Cathedral bookshop

27 January 2010

by Pat Ashworth

THE six staff at Durham Cathedral bookshop were said to be “in shock” after its sudden closure last Friday by Mark and Phil Brewer of the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG).

The American brothers, who took over management of SPCK’s chain of shops in 2006, have run into financial problems, and had earlier emailed staff to say the situation was “difficult”. But closure so soon had not been expected.

The charity’s trading arm filed for bankruptcy in June 2008, and the closing of the Durham shop marks the end of the Brewers’ involvement in the business. The Cathedral Chapter has undertaken to re-employ the staff, but they are un­likely to get paid for this month.

Philip Davies, the Chapter Clerk, said on Tuesday that the staff were concerned for the period before the Cathedral can reopen the shop, which it is hoped will happen within the next couple of months. “We will be keeping in contact with the staff, and if we can open it sooner, we’ll do it sooner,” Mr Davies said.

The closure coincides with a feas­ibility study about to begin, in conjunction with Durham Castle, to develop the visitor attractions as part of the World Heritage Site. Proposals from that study may include the relocation of the shop in 2011.

Mr Davies said that the Chapter is anxious to resolve the problem of the shop. “We have discussed what kind of stock to have, and it is intended that it be a good theological book­shop,” he said.

The Nationwide Christian Trust has confirmed that it is in discus­sions with several of the 26 Wesley Owen bookshops that remained after Koorong took eight and CLC International (UK) took six of the 40 shops owned by the chain, after it went into administration on 18 December (News, 1 January).

Rumours have been circulating for some time that the Trust was con­sider­ing rescuing the shops. The Harrow shop is expected to close in the next few days, and its manager, Pauline Banks, has invited local ministers to meet urgently to discuss proposals that would allow the shops to continue trading for the next few months before becoming “Living Oasis” venues.

These would incorporate facilities such as coffee shops, lounge and play areas, and meeting rooms, and would fulfil the Trust’s vision for “a church presence on the high street to connect with Christians and non-Christians alike”. Its proposal says: “We will be working with the store manager and local Christians to ex­plore ways to increase footfall and to use the store outside normal hours for imaginative projects and events.”

The Trust runs a pastoral centre, Mulberry House, in an 18th-century manor house in High Ongar, and also produces Christian books, DVDs, CDs, and greetings cards. It describes its ministry as “designed to supplement and complement the essential work that is accomplished by local churches, as we seek to resource and strengthen their work”.

The manager of the Nottingham shop, Sue Barrett, was one of the first to consider its proposals after the shop closed in December. She said on Tuesday that she was “over the moon” at the prospect of its reopen­ing in the near future.

“To have no Christian bookshop in the centre of Nottingham would be terrible,” she said. “We desperately need to be there, because it was so much more than a shop.” A meeting was being held this week at St Martin’s, Sherwood, to discuss the proposals.

The former manager of the Wesley Owen shop in Walsall, Christine Bunger, has taken on the running of that shop under a newly formed company, the Hub Christian Re­source Centre. It has been helped by St Paul’s, Woodford, which owns the shop unit, and by pledges of help from other churches and individuals. The Revd Mark Kinder, Priest-in-Charge of St Paul’s, described the support as “truly fantastic”.

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