Sarum College Bookshop in Meltdown

Mark Clifford, as pictured on the Sarum College Bookshop Website, 14/08/2008

Mark Clifford, as pictured on the Sarum College Bookshop Website, 14/08/2008

Mark Clifford, Chairman of the Booksellers Association’s Christian Booksellers Group, (pictured right) has been made redundant in what can only be described as a bizarre cost-cutting exercise by Sarum College, where he has served as Bookshop Manager for the past three years.

As I write there is no mention of Mark’s dismissal on the Sarum College News Page. An enquiry sent to Christine Nielsen-Craig, the College’s marketing and communications officer on Monday this week has received only an Out of Office AutoReply advising, “I will return Tuesday 12 August.”

On 18 July 2008 Mark sent out the message copied below, with a request for it to be circulated as widely as possible. Clearly the situation has changed since this message was released, and anyone wishing to contact Mark for up to date information is welcome to send a message via this site’s contact page.

STETS, referred to in Mark’s message, is the Southern Theological Education and Training Scheme, based at Sarum College.

From: Mark Clifford
Sent: 18 July 2008 08:47
To: [—–]
Subject: Sarum College Bookshop

Here is the promised summary of the situation regarding Sarum College Bookshop. Please circulate it as you see fit and as widely as possible.

After cutting the staff costs last summer, we have radically improved the trading position of the bookshop, to the extent that it now makes a positive contribution to the College finances, albeit a small one during the past financial year (ended in June). We have been able to capitalise on the SPCK situation to secure a range of new business and key accounts, and this is continuing. Sales since October 2007 have been 10% up on budget and substantially up on the previous year’s turnover. We would have expected this to continue, as we are the only Christian bookshop effectively serving this area.The Bookshop occupies a key position in the life of Salisbury and other surrounding dioceses and serves a wide range of churches of all denominations, as well as providing for the needs of College and Stets students.

However, the Board have decided that they need funds to cut the College overdraft and they have identified the way of doing this as being to scale the shop down into a bookroom, occupying a section of the upstairs sales floor and providing books for courses for Stets, the MA Spirituality groups and so on. Staff numbers, already down to 3, would be further cut and opening hours reduced. Though I was only informed of this at the end of June, The Board wishes to confirm this decision by the middle of August – the urgency is the departure of the interim Principal, Stephen Lamdin, for whom there is as yet no replacement.

The only alternative for saving this widely respected bookshop (shortlisted for Small Retailer of the Year in March by the religious book trade) is that either I or a third party buy out the business. I am sure this would be the right way forward, but I need help. There is one other potential interested party, but my issue is that, while I and my financial adviser, a former senior business accountant, can come up with a clear business plan, I need to raise £50 – 60,000 quickly to be able to buy the stock so as to continue trading. I may be able to pay for the stock in instalments and, if I could raise, say, £30,000, I may be able to get a matching loan from the bank.

I do not believe that the shop will be viable long-term as a bookroom, as it would be unable to service the wide spectrum of the church community as it does at present, so I need to put something together to secure the long-term future of religious bookselling in this area. I would love to hear from anyone who may be interested. It may also help if anyone wishes to write letters to Stephen Lamdin at Sarum College, expressing concern for the future of the shop, or to the Chairman of the Board, Alec Knight.

Thank you.

Best wishes
Mark Clifford

Sarum College Bookshop