Living Oasis: Aberdeen and Inverness closures acknowledged; Bedford, Belfast and Sutton closures confirmed

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IN A BRIEF MESSAGE TO SUPPLIERS Ray George, Chairman of Trustees for Living Oasis and the head of Nationwide Christian Trust, has acknowledged the closure of the Aberdeen and Inverness stores and advised that Bedford, Belfast and Sutton will be closed during “the next few weeks.”

The message, dated yesterday, March 1st 2011, begins with the observation that recent trading “has not been easy” and indicates that this year got off to a bad start “with poor sales” before announcing the decision to implement closures. No mention is made of the situation with CLC in Inverness and no information is given about whether any provision, such as offering redeployment to other branches, has been made for bookshop staff.

Despite these closures, however, the message continues in an upbeat tone outlining the implementation of “Phase Two” developments beginning in Leeds and Liverpool:

We are committed wherever possible to open our Phase Two programme which is starting in Leeds and Liverpool. There are also discussions underway for implementing Phase Two in other cities around the country. Phase Two of our programme is showing sustainability and this is the right platform for us to build for the future.

The message concludes with a notice to suppliers that any goods ordered for the shops that have been closed or slated for closure “can no longer be delivered” and advises those with queries about this to contact Julie Jowett, National Sales Manager, “who will help you further.”

No further information about the nature of the “Phase Two” developments is offered and no indication of timescale is given. The message contains no request for prayer or other support, either for the organisation or for the staff of the closed/closing branches whose lives have been thrown into turmoil.

28 thoughts on “Living Oasis: Aberdeen and Inverness closures acknowledged; Bedford, Belfast and Sutton closures confirmed

    • The merchandise in Belfast was NEVER

      suitable for the Northern Ireland

      market I told them 14 days after
      opening that they had no hope of makeing it work

      • That’s not exactly an encouraging remark, is it, Big Man? It wouldn’t have been helpful then and it isn’t helpful now. If all you wish to do is carp on negatively, please start up your own blog to do it.

        If you wish to comment further here, please try to do so in a way that lives up to your nickname and be a big man in your attitude.

        Thank you.

  1. It’s always sad to hear of Christian bookshops closing, but it was only last month that I knew the Living Oasis shop in Belfast was open (after two years of business when Wesley Owen shut here). I’ve heard that some staff in Church House (where it’s located) didn’t even know it was open, so perhaps better advertising/awareness would have helped it?

    • Living Oasis Belfast has been open for 11 months not 2 years as stated above. It is surprising that Church House staff didn’t know it was open, as all the offices have been customers of the shop since it re-opened. Having written several times to all the previous church contacts from Wesley Owen days it has been surprising to hear that many people did not know Living Oasis Belfast was open, however it has also been clear that a marketing/advertising strategy was needed and wasn’t put in place centrally – but hindsight is a wonderful thing. There are many other Christian bookshops in Belfast and here’s to future success for them! 🙂

  2. ‘Having written several times to all the previous church contacts from Wesley Owen days it has been surprising to hear that many people did not know Living Oasis Belfast was open…’
    Relying on Churches to get the message out is never a good way to go – after being open for nearly 20 years we still have people coming in to say they’ve lived in the area for years and didn’t know we were here. On asking them which church they attend it is frequently one we have been serving for years.
    The church minister/treasurer/warden may know where you are – but don’t equate that to the congregation knowing…..

    • We never did equate that to the congregation knowing but there was little more we could do than write/email with the time and money that we had available….
      However it is always interesting to know how fast the bad news spreads, as we’ve had our busiest day yet and inundated with phonecalls asking how long we’re open for…

      It’s sad to think the Church is better at spreading bad news rather than good…

  3. The message contains no request for prayer or other support, either for the organisation or for the staff of the closed/closing branches whose lives have been thrown into turmoil.

    how deeply sad, disturbing, and down right typical!

    • It’s a very perfunctory message; doesn’t even offer the affected suppliers an apology for any inconvenience caused: just tells them that orders for the shops “can no longer be delivered” and refers them to Julie Jowett.

      If I were a supplier I’d now be very wary of doing business with a company that after losing two shops in as many weeks has then gone on to declare another three slated for closure. I’d be issuing proforma invoices for everything, irrespective of grandiose schemes for “Phase Two” developments.

  4. we have a lot to learn and indeed i pray we do.

    please just pray that these dear, qualified people (our friends) will be housed by other Christian chains or independents in good time as it would be a tragedy for them to be lost from our industry!!

  5. I have been associated with the Christian book trade for over fifteen years and have worked as a volunteer in five different shops in that time, most recently in Sutton Living Oasis. From what I understand of the situation, it is totally shocking how this closure has been handled by the Chairman and the Trustees. That no HR support was offered and no face to face meeting arranged, but that staff were informed of the impending closure by telephone is surely a lack of care and an undervaluing of the staff, the company’s greatest resource. It may not have been commercially viable to maintain a Christian witness in the high street, but under any circumstances the manner of the closure could, and should, have given a clear Christian witness as to the value placed upon the individual.

  6. wow- that sounds almost as bad as the Brewers closing by email – if there was any justification (which actually there wasn’t) then it would be that they were in a completely different country when they did such a thing.
    I was deeply saddened to hear of the closing anyway but am deeply grieved by the sound of how this was actually handled in this instance.
    I find myself wondering more and more what happened to the real meaning and witness of christian caritas/love -does it really act in these ways even in a secular world like business?

    • Given that I have received no reply from Andy Twilley to similar concerns that I have raised with him, I have now written personally to Ray George about the current situation…

  7. Very sad. The Bedford branch is the one I use. When it was Wesley Owen, Ronnie Barclay, William’s son, used to use it as a touchstone to test the market for re-publication of his father’s works. Ronnie himself died a few years ago now. This is the second Christian bookshop in Bedford to close in the last 5 years or so and we now have none.

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  9. As many have said before, how sad that there is no request for prayer for staff, no apology for the inconvenience, and now indication that the staff were not informed about this in such a disrespectful way.

    However, for me, the most distasteful thing is the information about “implementing Phase Two in other cities”.

    Perhaps I have misunderstood what phase two is, and Ray or Andy, please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems very disrespectful to “kill” three five stores to artificially grow a few others.

    If they have the funds to invest in bigger properties, coffee shops etc, SURELY that money would have been better spent preserving and maintaining those stores, not to mention the staff you have a responsibility for, which are already open

    Say whatever you want about IBS-STL (I am well aware that they have their fair share of detractors around here) at least they always treated their staff right, and they never sacrificed staff or stores in order to artificially expand others.

    They maintained numerous branches, large and small, which were unprofitable, for as long as they were able, because they believed maintaining a presence on the high street was more important.

    They certainly never laid off staff and closed stores AT THE SAME TIME as announcing new ventures and expansion.

    It seems very unfortunate, and tasteless.

  10. I also keep noting no thank you to customers who have supported the shops for years and now have no shops. Shops do not exist without customers.

  11. I have been following this blog for a while. I know it’s very emotive and we are talking about people’s lives but I suspect that there is an awful lot that we are assuming. The original concept was for churches and Christians to support Living Oasis to make it happen. Why are we moaning if that support hasn’t happened? If Christians STILL keep buying from the web? Just remember, we are all called to be stewards and we can’t expect Living Oasis to just keep pumping money into a shop which is not being supported by local Christians. And one last thing – Phil, what is this all about? Why are you on a crusade? I suggest we each look to our own mores before we criticise others. I fully expect this comment will be edited out.

    • Why would you expect your comment to be edited out, Peter? If you were trolling, then yes, but I always welcome dialogue and different viewpoints are part of that.

      As for being on a ‘crusade’ as you put it, I guess if seeking the truth and challenging what appears to be a failure in duty of care towards employees counts as a ‘crusade’ then perhaps I am on one; but as for what ‘this’ is all about: this blog is the news, reviews and comment section of the UK Christian Bookshops Directory — and that’s what it’s about: news and comment about the Christian book trade, of which Living Oasis happens to be a part.

      I’ve invited Andy Twilley to provide up to date information about Living Oasis, both so that I can report accurately and so that I can keep the directory up to date. Despite assurances from him that he will provide information to those who request it and that he will comment on matters of public interest (and I put it to you that closing shops and laying off staff are matters of public interest), he has not done so. It leaves me in a difficult situation: do I now flag all Living Oasis directory entries as ‘status uncertain’?

      How would you deal with the situation?

      • Thanks for leaving my contribution complete. My comment stems from the feeling of negativity that I sense in the blog. At this difficult time we should be aiming to undergird in prayer ALL those that are involved and affected (employees, management, customers) rather than just throwing stones or making negative comment. We should be thankful that Living Oasis gave a little more lifespan to the shops to enable local Christians to get involved – unfortunately in some towns the locals turned their back. Remember Jesus teaching where his disciples were not accepted or supported? Mark 6:11 “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” NIV. We have all been in situations where, hard though it is, we have to take a different course. If there are towns that are supporting Living Oasis why shouldn’t they concentrate on those?

        • Don’t you think drawing a parallel between Living Oasis and the first disciples is a tad overblown, Peter? The reality on the ground insofar as I understand it is that Andy Twilley/Living Oasis did a lightning tour of the country pursuing a mission agenda that may or may not have been inspired by Jesus, drummed up support for the project — support that was forthcoming, as you’ll know if you’ve read the reports of the opening ceremonies around the country — then stepped back and left the shop staff to it with short term leases on the premises and little if any back up to help them. Add to that very poor communication within the organisation and no significant publicity drive (see the comments by InTheKnow above) and it’s hardly surprising that staff morale suffered and with it the atmosphere in the shops.

          No, Peter: the local churches did welcome Living Oasis; but Living Oasis failed to build on the early enthusiasm — and then, at the drop of a hat, pulled the plug on the struggling shops. Did they make any attempt to revisit those who greeted them with enthusiasm this time last year? Did they shout out to the local Christian communities and let them know that they were struggling?

          I heard about the struggles from various sources and I contacted Andy Twilley requesting up to date info. He flatly denied that there was a problem, dismissing the information I’d received — information that has subsequently been proven to be correct — as “hearsay and rumours”. I was ready to shout out across the blogosphere, facebook and twitter that these guys needed our prayers and support — in fact, I’ve repeatedly called for prayer for them — but no information was forthcoming.

          Again and again, I’ve been greeted either by cryptic comments about “exciting developments” or silence, but not once have I been provided with useful information that might have made the difference in garnering support for the struggling shops and nor have I seen any reports elsewhere. On the contrary, the closures seem to have come without notice, staff apparently simply laid off and notified of the closures by phone and given no opportunity to fight their corner.

          If there’s any dust to be shaken from people’s feet, it’s probably the people whose expectations were raised and subsequently let down that should be doing it as Living Oasis retreats to wherever the organisation now finds itself with its “Phase Two” developments. From where I’m looking on, if Living Oasis is the face of Christian mission on the high street, I’m finding it very difficult to discern the face of Jesus in the way they are pursuing their operations.

        • I’m sorry Peter but what of those that did support the shops now being closed?
          All the locals in those towns really didn’t support the shops??
          and you think they deserve such a dismissal do you? because I’m sure there were many that did support those shops and certainly don’t deserve such a swideswipe as that.

  12. I suspect that local churches asked to support the Living Oasis shops with hard cash might well say that they are struggling themselves to keep their churches open and their clergy paid. This is the problem these days – not enough cash to go round.

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