Remaining Living Oasis Stores hope to go it alone as Ray George pulls out of Christian retailing

Update, July 29, 2011: Lisa Campbell reports in today’s Bookseller: Living Oasis owner puts chain up for sale
Network Leeds: Living Oasis Update - Latest on new premises

Network Leeds: Living Oasis Update – Latest on new premises

INTRIGUING POSSIBILITIES for the remaining Living Oasis stores are opening up as Ray George has advised workers at the Leeds store of his intention “to withdraw from Christian retail”. Writing to prospective supporters via Network Leeds, Karen Spence, store manager, explains:

At 9.30 on Friday 15th July Ray George, Chairman of the Nationwide Christian Trust called us to say that, with regret, he would be unable to take the vision for Leeds forward. He has taken a hard decision to withdraw from Christian retail and only Harrogate and South Woodford are still trading. These shops are also seeking future funding. We express our gratitude that Ray took on 19 former Wesley Owen shops following the demise of STL. He would still like to see the full Living Oasis vision of coffee shop, books and meeting rooms come to fruition in Leeds and Liverpool. The latter has managed to secure local funding which means it can move forward at new premises on Lord Street. Our priority in Leeds is to keep 77 Albion Street and see if there is any way we can take over the lease.

The official Living Oasis Locations page (screenshot below) now shows only three stores in the group — Harrogate, South Woodford and Watford — but the site continues to offer no news or information about proposals for further closures or developments. Watford’s future, however, appears to be fairly secure in the store’s effective partnership with Presence and with the support of Christian Gateway Watford:  updates are being posted both in their news section and via their facebook group.

Writing on facebook, Dominic Stinchcombe of the South Woodford store has announced that the shop will cease trading on July 30th, but offers the hope of “another party” taking the business over:

Living Oasis South Woodford ceases trading at close of business on Saturday 30th July. Negotiations and prayers continue with another party interested in taking us over, so do pray that the necessary finance is forthcoming. Thanks to all our customers, to those who have asked for ministry, and to those who have ministered us, especially the deep theological discussions!! It has been a privelege [sic] to serve you all.

Living Oasis Liverpool remain optimistic and Anna Bunn, the store manager, assures me that they are “doing everything that we can to get the store up and running … it’s where we will be updating from now on. So all I can say for now is keep checking www.livingoasisliverpool.co.uk for updates on what’s happening.”

Andy Twilley, who was Nationwide Christian Trust’s Director of Christian Life and Ministry and headed up the Living Oasis project, is reported to have left the company. No official announcement of his departure appears to have been made.

At the time of preparing this report no news had been received about the Harrogate store.

Living Oasis Locations, July 2011

Living Oasis Locations, July 2011

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18 thoughts on “Remaining Living Oasis Stores hope to go it alone as Ray George pulls out of Christian retailing

  1. Dear All,

    My friend Ray and I travelled on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week 947 miles around this country visiting the Living Oasis Christian Bookshops to view for possible purchase. See http://www.livingoasis.co.uk/. When I say purchase, I mean that Nationwide Christian Trust have agreed in principle to allow us to have up to eight of their shops free of charge with the existing shelving, counters, etc. to remain. However, I will then have to buy stock from either them or direct from the publishers. It of course makes sense to buy the bulk of our stock from Nationwide providing the price is reasonable.

    In late 2008, when I was worshipping in my church one Sunday I believe God said to me when I give you the Wesley Owen shops (some became the Living Oasis shops) I want you to put the Jesus is Alive! postmark on the front of them! I believe, now is the time for this word to come to pass.

    Would you please pray, that during this week my Heavenly Father releases all the money we need to stock the shops I have identified below to acquire. In addition for money to purchase stock, we will require an additional amount for the computerisation of these shops to our system, and then change of sinage to read over these shops: Jesus is Alive! followed by the sign of the cross.

    Let me tell you about our trip and how Ray and I felt the Holy Spirit’s leading. The first shop we went to visit was in Nottingham. We travelled up the A1 towards Grantham where we were due to turn left on to the A52 which leads to Nottingham. Just before we turned off I suddenly realised I had been to this shop many years ago when it was owned by the Assemblies of God, and it was loosing money then and God had told me at that time not to buy the shop but to employ their manager! This I did and she was employed in our Brentwood shop for about ten years. This fact was very important because it showed me that it had lost money under three owners, AOG, Wesley Owen and Living Oasis. Therefore, I felt the Holy Spirit was saying that we shouldn’t even bother to go and look at it. We didn’t and preceded to Harrogate where we visited our first shop. Here is how we felt lead in regard to each shop we visited.

    Harrogate: Harrogate is a pleasant spa town to the south-east of the Yorkshire Dales. I believe this is the most beautiful Christian book shop I have ever visited. It seemed to have everything!

    Chester: Whilst we warmed to both staff and this City, however, we were alerted to the problem of the six steps going down into the shop. This is a problem for both wheelchairs and young mums with buggies, therefore this shop needs to be moved to another part of the City. The shelving it had came from Ikea and having straight backs tends to make books fall off of the shelves. It therefore needs a refit of new shelving, where the books lean back and do not fall off. The Chester shop closed last Saturday.

    Manchester: Greater Manchester has an estimated population of 2.6 million. This is one of the largest Christian bookshops in the UK, and is on two floors and includes a coffee bar. Its situated on Deansgate, the equivalent of London’s Oxford Street. The Manchester shop closed on Saturday

    Cheltenham: A wealthy town with an excellent double fronted shop. It is now closed but still retains its excellent shelving.

    Weston-Super-Mare: We sensed when we entered the town that this seaside resort was not big enough to support a Christian Book Shop. This was confirmed when we found out from the manager that the town’s population is only 71000.

    Worthing: Before we went to Worthing we knew the rent was high and didn’t really know whether the shop could be made viable. However, when we went there we discovered that its not one shop but three! One landlord owns two of the shops and the other landlord owns the single shop. Most of the shelving for books is in the single shop plus also the counter. I believe that God revealed to us that if we just took the single shop and put up the partition wall between this shop and the other two shops this will be sufficient, if we also accommodated from the two shops the card racks and the music rack. The landlord of the single shop was willing to allow us a reduced rent for this shop of only £6900 per annum.

    South Woodford: I have visited this shop previously, and believe it can be made viable and therefore, did not visit it on this trip.

    To sum up, I believe that the new shops that God wants us to establish under Jesus is Alive! Ministries is Harrogate, Manchester, Chester, Cheltenham, South Woodford, and Worthing. God is more than able to bring all this about, for what is impossible with man is possible with God. Remember God is often late, but never too late, He’s always just on time.

    On Sunday I went to our local woods and cried out to Father to save these shops.Too many good shops have died don’t let these shops die. However, God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and therefore pray with me that Father will have mercy on these shops and release to us all the money we need to secure these shops future.

    Lastly let us come together as Christian Booksellers and Publishers to seek the mind of the Lord before our industry is destroyed. If we do not humble ourselves God may let this industry go and start again!

    Thank you for your prayers at this time,
    Every Blessing to you all,
    Paul Slennett
    Jesus is Alive! Ministries( registered charity) and Southend Christian Bookshop ltd
    57, London Road
    Southend-on-Sea
    Essex SS1 1PF

    Tel: 01702 343749

    • Paul,

      Praying alongside you that you can indeed make this work and save the future of these shops at this time. Having met you in person and not just here on the blog, I suspect if anyone can make a chain still work then it likely really is you 😉

      I’m also standing with you, and others, in prayer and willing to be called to action to see our trade work together again, become united again in it’s outreach, witness and mission, supporting each other fully and not competing in the way of the world.

      I’m also praying that other shops that have closed will be opened again, or started afresh, by individual’s and groups called to the work of Christian retailing and bookselling – it may not look like it did but there is still much we can do and many to be reached.
      This is not a symbol of the end, these trials, hardships and closures that bookselling is facing is but a testing time – Peter denied Christ three times before the cock crowed, he watched him die and felt all hope was gone – but on the third day Christ arose, Peter was called back, found new strength and journeyed on.
      There’s something there for us to think on I think – and it’s not just that at the end of it all we’ll end up being painfully turned upside down and crucified for our work done in faith – or at least I hope it isn’t 😉

      • Yes that was what we were told. However I knew before the Congregational Church had it AOG owned it. As I was speading down the A1 I asked my Southend Manager, Michael to check with AOG HQ who were able to confirm that the Living Oasis shop was once theirs.

        • Thanks Paul – you’ve clearly gone further back into the shop’s history than me; I stand corrected.

          Hope you weren’t speeding, by the way: it’s illegal 😉 and what you’re proposing here isn’t something to be rushed into either…

        • Thought the shop in the Congregational Church on Castlegate was opened by Congregational Federation. as it was originally inside the Church Building. Then moved a couple of doors down the road into premises still owned by Congregational Fed. AOG had a shop on Talbot Street, within the AOG Christian Centre.

        • The shop in Castlegate was founded by Congregational Church and never owned by AOG. There was a shop in Talbot street which was owned by AOG but that was nothing to do with Wesley Owen or Castlegate.

    • Praying for you and all involved, Paul, for wisdom, grace and, of course, the financial resources you’ll need. Please keep me informed and I’ll do whatever I can to help on the publicity/social media front.

    • I quote your email Paul ….

      “….very important because it showed me that it had lost money …… therefore I felt the Holy Spirit was saying that we shouldn’t even bother to go and look at it”

      This is not how the Holy Spirit leads …. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would lead us into “all truth” not into “the money”.
      By-passing a city in need just because it couldn’t make money is not something God would do. Quite the opposite, His heart is crying for the poor.

      People who I know in Nottingham cannot believe that the Holy Spirit would say any such thing, but if He did then I for one am very grateful that He has protected Nottingham from being hurt even more …..

  2. HI Paul

    this is fascinating and indeed prayerfully powered. i was with dominic in SWDFD yesterday and we prayed into the LOL situation. 2 hours later he had a call from Ray initiating the closure which was sad but not the end i feel.

    i do pray that God will provide all you need.

    i would like to point out that worthing have another Christian bookshop not 300 meters away from the LOL site and this is doing well. i have always wondered why LOL reopened the old WO shop and you may wish to relocate either within the town or elsewhere (if indeed you reopen this site). i would not want to see you struggle in worthing when it may not be necessary.

    every blessing to you all
    mike levy

  3. I am delighted to read what Paul is planning – I managed the Worthing store for over 20 years and was very badly treated by Ray George and Nationwide Christian Trust. I pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal his will

  4. I wish Paul Slennet well but I am really concerned this evening for all the LO shop staff as they contemplate yet another unsettling change of ownership.I pray that this potential move will be well thought through as the last thing the staff need is even more heartache and uncertainty. Much wisdom will be required of all parties in the coming days.

  5. Being one of the many Living Oasis casualties, I have followed the demise of LO with a very heavy heart. There have been moments when I would have liked to express my frustration and hurt, and on other occasions I bit my tongue rather than react to numerous judgments being made by those who know only half the story. Maybe one day all the managers can get together and lay out the truth without guile or bias. In the meantime it is exciting to see some of the shops being salvaged once again. If you’re in it for the position only, then another round could be devastating, but if your heart is for the City/Town then is any difficultly too great. I would have done anything to have saved our shop in Southampton, but saly it wasn’t to be. We even tried to move 7 miles away for the sake of the customers from a City with a population of 239,700 down to a town with a population of 116,169. At present that hasn’t worked either., and though I am now attempting to supply Christian Goods from the other side of the counter, I still grieve, not for a loss of position, but rather that a over the loss of a shop for the City.
    If there are any other Paul Slennet’s out there with a heart for a Christian Presence on Southamptons High Street. Please be obedient to the call.

  6. I admire people who have Vision and then take action so I’d simply echo Eddie’s hope for good thinking here.

    A lot of people outside the Christian retail trade don’t see or understand or share  the Vision which is sometimes interpreted as simply ‘maintenance and survival of the status-quo’. They see a ‘christian presence on the highstreet’ happening already in other, sometimes more effective, ways. So In considering the future of these shops it may be worthwhile finding out what else God is already doing in these towns and cities.

    In Chester the ‘steps’ issue is a feature in many stores due to the City’s historic architecture. This is just one of many reasons why a growing number of shoppers, including mums with buggies, will go to the out of town retail parks at Cheshire Oaks or Broughton and the City authorities acknowledge a rapid decline in City Centre footfall. 

    Meanwhile charities like The Light Project, Street Pastors and the City Centre Chaplaincy are engaging with hundreds or thousands of locals as salt and light in the places where people go and at the times they go there. I suspect, although I don’t know, that local church leaders aren’t sold on the need fora Christian bookshop because these other organisations are providing a more visible and effective Christian presence on the high street than a Christian bookshop could and are, therefore, the ones to support with time, volunteers and finance. 

    Eden is not at all reliant on local trade so I comment as a member of the local church hoping that local resources are used most effectively.

  7. The Bookseller carries news today (29th July) of the demise of Living Oasis and quotes Ray George of NCT saying, ‘We have lost £1.2m in the last year and we are pulling out of book retailing. It is us too much for us to continue with, we cannot face these losses’. This is a salutary figure and clearly one which could not continue.

    I’ve been mulling over this morning whether or not the central costs of running a chain are now simply too high? If so, we must find a better model – probably one which is predicated on a improved version of independent bookselling. I note that CLC are able to make it work as they have a slightly different cost model which in these circumstances is proving more robust.

  8. I have to be honest and say I really do think we need to work or re-work on the model of christian bookselling we have – Gareths points along with Eddie’s comments really help highlight this as do previous discussions we have had on here in relation not just to making our bookshops work, but with how we are loising out to publishers etc.

    Having worked for a chain for a great many years and actively worked with our HQ teams I think I can say that my experience is that in many ways chains are unweildy and unable to make the sometimes necessary swift local changes needed – as you say there is also the central administrative costs that can become a real burden at times as well – even if outsourced.

    I have long pondered if collaborative groups are a better model – or something akin to franchise models might work better – thus providing the necessary local independence and structure for a shop, but with the ability to be able to use the group power for negotiations on buying and marketing etc.

    I have to say having worked both as part of a chain and as an independent I would not willingly want to sacrifice my independence as the benefits of it are indeed great, however having worked collectively and collaboratively with other shops and indeed with publishers/suppliers as part of Chain I do have to say there are real benefits in that group approach too.
    I really think that if we can come together in some way and start working together as group, collectively and collaboratively in real terms then this would be a strong and formative base with the possibility of real potential to help benefit our beleagured bookshops and bookselling community and is something I would really like to see happening.
    We collectively have so many skills that in many ways are lost or under utilised when we work alone or in isolation, or just are wastefully duplicated to the loss of each of us in some ways – if we can come together and really start using these collectively think what a vibrant and powerful community we could have, both as independent shops, high street retailers/booksellers and as a trade collectively.

  9. Hi Paul S

    I have sent you a personal email too but am also replying on this forum. Cheltenham certainly needs a Christian bookshop but a coffee bar too would be good maybe something using existing infra structure? – eg one who would work with this vision. Talk to the manager of LO shop Graham Buckeridge, he will tell you. I’m also very keen to be involved with the shop having now got catering experience as well as experience in the book trade.

    Please get in touch. I’ve been in Cheltenham since 1997 now. I was Assistant Manager of a Christian Coffee Shop and gift shop until it closed last December.

    God bless,

    Sheila Johnson

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