News Roundup: The Ups and Downs Edition – from UTB Celebrations to Wesley Owen Woes

A VERY MIXED BAG of news this week, from celebrations at Unicorn Tree Books to Wesley Owen’s woes as they face the trauma of staff cuts in the shops.

On the celebrations front, this is this blog’s 500th post, so a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to the project’s development and success over the past few years: rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who mourn, and praying constantly along the way.

Guest posts are always welcome, from authors, booksellers, publishers, suppliers and other commentators: please contact me if you’d like to contribute…

5 Years of Unicorn Tree Books

CONGRATULATIONS to Melanie and her minions at Unicorn Tree Books, Lincoln, on their 5th birthday this week: on Tuesday, August 16th, to be precise. Melanie writes:

Today is our 5th Birthday, we’ve seen an awful lot of change in those five years not only in Unicorn Tree Books (& Crafts) but in the economy, in the market and in the booktrade and we are happy to say we are still here and smiling widely!

We’ve drunk a lot of Caramel Latte’s [sic], shifted a lot of units, re-arranged how many times and seen our minions fledge and go off to found their own businesses – this bookshop boss thinks that’s one heck of an achievement and to celebrate is having a venti caramel latte today!

However I know we wouldn’t be here still today if it wasn’t for all you lovely customers and I want to say the biggest and most heartfelt THANK YOU! to all of you.

You make each day different, fun and, hey, maybe even a little more crazy than it would be even with the bookshop boss in attendance anyway – so thank you.

Update, 22/08/2011: For more info on the post-NCT situation, see this statement by the Revd Phil Jump, Chair of the Living Oasis Liverpool Steering Committee, posted on facebook, 12/08/2011: Living Oasis Liverpool UPDATE

After NCT: Living Oasis Liverpool press on with the vision

LIVING OASIS LIVERPOOL have posted this update following the demise of Nationwide Christian Trust:

Nationwide Christian Trust

Many of you may have heard that in August 2011, Nationwide Christian Trust, the originators of the Living Oasis vision, were placed into liquidation. This is sad news and will be a particular disappointment to those who worked so hard to develop a national chain of Living Oasis stores.

The Liverpool store has always enjoyed a strong local support base, and has an effective local management team in place. NCT have done everything they can to enable the local team to take over sole responsibility for the store, and we are currently engaged in a number of conversations and negotiations to allow that to happen.

While there is much to be done, we remain confident that if we can retain the existing premises, the eventual opening of the store remains a very realistic possibility. Sadly there will be inevitable delays, as we cannot proceed further with the physical outfit until various legalities are completed.

We will continue to work hard to develop the Liverpool store as an independant [sic] coffee house, bookstore and centre for Christian life and mission.

At the time of writing no further news about the insolvency or the status of the remaining stores (Harrogate and Watford) appears to have been released. The official Living Oasis Locations map and page are now blank, simply showing ‘No records found’, although the latest video, featuring Andy Twilley at the Watford store, is still available on youtube:

Introducing Life: Weston-super-Mare’s new Christian Bookshop

A WARM AND HEARTFELT UKCBD WELCOME to Life, Weston-super-Mare’s new Christian bookshop, which opened this week on the site of the former Living Oasis and Wesley Owen bookshops:

Welcome to Life!

Welcome to Life!

From the shop’s About page:

“Life” is the name of Weston’s new independent Christian bookshop, it is based at 13 The Centre where Living Oasis and Wesley Owen were located previously.

Here at “Life” we will aim to be more than a book shop. Yes we will be selling books, cards and gifts, as well as daily Bible reading notes etc. But this is not our sole purpose.

We would like “Life” to be a place in town where Christians can meet each other over a cup of tea or coffee for prayer, study groups or discussion.

“Life” provides a haven where Christians involved in the many and varied activities which make up church life can find encouragement and build one another up.

We want Christians to be able to meet one another and share their ideas, dreams and visions for their area, town and life, on common ground; because we believe that everyone has something to offer in the body of Christ. If we can get together on any and all levels and share what works and what doesn’t, encouraging each other, just imagine what could happen in our churches, our town, our nation…

Update, 07/10/2011: With regret, I am no longer able to commend either of Helen’s groups to readers of this blog. The links have therefore been removed. For more information about this matter, please contact me and I’ll be happy to explain privately.

I am very happy, however, to commend the Christian Authors, Booksellers and Publishers group, set up by Melanie Carroll (Unicorn Tree Books) when the original CABP group was archived.

So head on over there, m’dears, and get posting…

New facebook group: Christian Bookshops UK

HELEN McCABE has launched a new facebook group, Christian Bookshops UK, as a follow on to conversations held at this year’s Christian Resources Together. Helen explains:

I created the group after going to CRT earlier in the year as a few things become obvious to me:

  • Some people have some really good ideas on how to promote their bookshop in their local community which bookshops could take advantage of.
  • Using social media tools like FB can be great for getting involved in the community but some people just need a bit of help with how to use it.
  • I’m very keen on supporting our local Christian bookshops and I would like to give some general marketing help on how businesses can grow their bookshop locally in addition to some guidance on using tools like FB.

Helen also runs another group, Facebook Church UK, and says she’s happy for bookshops to share local news there as well, “as long as it doesn’t become a sales group.”

Sales down at Beacon Books, Llandudno

Wales Online 15/08/2011 - 'exceptionally difficult times'

Wales Online 15/08/2011 - 'exceptionally difficult times'

WALES ONLINE reports ‘exceptionally difficult times’ being faced by retailers across the country, with Kingdom Krafts and Beacon Books reporting diminishing sales in Llandudno:


At Kingdom Crafts [sic], manager Marian Whitaker says the store has been down £200 per week since the start of 2011.

Over the summer the position has worsened with the fair trade goods store and Christian bookshop seeing its takings plummet by £400 per week on last year.

Mrs Whitaker, whose store is on Madoc Street, which runs parallel to Llandudno’s high street, said trading conditions at the shop have been almost as challenging as at any point since it opened 10 years ago.

Mrs Whitaker said: “I think people cannot afford to come on holiday in the way that they did. And I think local people are shopping more online because they can get things cheaper.”

Things looking up in Eastbourne

Eastbourne Herald, 15/08/2011: 'Things are looking up'

Eastbourne Herald, 15/08/2011: 'Things are looking up'

IN SHARP CONTRAST to the situation faced by retailers in Wales, the Eastbourne Herald features Bob Clark, who took over at Eastbourne’s Christian Resource Centre earlier this year, describing better sales than ever:

Pause for Thought with Ray Dadswell: Things are looking up

Published on Monday 15 August 2011 11:03

When so many businesses, large and small, are closing their doors, it is good to know of a local bookshop celebrating success.

Bob Clark took over management of the Eastbourne Christian Resource Centre at the beginning of 2011 and records many encouragements over the past few months.

“A particular highlight is that Bible sales are increasing dramatically, now that we have a wider choice. The same is happening with commentaries, dictionaries and concordances, all of which have been brought to the ground floor. Bible notes, too, are growing in sales, as we have a wider range and easier-view display.”

There are areas of the ministry which Bob is keen to improve.

“Communication with our ministers and pastors; our service to churches in other towns, for example, Hastings and St Leonards, Bexhill, Seaford; and the availability of ‘collectable and hard-to-find’ books, located on the first floor, which is a real treasure trove!”

Wesley Owen Staff Cuts

LAST BUT FAR FROM LEAST, please pray for members of staff at a number of Wesley Owen bookshops who are facing redundancy as Koorong (which took over the Wesley Owen brand and eight stores in the wake of Biblica’s bungling in 2009) streamlines its UK business operations and seeks to maintain a viable business model following the implementation of new systems and central purchasing.

Steve Mitchell, Retail Director, and himself a survivor of the Biblica fallout, explains:

There are 6 people being made redundant. All of them are still working, but will leave over the next few weeks and months. Even though this is a horrible process, I am completely committed to doing this with integrity, I have met with all the staff in the shops affected, explaining what we are doing and why.

Our new systems are now fully in place and working well, so the roles and requirements for our staff teams are changing. We have implemented central purchasing so new people have joined in Milton Keynes to support Authentic & Wesley Owen, so we have been moving our staff from admin to customer service, so these changes are about aligning staff rotas with customers.

The High Street is still a very tough place to be, and whilst we are seeing good sales growth in a difficult time, we also have to have a viable business model.

We asked the shops for their input, and asked them to create the new staff rotas rather than impose it. I have met one on one with each member of staff who is going, and in fact I’m travelling this week to a branch with 2 people leaving expressly to thank them for all their hard work, and ensure they leave at least feeling respected.

Inevitably there will be unhappy people who will want to vent their feelings, that’s understandable, and I feel it’s right that I hear their voice.

8 thoughts on “News Roundup: The Ups and Downs Edition – from UTB Celebrations to Wesley Owen Woes

  1. Re: Wesley Owen staff cuts. If you look at them on paper they do make a great deal of sense. The business model has changed in ways that mean that shops can be more productive on less staff. It is a horrible thing to do to let staff go, but I have seen Steve working with great integrity to make this happen in as fair a way as possible.

    • If you have to face an executioner, far better that it should be someone like Steve than the kind of people who dismiss their workers by phone call or email *shudders*

      I’ve faced redundancy proceedings myself – almost exactly a year ago, as it happens – so know well how it feels. SOLIDARITY with those being shown the door — and with those such as yourself left behind!

  2. Real shame about the WO redundancies.
    Sounds like they are doing things right by as many people as possible, which is good. Well done Steve for at least meeting with those people who are affected by this.
    That is one of the dangers of the TUPE system. While I do not know everyone who has been made redundant, it seems to me that longevity of service or loyalty to the company have not mattered very much in deciding who stays, and who goes.
    I understand that business requirements change, and some staff will eventually become expendable, but I think TUPE should provide the most protection for the longest serving staff.
    I’m sure outside staff brought in are very good, some of them I know personally and those I do know are a very good branch.
    It seems a little unfair that loyal, long term, full time staff are allowed to be made redundant to be replaced by new, part-time staff.
    Perhaps I’m misinformed, but I seem to be hearing that Koorang are not reducing staffing hours overall, just replacing as many full timers with part timers as possible, to reduce NI contributions and tax, which seems unfair to those full time staff who can’t afford to go onto a part time contract.
    As I say, I may be misinformed, but if so, that doesn’t really seem fair.

    • I don’t know about the overall staffing hours, but you are correct that full-timers are being shown the door whilst part-timers are being recruited; and I agree, making full-time staff redundant then recruiting part-timers to fill the gaps does seem perverse. It’s probably legitimate under UK employment law (which seems to be very much weighted towards employer rather than employee rights) but it’s certainly not what one might hope for from a Christian organisation…

      • They may be reducing staff hours compared to the hours they are currently employing, but it is at least at the same level, or greater than they took over under TUPE.
        It seems to be an error in the way TUPE is handled, rather than anything illegal by Kooorang, but I you are right to say that we would hope for more from a christian employer.
        I think TUPE should not have a time-limit on it, and staff should be guaranteed until they move on naturally.
        It doesn’t seem like they are genuine redundancies if they are then replacing them with new people, and, personally, I would be very unhappy with this.
        I do believe that if the redundancies are not voluntary, some staff should consider looking into unfair dismissal tribunals.
        I’m not a legal expert, but it feels like it’s not right for them to get rid of a member of staff if they are not really reducing staffing hours.

  3. Congrats to Melanie and everyone who’s worked with her this past five years. Genuinely quite an achievement in these tough economic times. We pray that you would go from strength to strength over the next five and beyond.

    You have truly earned that latte.


  4. Also congratulations to the team at Life in Weston, and Living Oasis Liverpool. Always encouraging to hear of fellow booksellers who are willing to follow what they feel God is saying to them and refuse to accept that human stumbling blocks can derail a plan that is of God.

    As we have had to learn ourselves, God will often allow us reach the brink if that is how far it takes for us to depend fully upon him, but will never allow us past the point of no return. Nothing is impossible for God, and nothing we or anyone else can do will permanently derail his plans for our lives and livelihoods.

    We pray for all involved as they move into these exciting and challenging times ahead.

    Our prayers are with you all

    (I knew there was something else to say before I hit post)


  5. Pingback: UKCBD Winter Updates: a reminder, an update, and a plug for #CRT2012 « The Christian Bookshops Blog

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