Christian Resources Together


Clem Jackson, the Editor of Together magazine
shares his thoughts on the
2019 Retailers & Suppliers Retreat.

Reflecting on being Stronger Together


Clem Jackson looks back at another very successful, encouraging and uplifting CRT Retreat


Looking back on the 2019 CRT Retailers and Suppliers Retreat at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, I find myself reflecting that our 10th Retreat was certainly the largest gathering and one of the most encouraging and uplifting.


What started as a gathering of people across the trade to meet, celebrate and share together has maintained that ethos whilst growing remarkably. This year’s Retreat got off to a flying start on the Monday evening when over 200 delegates arrived for the pre-event ‘event’.


We were blessed with wonderful late September sunshine throughout which raised the spirits also and provided ample opportunity for mingling together outside as well as in the packed exhibition halls.


There was so much to experience: Three remarkable guest speakers; a talented worship band - ably led by Ben Dunnett; Paul Kerensa’s Comedy Show (for those who came early); the highlight that is the Awards Ceremony; an amazingly broad-range exhibition across two halls; four excellent seminars; the BACBG AGM; the writer’s workshop; Publishers Quick Fire presentations; eighteen author signings; early morning runs; morning prayer; even ‘On the Sofa with Clem’! No wonder people were leaving uplifted but tired. Add to that very comfortable rooms and an abundance of food – what more could you ask for?


The appeal of the Retreat continues to grow with more people checking in early on the Monday than attended the first Retreat at High Leigh in 2010. Many attended the showing of the film Let There Be Light as well as the very entertaining comedy show from Paul Kerensa.


By 10.30 am on day one the exhibition halls were buzzing with retailers visiting stands, finding out about new products, collecting ‘freebies’ and placing orders. The pace never flagged throughout the two days and every time I went into the halls the buzz of activity was as strong as ever.


Steve and Mandy officially opened the event, welcoming the 420 attendees – a record attendance. They pointed out that this, the 10th CRT Retreat, had the same theme, “Stronger Together”, as the first Retreat.


Andrew Roberts, our opening speaker, took the theme “Stronger Together”, speaking on a passage from John 17. He talked about partnerships asking the question of the gathered group “are we competitors or partners in the work we do?”


The seminar programme got underway, followed in the main hall by the Quick Fire Suppliers Presentations ably controlled by Alexandra McDonald and Jon Adams from the Christian Suppliers Group.


The First Timers Reception, hosted by CRT, the BA CBG and CSG was attended by over 50 ‘newbies’ followed by pre-dinner drinks before the Gala Dinner.


Dinner was followed by the highlight of the event – the CRT Awards Ceremony. Once again, Steve and Mandy kept the show on the road completing 32 award presentations in under two hours. The Oscars could learn a lot from our dynamic duo.


There were some memorable awards, too many to mention, but congratulations to William and Carine Mackenzie and also Dave O’Shea who respectively picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award and a Special Appreciation Award. As always, a special mention must go to all the stores, managers and volunteers, award winners and nominees. We are, after all, a people business.


Many congratulations to all the award winners whose photos you can see on pages 29 – 32 of this issue of Together. Celebrations in the bar continued late into the night but that didn’t stop the intrepid early-morning joggers doing it all again the next morning.


Our first guest speaker on day two was Patrick Regan who spoke on the theme of “Letting Go”. His hilarious disaster when swimming with dolphins didn’t mask the serious issue of how we deal with failure, personally and professionally. He reminded us that it is pride which gets in the way of us asking for help but that we need to know we are, each one of us, unique and special and made in the image of God, the God who loves us.


I’ll not say much about ‘On the Sofa with Clem’ other than I was delighted to have five quality guests, all of whom contributed to a good discussion, entertaining the audience (I hope!) and made my job as host an easy one.


Our third and final speaker was Krish Kandiah whose theme was “The Greatest Secret”, the title of his new book. Krish told the story of how a Christian bookseller in Brighton had ‘curated’ his Christian library as a young man and reminded the crowd that “we don’t always get to see the impact of what we produce or sell – it’s life changing for some.” This was a great encouragement to all as we prepared to depart after another very successful Retreat.


Everyone I met over the two/three days seemed to be really enjoying the sense of community and fellowship. I’ll finish my reflection with some thoughts from booksellers, an exhibitor and the organiser.


Here’s Andrew and Georgia Wedgwood Mayne from the Churches Bookshop on the Isle of Man, winners of the Young Contributors of the Year Award:

Andrew: “Since we entered the trade, three years ago, the CRT Retreat has been a place where we can meet others doing the same thing as us. Being on the Isle of Man, the only Christian retailer there, it can feel a little isolated at times. CRT is our yearly reminder that we’re not alone, that there’s a great family behind us all. Without CRT I can honestly say we would probably not still be in the trade.”


Georgia: “If you are a Christian retailer and you have never been to the Retreat then I would really encourage you to come along, it’s an uplifting and encouraging time and an opportunity to get a lot of ideas. We came into this trade with no real experience and CRT introduced us to new ideas for the shop.”


Next is Ian Smith from Monkey Island Publishing, a first-time exhibitor:

“We think this is an absolutely fabulous exhibition; it’s really well organised; easy to get into and set up and there are lots and lots of people to talk to – many more than we could ever have met any other way. We do feel that we are reaching a wider audience than we have ever done before and we’re just so impressed with it all.”


And finally, a word from the organiser Steve Briars: “This year’s Retreat has gone extremely well. Mandy and I are very encouraged by the numbers attending, the atmosphere and the sense of community.”

In 2010 did Steve expect that the event would still be going like this in 2019?

“To be honest we’ve probably taken it year by year and yes it is amazing, but we do believe the event is fulfilling a real need and also God’s purpose which is encouraging for us. It’s a real privilege”


I know everyone who was at the Retreat would join me in extending our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Steve and Mandy for their tireless efforts in putting together a fantastic time of encouragement for us all.


By God’s grace we will gather together to do it all again at The Hayes next year. CRT 2020 – Navigating the Future – takes place on Tuesday 15th and Wednesday 16th September 2020 but I am certain there will be plenty on offer for those who arrive on Monday 14th as well. Watch this space and get your bookings in fast.




Pull quotes: “We were blessed with wonderful late September sunshine throughout which raised the spirits.”


“If you are a Christian retailer and you have never been to the Retreat then I would really encourage you to come along.”



Clem Jackson is the former editor of Together magazine and hosts ‘On the Sofa with Clem’ at the CRT Retreat.