Coexist, the custodians of Hamilton House for the last decade, intend to resist what they are calling a “forced corporate takeover” of the community hub.
Directors of the social enterprise say the termination of their tenancy at the Stokes Croft property could ruin the organisation and have slammed the building’s owners for “unethical actions that have inflicted damage on staff, licensees and charities”.
Their decision to challenge landlords Connolly and Callaghan (C&C) follows the announcement that Forward Space is to take over as the interim management company – a move that has met with resistance from many tenants and artists.
Read more: Final plea over future of Hamilton House
Coexist directors say that although they knew their lease would be coming to an end, they were given just 24 hours formal notice, and will therefore resist the terms of the notice period and intend to remain in place for a month.
C&C bosses have reiterated that the handover has been discussed in detail over the past two-and-a-half months and that a financial package has been offered to help the social enterprise adjust.
They say that the change in management will allow Coexist to focus on its community outreach projects and enable the Stokes Croft building to continue as “a viable, creative, hub that benefits the local community, whilst a long-term solution is sought”.
Thanking C&C for its support over the last ten years, Coexist co-director Danny Balla said: “This project began with an invitation from the late owner Martin Connolly to form a centre of excellence in sustainable communities.
“Over the last decade, we created a thriving cultural and community hub, which at its peak served more than 500 artists, social enterprises, charities and small businesses, had more than 10,000 weekly visitors and collectively generated more than £21m per year into the local economy.
“However, C&C’s recent actions and behaviour cannot be ignored for the damage it has inflicted upon staff, the internal community of licensees, social enterprises and charities.
“This is unethical and is an attack on social enterprise in the city. We are standing up to a corporation that has lost its way, and though we regretfully accept our notice, we do not accept the terms they have put to us.”
Co-director Ari Cantwell told Bristol24/7 that it would, it many ways, be easier to take the package offered by C&C and leave quietly, but the Coexist team feel strongly that it is important to stand up to the corporate takeover of community projects.
She added: “To leave at this point, when we are entitled to one month’s notice, would be a disservice to the community we serve.”
Coexist says its position has been reinforced by a recent anonymous donation to the social enterprise’s parent organisation, to ensure it can seek legal expertise if needed.
Meanwhile, C&C bosses have confirmed that interim management company, Frome-based Forward Space, is in the process of issuing sub-leases and licences to the existing occupiers of Hamilton House, at the same rents they are currently on.
C&C’s Fran Connolly said: “Forward Space has a proven pedigree of managing successful community workhubs and we believe they have the expertise to continue the development of Hamilton House as a viable, creative, hub that benefits the local community, whilst a long-term solution is sought.
He added: “C&C has financially supported Coexist for nine years but cannot commit to continuing this without a financially viable plan.”
Calling the resistance a “watershed moment” for community projects in Bristol and beyond, Johanna Dragovic, of Coexist, said: “We believe that community projects are integral to our city. By choosing to put ourselves on the line, we are challenging corporations not only in Bristol but all over the UK.
“It is not too late to write our own story.”