With its derelict origins, transformation into a creative community hub and recent sparks of revolution against ‘profit-motivated development’, Hamilton House epitomises Bristol’s spirit.
It is this unique quality that a collective of artists, entrepreneurs and individuals are fighting to save as the future of the Stokes Croft hub hangs in the balance.
A rejected bid by custodians Coexist to buy the building, mixed messages from its owner, Connolly & Callaghan (C&C), and talks of seizing back sections for residential redevelopment have thrown tenants into a turmoil of uncertainty.
With all the makings of a David and Goliath tale, reports so far have focused on negotiations between the not-for-profit company that is credited with turning around the fortunes of the whole neighbourhood and the landlords who hold the purse strings.
But now a Hamilton House Tenants Action Group has formed to make their voices heard and, for the first time, present a united front to outline what is at stake. They are encouraging everyone to share their own stories and demonstrate just what the venue means to so many people.
“If this place was taken away, I do not immediately know where I would go next,” says Satya Perry, a programme designer who works in the building.
And it is clear he is not alone, for not only does Hamilton House play host to approximately 200 artists, charities and projects, it also provides a sense of community, refuge and support network for thousands come through its doors.
A petition to save the venue gained more than 1,100 signatures in less then 24 hours, demonstrating the strength of feeling behind the building.
Satya explains that when Coexist were given the opportunity by C&C to run the premises as a creative hub, they succeeded in building a genuinely inclusive place where everyone looks out for each other.
“When we hear from C&C, it’s always in terms of monetary value. They are our landlords, one can respect that, but there is a danger that the cultural and social value that we bring to Stokes Croft will be overlooked,” he continues.
“My observation is that the positive impact Hamilton House has had on this area is extremely high. It has gone from being a bit of road that I thought was dangerous, to a very diverse and vibrant area. People from all walks of life keep an eye out for each other.”
C&C says that as it stands, Hamilton House is seen as being of no value to the banks and, as such, it has outlined plans to secure the long-term viability of the main, Stokes Croft-facing block as a community hub by redeveloping the City Road section into housing.
The central block of the building may also be considered for development in the future.
Like Satya, artist Isobel is a tenant of the City Road block that is earmarked for flats and she is sceptical of C&C’s promises.
“It is really disruptive for me as a business, but my main concern is about the potential disruption to the entire community, she says.
“I have heard the building described on more than one occasion as a life line to many. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a vibrant community resource.
“It seems very unfair to us that a non-profit-making organisation that is very trusted by the tenants of this building who spent a year developing a plan for it has had their proposals put to one side.”
Architect Sean Redmond works in the central block of Hamilton house.
“It’s not just the cheap business space aspect, it’s the community and level of support here, as well as all the other stuff Coexist have created here. Without this place, Stokes Croft becomes a scar on the community again.
“There has already been a huge loss of informal, creative spaces in the city and they are vital for the culture of Bristol and it’s creativity, because that spreads out of places like this.”
C&C has attempted to reassure tenants that it is committed to retaining the venue’s ethos.
“Hamilton House and its community are the result of C&C’s vision for social enterprise, and C&C is committed to ensuring the long-term security of Hamilton House and its community hub,” says a company spokesperson.
“Hamilton House is an old office building which requires significant investment to modernise and become sustainable.”
C&C says its long-term vision is to create a mixed-use space in which the community can work, live, and play.
But members of the tenants action group have raised doubts about whether this is what people want and argue there should be a better flow of communication between tenants and landlords.
The company says talks with Coexist are progressing well, but reiterated that no licensees or tenants will be asked to leave if negotiations do not result in the renewal of an agreement on August 11.
The spokesperson added: “Residential development will be flats for lease not open market sale, with priority given to members of the Hamilton House community.”
Tell your story of Hamilton House and share it on social media with the #savehamiltonhouse and #ourfuture.