The saga that saw the community pitted against the owners of Hamilton House culminated in the eviction of long-term custodians Coexist late last year.
With a new interim management company installed and plans to redevelop two thirds of the building pressing ahead, the future of the much-loved Stokes Croft building looked set.
But on Tuesday, councillors from across the political spectrum offered a glimmer of hope to campaigners fighting for the property to be retained for community use.
More than 6,000 people signed a petition calling for the council to protect Hamilton House as a community asset by purchasing the building, sparking a debate at the full council meeting on Tuesday.
While deputy mayor Craig Cheney told campaigners the council’s legal team has advised against issuing a compulsory purchase order (CPO), he committed to meeting with Coexist to talk about the proposed business plan.
Presenting the petition on Tuesday, Gem Burgoyne, who used to have a studio in Hamilton House, said: “Recent events have seen the dismantling and eviction of Coexist, who have managed Hamilton House for just over ten years.
“They have seen the break up of a community of over 500 independent artists, charities and enterprises, who collectively generated an excess of £21m per year into the local economy and outwardly supported 5,000 jobs.
“We call on Bristol City Council to challenge the paradigm of corporate gentrification.
“In a time of austerity, it is an absolute tragedy that often profits generated by community initiatives are not reinvested, but instead line the pockets of individuals and property owners.”
She pointed out that the petition over the future of Hamilton House is the “second-highest grossing appeal” on the council’s petition page, saying this support is testament to how much it impacts Bristol.
Burgoyne concluded: “The people of Bristol demonstrate they want to be active participants within their community. A big part of Bristol’s attraction is the independent grassroots culture and creative drive – self generated by the people – and that is worth investment.
“This is an opportunity for Bristol to set precedence as a city of innovation and challenge the limitations of gentrification.”
The owners of Hamilton House, Connolly and Callaghan (C&C), have maintained throughout the dispute that they are committed to keeping the community hub within the property.
But they argue that redevelopment of some sections of it is vital to carry out the modernisation work required to future-proof the premises.
Read more: Owners of Hamilton House speak out
Speaking at the meeting, Burgoyne disputed this, saying that “with a portfolio of over £55m, it is C&C’s choice”.
Mike Davies, a Labour councillor for Ashley ward, praised the work of campaigners, saying: “Hamilton House was the embodiment of community and exemplar in creating social value. Projects like the community kitchen and Bristol Bike Project provided help to some of the most disadvantaged people in the city.
“Places like Hamilton House are cherished by the local community and should not be steam-rollered in favour of short-term profit.
“Our legal advice is that a CPO on Hamilton House would not stand up. I believe these regulations need reforming.”
Tory councillor for Stoke Bishop Peter Abraham said he and his group were impressed by what they heard from campaigners, but warned against a call for CPO powers to be used more widely.
Adding her support to the “extraordinary success story” of Hamilton House, Green group leader Eleanor Combley said: “Every time I go there, or pass by, the place seems vibrant with life, creativity and connection. And it’s open to all.
“And that sense of life and of connection spills out into the streets around and is essential to the reconnection of that area.
“I don’t know if a CPO is an option either financially or legally. I really hope this can be sorted out somehow and that Stokes Croft doesn’t lose this vibrant asset.”
Lib Dem group leader Gary Hopkins praised the energy of those fighting for the community asset.
“I acknowledge the difficulty with compulsory purchase,” he told the chamber. “Having said that, his could be a good way of the council benefitting the local community and the city as a whole.
“I’m concerned that what we need to know has not been made fully public here. I would push for a cross-party group within the council to look at this and look at the particularities here and how the council can actually help.
“I have concerns that we have an administration here who does business with Connolly and Callaghan. We take property from them at quite high rates for emergency accommodation, I therefore think he council is at an advantage if they wish to persuade the owners to work with the community.
“Certainly the way forward is a cross-party group.”
In a rare moment of agreement with Hopkins, deputy mayor Craig Cheney abandoned his planned speech.
Instead he said: “I will make a commitment to meet up with you to talk about the business plan. If there is a business plan that can pays back the borrowing, that sustains the building and delivers all the things we have talked about today, then I am up for it.”
Speaking after the meeting, Burgoyne said she was happy with the positive outcome.
Read more: Hundreds march to save Hamilton House