Introducing… Jamie Pike, founder of The Canteen

Sitting at the epicentre of Stoke’s Croft, its outdoor area overlooked by the famous breakdancing Jesus mural, The Canteen has a become an integral part of the area’s thriving nightlife scene.

As founder Jamie Pike, who has been central to running the venue since its inception in 2009, puts it: “Certainly on the weekends it seems to be quite a broad demographic of young people from across Bristol, and from other places as well, coming here as their night out.”

But unlike many of the other bars, pubs and clubs in the area, The Canteen is intended to be a community space at any time of day. “It serves so many different functions”, says Jamie. “In the morning it might be a place to have coffee and just catch up with a friend or have a business meeting, or to just sit and read the newspaper. It might be a place to have a Bloody Mary after a night out. Or it might be a place to dance your socks off and meet a new lover.”

This multi-faceted focus has always been central to the ethos of the venue. Although it is run as a separate business, “it fulfils a part of the Coexist vision”, acting as “a kind of interface space between the community inside the building and the community outside the building.” This social purpose extends towards its workers as well: the space prides itself on providing “support for our team and our staff, investing in them”, which includes paying all staff a decent wage.

Having a place “to eat and drink and hang out” was always part of the vision for Hamilton House. But as a new not-for-profit social enterprise, it was initially difficult to raise the funding to make it happen. “We basically begged, borrowed and stole wherever we could, convincing people close to us that we would be able to deliver on creating a food and drink space”, says Jamie.

Since then, The Canteen has become known for its menu (as much of which as possible is sourced from local suppliers, including all meat, dairy, bread and beer) and for its policy of “live free music for ever. Every night of the week”.

As the most public-facing part of Hamilton House, The Canteen has also seen its clientele expand over the years. While a belief in sustainable communities is a core part of the building, initially “we never really focused on direct geographical location as our customers or as our participants”, remarks Jamie. But a more local focus has evolved on the basis that “we’ve got a responsibility to make sure that we’re relevant and we’re accessible to all different parts of the community”.

Due to its position, The Canteen offers an interesting window from which to view the wider social changes that have been happening in the area. Despite increased interest by speculators and developers (proposals for the nearby Carriageworks site being a case in point), which many see as a threat to the culture and identity of Stokes Croft, Jamie argues that the tide of corporate development will be kept in check by “the large number of independent local businesses that have a true interest in local people and the quality of the local landscape” and remains faithful that the cultural and artistic identity of Bristol will ensure that the city will keep on doing things in its own unique way.

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