What next for Hamilton House?
Notes from our AGM — December 2016
While for a lot of companies an Annual General Meeting might be a dry, formal affair, our AGM last Thursday was a little different. It was a chance to re-affirm who we are and what we stand for as an organisation, and to open up a process of dialogue and engagement with our community of building users and those who support us, at a very challenging moment in our history.
Our AGM, as well as being a chance for people to meet our team, was a chance to have an open and transparent discussion about the future of Hamilton House. There were over a hundred people present: artists, designers, web developers, musicians and small businesses who have their base here, as well as members of Dmac, CoResist, PRSC and others based in Stokes Croft. We also got to share a meal prepared by our Community Kitchen crew, (yes, sometimes there is such a thing as a free lunch).
Here’s the technical stuff: In November, our landlords, Connolly & Callaghan (C&C) triggered the removal of the Community Asset lock (Hamilton House was registered as a community asset with Bristol City Council, which meant it couldn’t be sold for private gain). What this means is that up until May 2017, Coexist is able to present an offer for the sale of the building. Thereafter, C&C will be able sell Hamilton House on the open market (though this does not mean that they definitely will).
Assuming this is what happens, there are three options for us all to explore:
· Coexist as an organisation could try and negotiate with C&C to buy the building outright.
· We could partner with a developer with similar values to negotiate a shared ownership/part purchase deal — for example buying the ‘A’ Block of the building and allowing some development in the rest of the building.
· We could start looking for other large vacant buildings in Bristol and move to a different area.
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that even if the building was sold, it would still take a while (possibly in the region of two years) for the deal to go through.
Despite all the heavy talk, the prevailing mood was one of optimism. A quick show of hands revealed that the overwhelming majority of those present felt strongly that we should try and stay in our current location if possible, to maintain the mixed-use community that has developed over the years.
This will be no small task: Coexist has already put in an offer of £3.5 million to buy the building which was rejected by C&C as they have already received unsolicited offers from property developers in the region of £5–7 million.
The reality of the situation is that we may need to compromise and negotiate in order to remain a viable project. Coexist is not alone in facing these struggles: the dynamics of the property market and speculation, coupled with spending cuts mean that community projects across the country face the threat of closure by forces beyond our control.
But the future is unwritten. This just the start of a process of consultation with all of those who have a stake in the future of Stokes Croft, in order that we can decide our own future. Over the past eight years, Coexist has been committed to alternative ways of doing business, creating positive local change and fostering sustainable communities. Though we face an uncertain time, we want to use it as an opportunity for reflection and out-of-the-box thinking and to imagine different ways that communities can work together to offer their own visions of the kind of cities they want to inhabit.