Coexist Press Statement
Tuesday, November 20th 2018
Social enterprise stands up to corporate take over
Coexist, the non-profit social enterprise who has managed the iconic community hub Hamilton House for the past ten years, has today been given one day’s notice to end their tenancy by their landlords, Connolly & Callaghan (C&C). This would effectively end their income and potentially force the organisation to close.
This development comes after eighteen months of tense negotiations between the community group and their landlords who plan to develop the building into flats – despite massive opposition from the local community.
Former investment banker Gavin Eddy has been working closely with C&C to enable the takeover – conducting an ‘independent review’ of Coexist last June on behalf of C&C, before announcing what has been described by Coexist directors as “a forced takeover” of their business.
As an organisation whose main concern is to serve the community, Coexist CIC wishes to uphold its values and has therefore decided to challenge what they consider to be a non binding tenancy at will.
Coexist Co-Director Danny Balla said: “We would firstly like to thank C&C for their support over the last ten years. 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 over 500 artists, social enterprises, charities and small businesses, had over 10,000 weekly visitors and collectively generated over £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. People and their businesses have been misled, lied-to, and now C&C are taking over the business we have developed over 10 years. This is unethical and is an attack on social enterprise in the city.
C&C are demonstrating that they believe it is acceptable to act without regard for real people, families & businesses, and to consistently renege on commitments they have made. We have tried to work towards solutions with C&C and have worked tirelessly to jump through endless hoops, but each one has proved to be a false promise. Today 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.”
Coexist believe that they are entitled to one month’s notice, and have decided to challenge the day’s notice provided to them.
Co-Director Ari Cantwell adds: “Ten years ago C&C displayed bravery and vision to pioneer the opportunity for Coexist. Unfortunately, their actions over the last 12 months can only be regarded as deeply cynical. They are trying to remove Coexist from Hamilton House just before the social enterprise has been trading for ten years to try and prevent a certificate of lawfulness application. If successful, this would cement Hamilton House’s designated use as a community centre and prohibit potential development. The reality is this has been and is one of the most highly regarded community projects in the country. To leave at this point when we are entitled to one month’s notice would be a disservice to the community we serve, as well as Coexist & C&C’s original vision.”
This perspective has been reinforced by a recent anonymous donation to Coexist’s Charitable parent organisation to ensure it has the ability to seek legal expertise if needed. Following a huge groundswell of public support and a recent march which saw over one thousand people take to the streets in support of Coexist, the social enterprise is confident that the right course of action lies in community ownership.
Coexist Team Member Johanna Dragović states: “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. We are working towards systemic change where communities benefit from the profits and surplus from enterprise – not private individuals or companies.”
Building on their identity as an organisation that operates to fulfil its core purpose and ‘best provide space for communities’, Coexist CIC is not just making a legal stand, but also addressing the way private and charitable sectors interact with one another. Coexist are regarded as ambassadors for community rights and, by taking these steps, they may be paving the way for a broader movement to safeguard community spaces on a wider scale.
Johanna concluded: “This is a watershed moment for community projects in Bristol and across the country. We need to start looking at the bigger picture and hold corporations to account. We must empower our communities, not dismantle them. It is not too late to write our own story.”
Ari Cantwell / Danny Balla / Fred Pritchard