Hamilton House: Our Future
Find all the information you need on the history of Hamilton House, the current situation, the intention for the future – and most importantly – how you can help.
COEXIST STATEMENT 6TH OCTOBER
We wanted to write you all as soon as we had some clearer information to share about the ongoing negotiations with C&C. As many of you will be aware Coexist was formed through an invitation by Martin Connolly and through initial funding by C&C. Soon after its inception, Coexist CIC became an independent social enterprise exploring what it means to support a resilient and vibrant creative community in Hamilton House. The project evolved through countless days, months & years of volunteer time, and the hard work of staff and key partners, as well as the continued support of low rents from C&C throughout this time.
The business model on which Coexist CIC is built has always, since its inception, been based on the ability to buy space cheap and sell it on with a margin. This margin allows Coexist to run the project – providing affordable space to the community to ensure that artists, organisations and social initiatives can flourish. In addition, this surplus enables Coexist to invest in the spaces, cover management costs and supports community work within the building – such as free space for refugee projects and other marginalised groups.
Over the last few months, C&C have been exploring ways to both increase the value of HH and also limit the subsidy that Coexist receives by way of reduced rental. It has been a confusing ride for all concerned and literally hundreds of hours have been spent trying to secure a clear and safe position for Coexist CIC and all of the many community projects, businesses, sole traders and general public who rely on HH as part of their daily lives. This has swung from aspirations to buy HH on one extreme to being presented with news that C&C have intentions to develop most of the building into flats on the other. It would seem that while we can still not be completely assured of the future, we are edging closer to an option that could see both Coexist and C&C finding an agreeable outcome for the future of HH.
At this stage it is important to be clear: Coexist does not support the proposed development of Block C and is opposed to the impact and upheaval this would cause to the existing community and Coexist. We have actively explored as many avenues as possible – working day and night – to try and find a solution that protects the internal community.
As we have learned, things are always subject to change when it comes to working with C&C, but the crucial pieces of information to share at this moment are as follows:
Ownership of Hamilton House
Firstly, C&C want to retain ownership of HH and so while they are aware of a number of offers to buy it (Coexists included) they are wanting to keep hold of it. Although C&C are not planning to sell to a third party, they have recently said that they are exploring the possibilities of Community Land Trust ownership for part or all of the building.
Secondly, C&C wish to remove any ‘subsidy’ from Coexist in order to be able to generate an average market rent across the entire building.
C&C and Coexist have had very different perspectives on the issue of subsidy. Many of which were recently documented in an article in the Bristol Evening Post. Ultimately, C&C claim this subsidy exists in the difference between what they charge Coexist and what they believe they could lease HH for. Having occupied the building since the financial crisis began, Coexist have always paid the price asked for by C&C – who have never asked for a rent increase or discussed the desire to seek one. For Coexist, this is important to acknowledge as we can only base our business model on what the realities of what our rental fees are. Through years of conversations with our landlords there has never been a request for increases in rent, and Coexist have always sought to maximise this benefit on behalf of the community.
What is the impact of this? This means that Coexist’s rent to C&C would need to increase 400% from an average of £3 to £12 per sq ft. Coexist are currently exploring how we could adapt our business model to remove any dependency on subsidised rents while still being able to offer affordable space for those who need it most. We are looking at a number of options including developing a membership model and maximising the commercial outputs from our event spaces. This would not happen overnight, and we are yet to understand what timeframes we have to operate in.
This may sound like a scary reality and it does represent a huge increase in overall rent. However, regardless of who the future owner of HH might be, the rent will need to increase in line with a market rent. This is mainly to cover the cost of renewing and upgrading the building, but it is also to service any debt or commercial interest. This would also be true if Coexist were able to buy the building, if the building were to be put into a community land trust (CLT) or if it were to be sold to a third party. The only partial exception to this would be if Coexist bought the building with a mix of mainly cash, donations & philanthropy as there would be no debt or commercial interest to service.
While Coexist are deeply concerned about the impacts that this change represents, we are doing everything in our control to get the best outcome we can.
It is almost certain that even if we are able to find a new business model that works, it will still require some level of rental increase being passed on to some people/organisations that rent our spaces. While we are still exploring scenarios it is unclear on what the direct impacts will be, but as more is revealed we will be consulting and reporting back as much as is possible. The silver lining in this – if there is indeed a model that proves both acceptable and workable – is that C&C have indicated that they would consider a 10 year lease for all the areas of the building that Coexist occupy. This would be the first time in 9 years that Coexist would have had any security beyond a one year’s lease. In turn, it would provide security to think longer term, seek financial backing and invest in the future of the project.
Development of Block C
Thirdly and importantly, C&C are continuing to seek to develop block C into rented residential units. These flats would be leased rather than sold, with priority being given to people who have a relationship with Coexist and the HH project.
C&C state that the primary aim of this proposed development is to find a way for Block A to remain as a community hub in the future, as they need to increase return on their asset to satisfy pressure from the banks and are looking to increase revenues. They are clear that they no longer wish to ‘subsidise’ HH from its other areas of business, but they are prepared to subsidise the future of Block A from the gains on other parts of HH.
The reason that C&C are pushing for residential in block C is that for them it is the only way to improve the potential value of the overall building whilst retaining Coexist’s activities. This could represent a compromise on both sides and while it is far from clear whether the idea of residential in block C is technically viable this is the idea that is being currently explored.
Impacts for Block C community
What does this mean for licensees in block C? An initial assessment of the situation is that if the technical viability of the plan is approved then the earliest that planning, funding and build schedule would be in place is around 6 months from now.
This means that – provided Coexist are prepared to move forward with this option – there would be no immediate changes for a minimum of 6 months. This period could be longer for a number of reasons but it is impossible for it to be sooner. There is also a chance that it is not technically viable or that planning permission is not granted, and therefore the overall plans would then need to be revisited. In this case it is conceivable that C&C might wish to market the building.
Our advice to those with a space in block C is to be patient while the technical viability assessment is completed before considering any movement. There are two reasons for this: Firstly we really need to maintain a steady flow of income at this time to be able to adapt effectively and if too many people jump ship while the situation is being evaluated it will impact negatively on the stability of the overall HH project. Secondly, and only if the residential plan is deemed technically viable for block C, licensees would be offered a home in a consolidated block A&B or at an alternative location.
We are currently looking at a number of alternative locations for the Coexist project to expand into and, while we cannot speak openly about these opportunities just yet, we are excited by what having multiple sites will provide us both in terms of our social impact but also the strength and diversity of our community.
Simultaneously to exploring ways of innovating around these latest challenges and looking at new sites, Coexist remain busy building partnerships and exploring funding for a scenario where the proposed development of block C is not possible. This could mean an increased purchase bid, a proposal for a re-formulated partnership with C&C or joining with other CIC’s and charitable organisations in the area to form a Stokes Croft Land Trust to secure Hamilton House.
We plan on hosting a Community Meeting on Thursday 26th October (details to be confirmed) to go into more detail about the options we are faced with. By then we hope to have further information regarding the technical viability of C&C’s proposed development of block C, and will be seeking your input into Coexist’s decision-making around this. We will also have finished exploring re-modelling our business plan to see if it is genuinely possible to accommodate C&C’s latest requests.
If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions before then please email: email@example.com or get in touch via the Hamilton House: Our Future Facebook Group.
Beyond the HH and C&C debacle, Coexist are extremely grateful and proud to have hosted a hugely successful open day this year – by far the best yet! – and the very first “Coexistence Festival”. Thanks so so much to everyone who took part! It was a wonderful day and an incredible expression of passion, creativity and togetherness. It goes to show what a special and unique project this is. Let’s get through this and make next year even better!!
Finally, a word of thanks to everyone who forms a part of this rich, diverse and inspiring community. It is with your support, passion, involvement and investment that Coexist and HH are able to thrive. We really value your patience and commitment to staying with us while we do our best to secure a vibrant future for us all.
With love, hope and determination,
The Coexist Team
STATEMENT BY COEXIST IN RESPONSE TO BRISTOL POST ARTICLE 25/09/17
Coexist can confirm that we hold a £150,000 debt with C&C. This is not a ‘loan’ in the traditional sense of the word, but rather Coexist have a ‘loan agreement’ in place with C&C. This figure is accrued debt in the form of start-up costs that accumulated in the first few years of the social enterprise. These costs are from unclaimed rents and utilities paid for by C&C whilst Coexist began building its business. Coexist is extremely grateful for this support and it has enabled us to establish as a thriving social enterprise and build into the business model the capacity to pay back the loan when it is due in 2028.
Coexist was formed to manage space that best provides for the community. By providing affordable work and office space to artists, community interest companies and charities below market rates, Coexist effectively distributes the subsidy that C&C provides to individuals and organisations. This enables Coexist to incubate their businesses to grow and flourish. The benefits of this work pay dividends through their development into larger spaces and then onwards into buildings of their own once they out-grow Hamilton House. Some of the more high-profile examples include Kambe Events (responsible for Shambala Festival), Love Saves the Day and Boomtown Fair.
In addition, Coexist gives vital free & discounted space to projects with little or no capacity. This year alone Coexist have already distributed over £40,000 of subsidy to emerging artists, LGBTQ groups, refugee and asylum seeker initiatives, organisations working with substance abusers and homeless charities etc.
Coexist has grown organically over nine years and as a social enterprise and community interest company it works closely with C&C to develop a sustainable relationship. A key element is that this is symbiotic and Coexist has been mutually beneficial to C&C. As a community interest company, Coexist has shielded C&C from business rates related to ownership and use of Hamilton House. This figure currently stands at a rateable value of £108,000 per annum that C&C avoid by Coexist being the anchor tenant of the building.
Whilst the recent cessation of Coexist’s lease and potential developments of part of Hamilton House could change its future role in the building, Coexist is dedicated to ensuring the sustainability of the community it has fostered. This includes the financial health and stability of its own enterprise. Coexist’s recent bid to buy Hamilton House was a visionary and widely-heralded model to bring the building into community ownership, protecting it from the turbulence and aggressive nature of the property market. This would help safeguard over 200 artists and social enterprises to act as multipliers of the social good they bring to Bristol, the UK and many transformational projects all over the world.
The public are widely and passionately supportive of Coexist and its ambitions, and a petition – established by a local resident as part of the #SaveHamiltonHouse campaign – calling for C&C to bring Hamilton House into community ownership has now reached over 8,000 signatures.
Coexist was given a semi-derelict space in 2008, valued at £2.1m. Over the last 9 years Coexist has paid a service charge for the ongoing running and maintenance of the building, as well as also investing into the space and fabric of the building itself. This has meant that C&C have been able to hold onto their property at little or no cost whilst the building gained value. Through the work of Coexist and other community organisations, as well as a number of other factors that have regenerated the area, Hamilton House is now valued in the region of £6.5 million.
Although C&C have not been receiving a full market rate on the letting of Hamilton House, the argument that Coexist has been subsidised to the tune of £500k is not accurate and needs further clarification. This is based on a number of assumptions including 100% occupancy at full market rate, and does not take into account key factors such as the issue of the building having always been in need of significant upgrading and investment. It is therefore highly unlikely that market rate would be achieved at Hamilton House and in the early years of the partnership at the beginning of the financial crisis there was low demand for office space. With the current financial climate, Brexit looming and economists predicting a deepening of the recession over the next few years, there are many factors which point to the significant benefit of having a long-term, socially-focused occupant of such a large asset. In 2008 Martin Connolly wanted to find a way to use Hamilton House for the benefit of the community and Coexist is living into that role today.
Coexist understands that if Hamilton House is to be refurbished and upgraded that the rental model will have to change and are looking forward to working with C&C to making this sustainable for all parties. Coexist’s vision is always to work openly and collaboratively in nurturing a sustainable community and have suggested to C&C that they undertake a rent-review to consider what return would safeguard this building for the community in its current guise. At no point over the last nine years has Coexist been asked to pay more rent, manage the space differently or meet any expectations that have not been achieved. Coexist will continue to work with all concerned in expanding its operations in the coming months in order to offer greater support and benefit to the Bristol community.
The original article can be seen here.
STATEMENT BY COEXIST – 6TH SEPTEMBER 2017
Following a brief period of hiatus due to the summer and many people being away on holiday, things have been quiet. Summer is now drawing to an end and we wanted to share an update from within Coexist and Hamilton House.
We are now entering a mediation process between Coexist and C&C to ensure that all voices are heard and that any potential problems can be addressed. Coexist are committed to solution focused outcomes and understand that conflict is a natural part of coexisting. We feel clear and cohesive communication is the key to resolving conflict. Both parties are fully committed to finding a speedy resolution to remove uncertainty for the entire community.
We, at Coexist are still working to retain Hamilton House as a community building. We are also exploring potential new sites that can help further develop Coexist in alignment with our core values.
Coexist understand that all our licensees, therapists and customers have concerns around future planning with us, but we encourage you to continue to utilise the space and services here to strengthen its value as a sustainable community asset.
Our support and love goes out to the Tenants Action Group whose #savehamiltonhouse campaign has been seen Bristol wide.
Thanks for your continued support,
Our community makes us!
The Coexist Team
In an amendment to the above statement, the #savehamiltonhouse campaign was not initiated by the Tenants Action Group, but by a group of internal and external community members.
JOINT STATEMENT BY COEXIST AND CONNOLLY & CALLAGHAN TO HAMILTON HOUSE OCCUPANTS – 11TH AUGUST 2017
The current lease agreement for Coexist to manage Hamilton House expires today, Friday August 11th. However, Coexist will continue to manage the building following the signing today of a Tenancy at Will with Connolly and Callaghan, owners of Hamilton House.
The signing of a Tenancy at Will agreement means all businesses and individuals at Hamilton House with leases with Coexist will be able to continue to operate under the present arrangements of their leases with Coexist.
Entering into a Tenancy at Will agreement will allow representatives of Connolly & Callaghan, Coexist and the Hamilton House Tenants’ Action Group (TAG) more time, in the short term, to discuss the future of Hamilton House and for Connolly & Callaghan and Coexist to negotiate a Framework Agreement.
One of the benefits to Connolly & Callaghan and Coexist of signing a Tenancy at Will agreement is that it will remove the time constraints that have added to the pressures of recent negotiations for both parties.
It is hoped the fact that both parties have signed a Tenancy at Will agreement today will help to reassure occupants of Hamilton House of the commitment that exists on both sides to seeking the best possible outcome for Hamilton House and its community.
The Tenancy at Will shall be terminated when either a new lease/framework agreement is successfully negotiated between Connolly & Callaghan and Coexist, or the event that agreement is not reached.
COEXIST STATEMENT 13 JULY 2017
In response to today’s press statement from Connolly & Callaghan (C&C) and their serving of a formal notice to Coexist to give vacant possession of Hamilton House (in just 30 days’ time), Danny Balla (Director of Coexist) comments:
“We at Coexist feel that the serving of a formal notice to Coexist to give vacant possession of Hamilton House by the 11th August gives the community mixed messages, but we are dedicated to continuing the dialogue to secure a positive solution and making Hamilton House a community asset in perpetuity. We are confident that C&C’s offer is genuine, but we need to seek immediate security on behalf of our licensees and the sustainability of Coexist which C&C originally helped establish.”
On the 16th November 2016 C&C officially triggered the community asset lock listed on the building in what C&C termed in an email to Coexist “a defensive safeguard in an uncertain economic environment”. This afforded C&C flexibility for potential future sales and subsequently gave rise to speculation on the future sale of Hamilton House. Coexist has acknowledged C&C’s need to sure up its finances in these uncertain times, and expects C&C to facilitate Coexist to do the same.
Since the recent rejection of the purchase bid to buy HH, negotiations have centred around the urgent need for C&C to extend Coexist’s lease which expires on the 11th August. On Monday Coexist were shocked and dismayed to receive formal notice from C&C’s solicitors, with a demand to give vacant possession of Hamilton House with effect from the 11th August 2017. This was accompanied with a verbal message that the situation would remain the same and that Coexist were not expected to vacate the building but a ‘tenancy at will’ would be established in the interim period before a new lease was agreed. In order to seek assurance that they are responding lawfully and responsibly, Coexist has sought legal advice on this confusing contradiction to establish its legal position and what appropriate action to take.
Despite best efforts from Coexist to ensure that this was done immediately we are currently waiting for legal documentation following a formal notice to give vacant possession by C&C’s solicitors. On the 12th July Coexist instructed lawyers to act not only on our behalf, but on behalf of all of our licensees, however we do appreciate C&C’s assurance that no one will be asked to leave the building, and continue to await legal documents to that support this.
Whilst Coexist can and always has appreciated the need for C&C’s ‘commercially flexible’ approach the ramifications of this not only on the financial aspects of Coexist as a business, but on the emotional and mental well-being of all involved have been significant.
Coexist will continue to remain steadfastly committed to our values and ethos, placing our integrity at the centre of all of our negotiations and work, both within Hamilton House and beyond. Meanwhile, Coexist remain committed to continued dialogue with C&C and their future plans for the development of Hamilton House, and its future community use.”
COEXIST STATEMENT 4th JULY 2017
Dear friends, colleagues, licensees and partners,
We’d like to thank you for your patience in waiting to hear about how the situation regarding our bid to purchase Hamilton House is unfolding. We understand that the last few weeks and months have been a difficult and frustrating time – not knowing the details of the ongoing situation has caused a lot of anxiety.
We have been working hard to secure the building on behalf of the community, and whilst the bid to buy Hamilton House was rejected, we have since had positive conversations with our landlords, C&C to assess what could be accepted and we are working hard to determine what this might look like both financially and practically. We remain in negotiations which have proven more lengthy due to multiple stakeholders, however we are expecting more news in the coming week or so. We will do our very best to update you as soon as we can when we know the next steps.
We are working hard to assess all our options; both short term and long term – to ensure we remain as responsible as we can to you – our immediate community. Rest assured we are working closely with professional legal advisors and property consultants to ensure we are responsibly safeguarding the future business and social interests of our licensees, clients and stakeholders.
To ensure we maintain healthy communication with everyone we are holding a meeting for everyone at Hamilton House after community lunch at 1pm on Thursday 20th July. This will be a forum to come together again; to gather thoughts, feelings, questions and concerns from you. We need to hear from you so that we can keep making informed decisions that truly reflect our values and ethos to ensure we remain resilient, boundaried and inspired.
Please come along and share your input with us, so we can best represent you in this process.
Any questions in the meantime, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you again for your continued support,
With much love,
COEXIST STATEMENT 1st JUNE 2017
Following the submission of Coexist’s bid to purchase Hamilton House from current owners Connolly and Callaghan (C&C), the two organisations met up on Friday 26th May to begin negotiations.
Coexist’s offer of £5.5million (a combination of social investment, sponsor investment from C&C, a Community Share offer and mortgage) was not accepted, and C&C made clear that the company does not wish to substantially increase provision of additional new financial support for Coexist, as offered in Coexist’s bid. C&C stated that although keen to continue to support Coexist’s work in the wider world by potentially partnering in order to secure other property; they did not wish to remain a partner or sponsor investor of Hamilton House, having supported it financially via subsidised rents for the last nine years. C&C agreed to work with Coexist over the next few weeks to strengthen their bid for resubmission.
C&C were impressed with the demonstrable social value Coexist had detailed in their bid, along with the amount of research and dedication the proposal had required; and expressed positivity regarding the Community Share Offer element; something that would ensure the building would be cooperatively owned by the community itself; with any profits gained from owning Hamilton House being fed back into the project. C&C stated it would be expected that the large community of people Coexist represent would want to invest to keep it a community asset, and that any bid with widespread community investment would strengthen the bid.
C&C are beginning to carry out due diligence in regards to the other interested bidders but reconfirmed that no decision had been made as to whether the building will be sold to anyone at this time, advising that they will provide Coexist with a formal decision at the end of June/beginning of July.
C&C stated that, in common with any well-run business, it was important for the company to have a flexible position, and that in order to be flexible it was important for C&C to use its assets wisely. Coexist is dedicated to ensuring that C&C are able to come to an agreement that not only safeguards the interests of C&C but also the needs of Coexist and the communities that they serve.
Coexist will continue to raise the profile of the project, whilst seeking out other interested sponsors, supporters and investors.
Coexist is not the only bidder interested in taking ownership of Hamilton House; as a prime site in central Bristol it is ripe for residential development from a number of sources. Given the nature of the project as it stands and the deeply felt passion inherent in Coexist to secure the space for community use, our purchase bid; which has been lovingly researched and collectively re-visioned over the last five months aims to further the original aspirations of 2008.
It includes a pioneering new energy renewal system, the installation of a cutting edge straw-bale constructed eco-hostel on our roof (complete with amazing views!), to support the community who visit and attend the diverse array of events and activities which take place in the building and beyond, the development of a new creche facility to support freelancers (with a pilot programme about to be launched following a successful funding bid) and the relocation of our Wellbeing facility to enable easier access to all, as well as an overall refocus and reenergising of Coexists outreach, collaboration and partnership work throughout the city.
All of our visioning for the future is underpinned by a need to not only find new and innovative ways of embodying our core purpose, values and approach, but of becoming a fully sustainable, financially viable, healthy and robust organisation – that can continue to hold space and meet the needs of the very community we wish to serve.
Home to almost 500 residents; the rabbit warren vastness of Hamilton House is always maxed out to full capacity; renting space here means being part of a community who all share the same values. Coexist strive to bring together the buildings’ many occupants for cross-collaboration whenever we can; innovating together is at the very heart of Hamilton House. Wondering who’s here? You can see our full directory here, and if you want to join our waiting list for space, you can do so here.
Over 1000 different events take place within the walls of Hamilton House every year. One of the easiest ways you can support Hamilton House and all the amazing organisations, performers, educators and artists that choose to host their event at our venue is by visiting us. You can view our full listings here.
Thank you to our Friends & Supporters:
Back in 2004 when Connolly & Callaghan (C&C) purchased the building, Hamilton House was a vacant and derelict office block. C&C began a pioneering process to develop a vision for an ‘Urban Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Communities’. They invited various friends and contacts who shared their social aspirations into the building to further their original vision, and the team now known as Coexist was born. It is this organisation which now manages Hamilton House as it’s flagship project – a social enterprise; set up as a community interest company based on a philosophy of open hearted and active engagement. It empowers members of the community on Stokes Croft to lead its development and have incubated new creative projects and social businesses from conception to sustainability; believing that the successful and much needed regeneration of our community is sustainable only if the growth is organic and from the bottom up!
Hamilton House has had a substantial impact on the communities and neighbourhoods around it, and the urban regeneration of Stokes Croft. We are home to a community of around 500 people based in our studios and offices including artists from a wide range of disciplines; fine artists, puppeteers, costumiers, printmakers and illustrators, makers and sculptors. Internationally acclaimed artists Davy and Kristin McGuire are based here, and Hamilton House is home to one of Bristols largest illustrator’s hubs; run by Drawn In Bristol. This artistic community, including our own Coexist gallery with two exhibition spaces, is intimately involved in Bristol’s culture and arts scene, whilst the affordable studios here support many major arts projects across the city.
Our two busy dance studios are home to DMAC UK (Dance, Music, Arts Collective), supporting dance, movement and arts education across cultures. CoResist are a collective of artists dedicated to producing transformative performance work for social and ecological change and our partners in delivery across our event spaces. A range of charities and social enterprises can be found here, such as Imayla, Misfits Theatre Company (winner of the 2013 National Lottery Good Causes Arts Award), community radio station Passion Radio and Tribe of Doris. These projects have drawn millions in charitable funding to the region. We are also home to a number of local businesses that are shaping the city and its local economy including The Canteen and Grade Management. Others have grown out of the space here into new premises of their own, such as Kambe Events and Boomtown Fair.
The building hosts approximately 1000 events annually in our conference & meeting rooms, community kitchen, events and community arts spaces; we offer a service that is professional but affordable – and as such we have helped a huge number of local projects get off the ground, including Bristol Energy Cooperative, Bristol Green Doors, and the Bristol Bike Project (winner of the 2011 Observer Environmental Charity of the Year Award). Over the last year Coexist has provided almost £20,000 worth of free and discounted space to a variety of charities and not-for profits including Bristol Refugee Rights, Bridges for Communities and Bristol Hospitality Network to name just a few.
We are also actively involved in community engagement, to deepen our relationships with the local neighbourhoods so as to respond better to local needs. The Coexist Community Kitchen runs outreach courses with the Bristol Drugs Project, The Prince’s Trust, Second Step and others; using food as a vehicle to challenge life’s challenges, and our Community Conscious project, based in our Wellbeing centre, brings alternative therapies into a range of very different communities often for the first time.
Coexist is currently monitoring on a large scale the social impact of the many activities that take place at Hamilton House, which is supported by funding from the Big Potential. As you can imagine this is no small feat; the ripple effect of Hamilton House is large. Its intricacies interweave with many many other organisations, enterprises, groups, troops and individuals’ own social, cultural and economic aims and aspirations, which expand the social footprint; creating a huge Bristol-felt impact. The size and scope of the reporting means it’s going to take over the next year to monitor and gather the data – but this process is an exciting one which will lead Coexist to a more informed place – one that highlights the importance of social and cultural capital when dictating the value of a building.
Still not sure who Coexist are? Check out our Meet The Team page to see who we are.
On the 22nd November 2016 Coexist sent a press release into the wider world. Big things had been rumbling behind the walls of the iconic project in the heart of Stokes Croft, and now it was time to tell Bristol that Hamilton House was potentially going to be sold. The formal notification by the owners Connolly & Callaghan (C&C) of their intent to sell the building followed months of discussions with Coexist - who wanted to buy it.
The story started last Summer, when given the collaborative nature of the partnership between C&C (the owners) and Coexist (the tenants), exciting conversations soon led to informal negotiations relating to Coexist purchasing the building. It has been a well known long-held objective for Coexist to have more stability in their flagship project — either by securing a long-term lease or ownership of the building. Coexist started to apply for relevant grant funding to support the process, and began to pull together a business strategy; although an initial purchase offer made of £3.5 million was not accepted, the dialogue with C&C continued - underpinned by an acknowledgment of a shared history and aspirations for developing a Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Communities. Over the course of the following months a number of other unsolicited offers were made by a variety of property developers ranging from £5— £7.5 million.
Back in 2014 Hamilton House was listed — and therefore protected — as an ‘Asset of Community Value’, however as agreed with Coexist on the 15th November C&C issued a formal notice to Bristol City Council of their 'intent to dispose' the building. Thus triggering a six-month moratorium period during which Coexist (as an eligible community interest group) could make a preferential formal bid. From May 2017 this legality will cease, and C&C can decide to sell to whomever they wish (be that Coexist or otherwise). The deadline for Coexist to make their bid is the 15th May 2017.
Following a successful application, Coexist was awarded £94,000 of grant funding via The Big Potential; a body which supports voluntary sector organisations and social enterprises to seek out social investment. What has that money gone towards? It has enabled Coexist to embark on a 12-month project to become investment-ready by refining our business and finance strategies, leading with a strong emphasis on calculating the true social value created by our flagship project. This is a crucial part of the buying strategy as we lead up to June; the month earmarked to launch a Community Share Offer targeted to raise £1.2 million - should we have our bid accepted, fundraising and seeking out investment will be the next phase rolled out. A community share offer is an invitation to invest in a business that serves a social purpose. It’s different from a conventional public share offer because rather than profit being the primary motivating factor, the focus of the investment is often on the social benefits. Anyone can buy shares, and ultimately anyone who does will be a co-owner of Hamilton House and have a say in its future; realizing the dream that an important community asset be owned by the community itself. Some of the other work Coexist has undergone in readiness for this to take place is to re-organise our governance structure; incorporating a new CCBS (Charitable Community Benefit Society) to work alongside our CIC (Community Interest Company) so that we can make gains from having a tax exempt charitable status (discounted business rates and stamp duty, and a new capacity to drawdown from trusts in donations).
Coexist is not the only bidder interested in taking ownership of Hamilton House; as a prime site in central Bristol it is ripe for residential development from a number of sources. Given the nature of the project as it stands and the deeply felt passion inherent in Coexist to secure the space for community use, our second purchase bid; which has been lovingly researched and collectively re-visioned over the last five months aims to further the original aspirations of 2008. It includes a pioneering new energy renewal system, the installation of a cutting edge straw-bale constructed eco-hostel on our roof (complete with amazing views!), to support the community who visit and attend the diverse array of events and activities which take place in the building and beyond, the development of a new creche facility to support freelancers (with a pilot programme about to be launched following a successful funding bid) and the relocation of our Wellbeing facility to enable easier access to all, as well as an overall refocus and reenergising of Coexists outreach, collaboration and partnership work throughout the city. All of our visioning for the future is underpinned by a need to not only find new and innovative ways of embodying our core purpose, values and approach, but of becoming a fully sustainable, financially viable, healthy and robust organisation - that can continue to hold space and meet the needs of the very community we wish to serve.
From the beginning Coexist has been committed to making this a process of community consultation, starting at our AGM in December 2016 where 120 members of our community mandated that we should do what we can to secure the future of Hamilton House. Since then Coexist has played host to a number of Hamilton House Action Group meetings; a space to gather our internal community together for support, news, and crucially - help with the campaign.
If you want to help, support or offer feedback - we always want to hear from you!
Listen to this audio documentary, produced and edited by Jake Wittlin, about the story of Coexist and Hamilton House in Bristol.
If you are as passionate as we are about protecting and nurturing spaces for the community and progressive social change, there are multitude of ways you can support the situation currently unfolding at Hamilton House:
- Follow Hamilton House on social media (Facebook/Twitter)
- Join our dedicated community Facebook group here
- Sign up to our twice-monthly newsletter for regular updates on the situation.
- Share this page on your own networks & tell your friends (the more people that know about what is happening here the better!)
- Register for one of our guided building tours so you can meet Coexist and see first hand what this project is all about.
- Attend one of the many events, exhibitions, classes and performances that take place here
- Host one of your own events here (we have a great bar for parties!).
- If you have your own personal special experience of Hamilton House (and the support it has offered you) then please get in touch as we would love to hear it.
- If you are a like-minded organisation or community and would like to be part of a network of supporters, please get in touch.