As Coexist say they are now under threat of closure, the new manager has been targeted by campaigners.
Photo: Matty Edwards
A new organisation has been appointed to take over the management of Hamilton House from social enterprise Coexist, who described the move as the “dismantling” of their project.
Forward Space, which runs a number of coworking spaces in the southwest, will manage the Stokes Croft cultural hub on a temporary basis, while owners Connolly and Callaghan (C&C) find a permanent solution.
Forward Space’s CEO Gavin Eddy, a former London-based investment banker, was the independent consultant who recently reviewed Coexist’s business plan shortly before it was rejected by C&C.
After a year of tense negotiations, C&C announced in August that they would not be signing a new lease with Coexist, who have managed the building for a decade. Hundreds of people protested this news in September amid an outpouring of support for Coexist, including from a range of cultural organisations and mayor Marvin Rees.
The dispute over who will manage the building runs alongside C&C’s plans to redevelop part of the building into flats. After hundreds of tenants were evicted in March, more could follow if C&C are forced to submit a full planning application, which will happen if their rejected fast-track application under permitted development rights is not overturned at appeal later this month.
C&C said that Coexist would be included in the transition period and community activities would continue at Hamilton House. However, Coexist described Eddy’s appointment as a decision to “dismantle” their project, adding that they understood the community’s “immense frustration and disappointment”.
“Not a hostile takeover”
Campaign group Save Hamilton House organised a protest outside Forward Space’s offices in central Bristol on Monday, accusing him of a “hostile takeover”. They distributed wanted-style posters with the slogan ‘Gavin Eddy: Unwanted for crimes against community.’
The campaigners also called on supporters to target Eddy on social media and question him online. By Tuesday, there were almost 20 new one-star reviews on Google, accompanied by various accusations about the company’s ethics.
The Cable approached Forward Space for comment, but they declined and said Gavin Eddy was not available.
However, in a response to a Facebook post with his face on a wanted-style poster, Eddy commented on Sunday: “I understand the sensitivities around Hamilton House but attacks on me personally are unwarranted, upsetting and based on inaccurate information.”
“Firstly, I wish to make it clear I am not staging a hostile takeover of Hamilton House. I was asked by C&C to assess the Coexist business plan in the context of a new lease of Hamilton House being granted at a market rent.
He said his review of Coexist’s business plan did not deem it unviable, but highlighted some issues and made recommendations. Coexist previously said that Eddy had supported most of their plans, but suggested converting the artist studios into something more likely to generate income.
Eddy continued: “I have purely been asked to manage the logistics of the building on a short-term basis whilst C&C implement a long-term solution. During that transition period we will work with Coexist to present the long-term plan for their community activities to C&C. Coexist will continue to manage these.
“I’ll be working with the Hamilton House community over the coming weeks to make the transition as smooth as possible.
A spokesperson for Coexist told the Cable: “This new development is the beginning of a process that could lead to the closure of one of Bristol’s most influential community organisations. Involvement in this process is endangering jobs and livelihoods, attacking the aims, vision and viability of the project, and ultimately enabling a corporate takeover of ten year’s community endeavour.
“This role – if enacted – will dislocate Coexist from the community it has created. It will directly take customers and clients of Coexist and instigate a situation where they have no real choice other than signing up directly with a new company owned entirely by C&C,” they added.
“This new company has no community purpose, constitution or asset-lock; it is privately owned and puts our community in a very dangerous position. Without Coexist to shield, mediate and represent the collective voice, this new management company could be sold off, closed or end its licenses with our community at any time.
“With the support of Marvin Rees, Bristol City Council and many important arts organisations across Bristol, we believe that Coexist are in the strongest position to run and manage Hamilton House, with community at the heart of our values and aims.”
Who are Forward Space?
Forward Space run a number of coworking spaces in the southwest. They first opened The Old School Church in Frome in 2007, and expanded to Bristol in 2015 by setting up Boxworks, which is 20 studios in shipping containers at Engine Shed by Temple Meads. In 2015, Eddy compared the main working hub in Frome as “like the East End of London ten years ago”.
With plans to convert another building in Taunton, they have just opened a space on King Street in Bristol this summer called Framework. The Grade II listed warehouse will offer working spaces to tech companies and host events.
Fran Connolly, from C&C, said: “Forward Space has a proven pedigree owning and managing workhubs aimed at start-ups, early stage, small businesses and freelancers. We believe they have the expertise to continue the development of Hamilton House as a viable, creative, hub that benefits the local community, whilst a long-term solution is sought.
“Forward Space is now working on a transition plan, in which we have invited Coexist to participate so as to ensure we retain as much of the current community outreach at the site as possible,” he added.
“We do not wish to see Coexist exit the Hamilton House community. We wish to release them from the responsibility for space management so that they can focus on the community outreach that is their core value. We hope Coexist will agree to participate with Forward Space to create a viable business plan for Hamilton House”.