Bristol is known for its world-class culture, encompassing art, music, theatre, media, architecture, festivals and more. Culture is central to our economy (an £84bn industry), our communities and our everyday lives. However it doesn’t just arise from nowhere – there needs to be space for people to work on their craft and for creativity to incubate.
For ten years Hamilton House in Stokes Croft has been at the heart of Bristol’s creative community. This space is home to a dizzying array of artists, small businesses and social enterprises who have made an immeasurable contribution to this city, its cultural landscape, and the local economy.
I am very concerned about the eviction of the tenants of a large section (Block C) of Hamilton House, scheduled to take place on 1 March. This will cause turmoil to a large number of current tenants, many of whom have no alternative space to go to, putting their livelihoods under threat.
Until recently I had not realised the breadth of activity, and the diversity of occupations, that this space supports, including: theatre producers; costume makers; seamstresses; illustrators; community journalists; photographers; painters; furniture makers; event organisers; a community radio station; therapists; a mural painter; sculptors; community art workers; stained glass artists; mosaic artists; weavers; textile artists; the Bristol bike project; screen printers; music management; and a charity supporting disadvantaged families and children.
I’ve met with some of these tenants; with Coexist, the organisation which manages Hamilton House; and with Connolly & Callaghan, who own the building, to discuss how a resolution can be found.
I am aware that Connolly & Callaghan intend to develop some of the Hamilton House site for housing, which has prompted the current series of events. We all know there’s a shortage of housing in the city. The demand for new housing must be met, particularly in sustainable central locations. However, cultural and creative spaces must not be seen as expendable as more and more sites are earmarked for residential development. What is most profitable in the short-term shouldn’t starve the city of what contributes to its unique character. Culture and housing need to complement each other, not compete.
I don’t have the exact answer to what the solution for Hamilton House should be. I appreciate that the building is in need of upgrading, and that its financial model needs to be viable. However, I urge Connolly & Callaghan to work constructively with the whole Hamilton House community in finding a positive outcome to secure its future. There are great opportunities for how Stokes Croft can develop, encompassing housing, culture, retail, businesses and the third sector. This story must have local people and their needs at its heart.