Our lease is complete! Saving the Old Library

October 13 2017
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How do I make negotiations of a ten year commercial lease sound interesting…. Hmmm…

Our Lease is Complete! Saving The Old Library.

How do I make negotiations of a ten year commercial lease sound interesting…. Hmmm…

It was a dark December night way back in 2015, and I’d just heard the news that our proposal to turn the old Eastville Library building into a community space had been successful… and now the hard work was to begin! Can you believe that it has taken nearly two years for us to say that we’ve actually completed the lease? No, us neither. But here’s the back story...

I’m Debbora and I’m one of the three (crazy people??), along with Emily Shimell and David Walwin, who got agitated about the idea of our only community space being closed. Together we put together a proposal to retain the building for community use. Emily and David were rigorously interviewed by Bristol City Council staff, and we got the phone call that we now had to form a legally recognised company or charity, produce a comprehensive business plan and three year financial forecast all within six weeks (two of those weeks being Christmas and New Year!). And if that was all accepted, we then had to negotiate a 10 year commercial lease.

Being a natural panicker, I started to investigate the legal side of this and quickly realised we needed help. Trawling the internet was a good strategy and I came upon the University of the West of England (UWE) pro-bono law service, which offers free legal advice. I fired off a 1am email to their head of unit and nervously chewed my nails in anticipation.

Soon after, I received a phone call from Cathy Biggs, a senior lecturer in law at UWE, who along with her colleague, Sam Cormack, said they could guide a group of law students through to help us form a community interest company (CIC), and negotiate the lease and service agreement for the building, with the Council. Little did they know that we would still be pushing on with this process nearly two years down the line, with Cathy leaving to start up her own business (and Diana Johnson coming in to help), and two cohorts of dedicated students writing us reports, spotting problems in documents, and generally holding our hands.

UWE also provided us with a team member to complete a condition survey for us, due to the efforts and badgering of our volunteer Fabia. The UWE team now feel like old friends, and Cathy popped down to one of our celebrations with one of the first students to help, a cake and a lot of love for the project. It really felt like we mattered to them, which made the whole process feel much less terrifying!

We are an entirely volunteer run group, so UWE’s free assistance has made us confident that we are now in a solid position for the next ten years, but the combination of eagle eyed students querying inconsistencies in the documents, and Council cutbacks creating a lack of staff, meant that communication was often quite slow and everything seemed to drag on. Volunteers often got jittery that this meant something fishy might be going on.. But no, things just take time.

BUT, finally - we are here! The Old Library (as it is now known) is safe for ten years in the hands of the community. We have an amazing team of ever changing volunteers, who pitch in with as much or as little as they can do, to help us keep the doors open, the heating on, and the garden tidy. We are responsible for keeping the building in good order, paying the bills, and presenting a peppercorn to John Bos (the Council community asset manager) if he ever requests one for the rent. As long as we keep our side of the bargain - to provide a space for community use, and we don’t break the rules, this much loved building is ours.

As a brand new volunteer said to me on Monday, ‘I saw this place being built. This has been part of my life for 65 years and I just want to help you keep it going’. We knew this place was important to so many in our community and we are so proud that we have finally secured it’s future.

Thank you to every single volunteer and community member who has supported us and helped us in this process - and this is just the start!

Debbora Hall