Tears amid the rubble as Abbot Street Studios is shut by Bootstrap charity’s 750% rent hike
As Dalston-based Bootstrap charity blames Hackney Council for the 750 per cent rent increase it has passed on to Abbot Street Studios, tenants mourn what they claim had been a ‘bastion’. Emma Bartholomew reports
A music producer has been forced out of the studio where she had invested £70,000 – because a charity that claims to provide affordable workspaces upped her rent by 750 per cent.
The woman, who has asked us not to publish her name, has accused Dalston-based Bootstrap Company, owned by the charity of the same name, of acting like a “ruthless capitalist property company hiding under the umbrella of an apparently nice cuddly charity”.
She was this month forced to demolish her state-of-the-art Abbot Street Studios in Fitzroy House because she could not afford to pay £77,000 a year in rent. She had been paying £10,305.
On September 1 when workmen came in to demolish the studio – where community groups had run projects to rehabilitate gang members – she told the Gazette: “I can’t stop my tears as I watch walls come down. I can’t bear to watch.
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“I have trusted Bootstrap and invested all I had within the premises. I thought I was somewhere safe.”
Bootstrap blamed the increase in tenants’ rents on a hike they’ve incurred themselves from Hackney Council, and one they expect to get from a private landlord.
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While the charitable social enterprise pays a peppercorn rent to Hackney Council for the Print House in Ashwin Street, it claims a hike in rent for the second and third floors above the Arcola Theatre has forced “an abrupt change in business model”.
Neither Bootstrap nor the council would confirm this percentage rent increase, which was agreed in June.
Bootstrap also rents workspace to tenants behind Ashwin Street in Fitzroy House, where a rent review with a private landlord is due next year.
Last year it started renting out workspace from shipping containers in its car park.
Bootstrap claims the provision of efficiently run and affordable managed workspace is the “primary means” it seeks to achieve its key charitable objectives.
“This enables it to provide accommodation for other charities and voluntary bodies,” reads its mission statement, “as well as to encourage the growth of micro enterprises. This provides employment and training opportunities and hence relieves poverty.”
A spokesman said the only viable option to secure the organisation’s future was to shift tenant rents up to current market rates: “This was a difficult decision that was born out of necessity and the need to survive in an environment where London’s commercial property prices continue to rise exponentially.”
Bootstrap says it now commits 60pc of its surplus to the Bootstrap Fund, a subsidy tenants can apply for to reduce their rent. This year £75,000 was split 42 ways. Chief exec Sarah Turnbull said Abbot Street Studios' rent had been “heavily subsidised”, and its owner could have been supported with the fund, but she did not apply.
The woman said the pot could not have covered the increase in her rent, which she considered to be above market value for the 1,700 sq ft industrial-use basement unit.
The Gazette spoke to other past and present tenants, some of whom still rent space in the building and do not wish to be identified.
One sent a group email to all Bootstrap tenants when he was evicted last August saying it had “damaged his business and his life”.
He described how he had been a tenant for nine years but he along with his two neighbours – also music studios – were told they needed to leave for “health and safety reasons”. He claims he was offered two other rooms a third of the size of his current space, and not sound proofed as required – at triple the rent.
Another music producer, owner of White Light Productions Tony White, claims he was asked to leave in 2015 so his studio could be let to a new business. “At the time I thought that was fair enough,” he said. “Their purpose is to help new businesses. But then funnily enough it turned out it was a bigger company that was expanding into our space, and not a new business.”
Film maker William Vellacott is still looking for a base after Bootstrap increased his rent from £365 a month to £760 for the room he and others had occupied for six years.
“The whole point was it was meant to be a bastion,” he said. “The real victims are the charities who can no longer afford the rent and will now have to leave.”