Builders and landlords, Connolly & Callaghan has been accommodating homeless people in Bristol for 30 years. The decision to focus the family business on helping the homeless is due to the vision of co-owner, Martin Connolly, to make the world a better place.
Thanks to this vision, Connolly & Callaghan also pioneers sustainable housing including the award-winning solid-wooden apartment at Pennywell Green (pictured above), and zero-carbon strawbale homes in Shirehampton which eliminate fuel poverty. Connolly & Callaghan also owns Hamilton House (pictured below), supporting Coexist to create a community hub, and helping revitalise Stokes Croft, an inner city area in Bristol.
This press statement seeks to respond transparently to criticism that Connolly & Callaghan is ‘buying up property’ in Bristol, making more people homeless and creating more ‘customers’ for its homelessness accommodation.
In early spring 2016, Connolly & Callaghan bought Carpenters House, an apartment building with 19 tenanted flats, to increase availability of much-needed emergency accommodation.
The property was bought subject to vacant possession. The sellers were under financial pressure to sell the building and its existing tenants were, sadly, at risk of eviction in any eventuality. Connolly & Callaghan decided to go ahead with the sale because of the pressing need for emergency accommodation,particularly in south east Bristol, and because it could, at least, offer the tenants support to move – something most landlords would not do.
Martin Connolly says: “It was a horrendous dilemma: a pressing need for emergency accommodation versus disruption and hardship for working families. We did everything we could to alleviate the stress of moving home for the tenants.”
Connolly & Callaghan’s support for tenants included:
- A dedicated member of staff, a former estate agent, to help people find suitable accommodation
- Paying back all deposits regardless of arrears
- Paying deposits on two new accommodations.
Martin Connolly adds: “This was the first time in 30 years we had bought an existing property. We prefer to create homes by refurbishing redundant buildings and constructing new homes on brownfield – we have created around 300 homes this way. However, statutory agencies have been asking us to help deal with an increase in homelessness, and the need to house some of the most vulnerable people in society felt priority.”
Over four months, the majority of tenants were rehoused, with some writing letters to Connolly & Callaghan knows thanking them for their help in moving.
Two rent increases have been issued only to the remaining two flats still occupied. These rent increases have yet to take effect, at which point the rent will match the local average, with the correct legal notice. If the circumstances stay the same, Connolly & Callaghan has no intention of evicting anyone.
Connolly & Callaghan has not forcibly evicted anyone from the property nor taken anyone to court to gain possession, and, as far as it is aware, has not made anyone homeless.
Although Connolly & Callaghan is a business, and has to be in profit to be sustainable, its motivation is not for profit. If this were the case, there are more lucrative ways for builders to make a profit (for instance selling “luxury flats”) than providing emergency accommodation. However, the company’s twin mission is to alleviate homelessness and develop low-carbon housing.
Allegations have been made on Acorn Communities’ 38 Degree petition about sub-standard conditions at Connolly & Callaghan’s emergency accommodation. Connolly & Callaghan does not recognise the description of its accommodation. It meets a comprehensive set of national and local quality standards, including the West of England Property Standard, which are the minimum legal requirements of its contract with Bristol City Council. Emergency accommodation is required to be open for inspection at all times.
Connolly & Callaghan has routine daily inspections from staff, who are on site each day at every property, and available 24 hours a day. It is also subject to regular inspection by Bristol City Council. The wear-and-tear on accommodation is significant, and it has a large continuously employed maintenance team. Repairs are made within 48 hours (normally 24 hours) of being reported, and any property that requires further major work is taken out of use.
Connolly & Callaghan is open to feedback and encourages reporting from its residents about any issues, which is why every resident has emergency contact numbers, and there is a contact form on the website.
Connolly & Callaghan is proud of the quality of the accommodation and the service the staff provides. It has offered Acorn Communities the opportunity to inspect its maintenance log, and issued an open invitation to Acorn Communities to view the accommodation. Acorn Communities has not taken up these offers as yet.
Martin Connolly says: “We support the campaigning work of Bristol’s politicians and community groups, including The Bristol Cable and Acorn Communities, and we welcome this opportunity to have open and transparent dialogue about the UK’s housing problem.”
He adds: “The story is not about us. The real story is the UK’s national housing policy, government benefit cuts, the deregulation of house prices and rents and, as a consequence, an unprecedented rise in homelessness.
Let us work together to remedy this situation.”