Iconic South London bike shop Brixton Cycles is facing a change of premises, and appealing for legal help after being told they have to vacate their current building, which is due to be demolished.
Founded in 1983, Brixton Cycles has been one of the most durable of the workers' cooperative bike shops that popped up all over the UK in the 1980s, when Government help made setting up this kind of business an attractive alternative to the dole or putting a shirt and tie and working in an office.
The original shop was in Coldharbour Lane in the heart of Brixton, and the coop members stayed there until 2001 when they relocated to Stockwell Road, known locally as Brixton Beach.
Now Brixton Cycles' building is to be torn down to make way for a block of flats and the staff could do with some sympathetic legal advice.
On their Facebook page, the shop team posted: "Hey! Our housing is up in the air, and we don't want to hit the road just yet. Any legalistas or property gurus out there in Facebookland? We need some legal help and advice from someone in the family. For love and money please get in touch… here, the shop, or sales [at] brixtoncycles.co.uk."
They added: "They're pulling our building down to build a massive block of flats. We would like somebody to look over our lease to advise us and tell us where we stand if possible."
It turns out this isn't as simple as a greedy developer wanting to build a block of flats for London's ever-growing professional class and squeezing out a plucky workers' co-op bike shop.
The premises is owned by Community Trust Housing (CTH), which has been discussing redeveloping the site for many years. CTH has long charged Brixton Cycles less than the market rent, partly in return for the co-operative looking after the adjacent skatepark, and CTH has offered to provide space for the shop after the redevelopment.
Kath from Brixton Cycles told road.cc: "There is no doubt that CTH wish for us to continue where we are."
But the problem is that in the meantime the shop needs a place to operate from and none of the available options are really ideal.
Since word of the shop's situation hit social media a couple of days ago, Kath says "it has been amazing how many people have contacted us and offered to spread the word and may be able to advise and support".
You might be wondering why, in the middle of London's bike boom, a shop is appealing to the bike community for help rather than just phoning their lawyer.
Kath says the team know they're not going to find pro bono help, but says: "We would like to work with someone who really cares about the situation and the outcome. Hence we appealed to the community."
The co-operative ethos, which involves paying all the workers the same, doesn't leave much wiggle room to accumulate a pile of cash for situations like this. "Although the Co-op has been in business for nearly 32 years, we sadly have no assets or reserves; we break even," says Kath.
Here's the full explanation of the situation she sent us.
I shall try to explain the situation as concisely as I can.
We rent our current space from Community Trust Housing (CTH). We moved here in May 2001, (with a 15 year lease, which expires April 2016) having been invited by the then Tenant Managed Board of the estate.
They had heard that we were losing our space in Coldharbour Lane as the rent was about to triple and thought that we might be able to informally oversee the skatepark and brighten up a bleak bit of estate, the space being at that time underused offices. We have done both of these things very well.
We took out loans to make the space into a shop and they supported us with a very reasonable rent that increased incrementally, and we have been fortunate to have continued with a slightly less than market rent until this present time.
We were informed back in 2007 that there were plans for the estate to redevelop and that our building along with others would be pulled down and rebuilt, and that they wished to ensure that we would have a place somewhere in the new builds. Information and conversations about what was proposed were limited and time passed, the start date for this project being regularly extended.
Finally about 18 months ago we started to have more coherent talks with the then regeneration manager about how we would proceed. They planned to pull down the building and rebuild in a similar footprint and place us back in a very similar spot, so the issue was where would we go in the interim so that we might survive in order to return to the new space.
With the benefit of hindsight, if we had known it were possible, we should have pushed for them to relocate us completely into a new build that they are currently doing on Brixton Road. It could have been perfect. However, we didn't know they were building there until too late and all the plans had been submitted and signed off.
There is a very small retail space in this new build, on Brixton Road, which we were offered as our interim space. It is 75m sq. We currently operate out of about 215m sq (which is at times cramped). We could not imagine how we might work with this space, so were a bit unenthusiastic.
After a number of meetings there arose a slim possibility that we could use an adjacent 40m sq, to that 75m sq (but this is not completely definite, and dependent on planners), and we were also offered some converted garage space (looks a bit better than it sounds) in the estate, about a five minute walk away from the potential mini retail space.
We shall therefore be in a split site. We have only just (literally Wednesday afternoon) got exact plans and dimensions of these spaces, to try and work out how best we can use these limited and challenging spaces. It's going to be challenging whatever, that's for sure.
We have looked around Brixton to see if there might be another option. There is very little on the market that might be half way suitable for our needs, and rents have now rocketed as the gentrification of Brixton is well under way. Unless someone buys us a building, we will have to make this split site offer work somehow.
We are to meet again with CTH about the feasibility and fit-out of these temporary spaces next week. As we have no other possibilities we shall have to make it work and then we will have to negotiate interim leases and costings, and the new lease for the new build. This new lease will probably involve 'market' rents as the new build is going to be predominantly private housing, social housing in Brixton seemingly a thing of the past.
The broad plans for the redevelopment of Thrayle House, where we currently are, have been approved by Lambeth. The detailed plans for the new Thrayle House are still being negotiated and are yet to go to planning. (A few issues have arisen with the skatepark. They were planning to take the new building very close to the skatepark wall. There is a separate campaign taking shape to save the space around the skatepark.)
We have been told that they now plan to pull our current building down in September this year (the dates keep changing). With our lease expiring in April 2016, it will be how best to negotiate the inbetween time and the inevitable rent rises. There is no doubt that CTH wish for us to continue where we are, it's just whether we can afford and survive the whole situation: the cost of 2-3 re-locations (going into the split site), let alone how much business may be affected in a different location and in a much reduced retail space, and how the logistics of a split site might work.
It is great that CTH wish to rebuild with a new space for us, but if we cannot survive as a business in the time between, nor afford the new 'market' rent for our new space, then it's all a bit of a shame.
And so, this is why we have made an appeal for a legal/property professional who might be able to advise us, but who might also feel as passionately about cycling, Co-ops and Brixton as we do!
We appreciate that we need to pay for such advice, and this is as it should be, but we would like to work with someone who really cares about the situation and the outcome. Hence we appealed to the community.
Since that facebook post on Monday afternoon we have been amazed and touched by the many offers of support we have received and we are talking to a few people to see how best we might proceed.
Although the Co-op has been in business for nearly 32 years, we sadly have no assets or reserves, we break even.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.