What’s the latest on the campaign to save Matthews Yard?

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post or an article in the Croydon Citizen outlining the situation with Matthews Yard. While we have released snippets of information here and there, there hasn’t been an in-depth update for our shareholders, creditors, members and supporters to tie it all together.

As most of you will be aware we discovered in May last year that a developer had put in an offer to buy the building in which we are based, subject to securing planning consent for its demolition. Initially we had no plans to fight the proposals, and hoped to be able to work with the developers. Unfortunately, after just one meeting with them it was abundantly clear that Regent Land had no real apetite to work with Matthews Yard.

They wanted us to close for three years while they rebuilt the building with 55 flats above us. They wanted to charge us more than double the rent we currently pay for 30% less space. To add to the insult, they said we would only be given three months rent free to cover the six figure costs of fitting out the premises once again. The deal they offered was not viable. When we realised, we stepped up our campaign to save our original home.

Our nomination for Asset of Community Value status on the entire building was rejected by the council in August because we had not provided sufficient evidence that the conference centre, used by a church for religious gatherings every Sunday for more than a decade, was an asset of community value. We were instead invited to reapply for ACV on the basement of the building only, or to submit additional evidence for the conference centre.

We didn’t have time, our schedule was packed with making our own plans for securing a future for Matthews Yard, and dealing with the adverse financial impact caused by the developers reckless speculation. We needed to ensure a future for Matthews Yard, regardless of the lack of support from the local authority.

In October, Leoni, who had played a central role in developing the art and cultural offering at Matthews Yard left the business and established Save Matthews Yard Limited, a not for profit company, limited by guarantee. Leoni recruited Directors and Trustees and set about looking for new premises for the company to operate from.

In early November the person operating the theatre had to leave the business abruptly, reducing our workforce to just me and a couple of cleaning contractors. At this point I considered closing down the events side of the business altogether and stopping all cultural and community activity.  But, after talks with Leoni and the Save Matthews Yard campaign, they stepped in and took over bookings and scheduling of the gallery, theatre and lounge spaces so that events could continue at Matthews Yard for the foreseeable future.

In December the financial impact of the rumours around demolition had begun to take their toll and the local authority started to aggressively chase a business rates bill. The future of the company was starting to look in jeopardy and I had to take drastic action to try and stabilise the business. I reviewed all contracts and operating costs and made savings wherever possible. I wrote to many of the shareholders in the business, offering to take back their shares in return for a personal liability equivalent to the amount they had invested and I wrote to individual creditors offering to to do the same.

While most advisers suggested I do not take on any personal liabilities, it was important to me that the ordinary local people that backed Matthews Yard with honest intentions did not lose out financially as a result of the developers actions. Taking on liability for their investment or their debt seemed like the only solution, while also ensuring there could be a legacy for Matthews Yard in Croydon.

By early January Save Matthews Yard submitted a new ACV nomination for the lower ground floor of the building. Despite there being no requirement for a company limited by guarantee to secure 21 supporting signatures, they did that too. In January I also found out about hardship relief from business rates and submitted an application to the local authority requesting it. While I hear other organisations have done the same and been granted it very quickly, we are still waiting for a response, several months in.

By February I had acquired more than 50% of the shares in the business and taken on liability for another £16k of its debts. On the 14th February I donated all the shares I held  to Save Matthews Yard, giving it the majority stake and controlling interest. On the 1st of March I bought the trademarks and intellectual property assets in return for the debts which I had acquired. On the 2nd March, I donated those to the Save Matthews Yard Campaign too.

As I write this blog it is almost one year since we discovered Matthews Yard may be demolished and there has been little action by the developers. No planning application has been submitted, they haven’t bought the building and their exclusive option to buy expired on the 31st January. Still, the owners of the building, a church and a registered charity refuse to accept the higher financial offer to acquire the asset made by Matthews Yard as far back as last Summer.

Me and Matthews Yard on the other hand, have done everything we possibly can to mitigate the impact of the announcements and safeguard the investment made by our creditors and investors, the vast majority of whom are ordinary local people. From producing our Impact Report, to putting forward alternative plans for the building at 5-9 Surrey Street, to restructuring the business, I have done everything I possibly can to secure a future for Matthews Yard. Regardless of what happens at 5-9 Surrey Street, the Matthews Yard brand will now live on in Croydon.

I expect Leoni and the growing team at Save Matthews Yard will share more details on what the future entails in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, the Save MY Campaign is looking to strengthen its board of trustees and move forward with plans for additional premises in and around Croydon. I hope as many of you as possible will get behind them and help secure Matthews Yard’s ongoing survival.

PS: If you aren’t one of the almost 6,000 people to have signed our petition yet, then please do so here.

PPS: 1 Matthews Yard is now an Asset of Community Value! Well done to everyone who supported the campaign to #SaveMatthewsYard so far. The battle is just beginning.

*This blog post was updated on the 7th March to reflect news that Save Matthews Yard Limited was successful in securing ACV status on 1 Matthews Yard, CR0 1FF, also known as the basement of 5-9 Surrey Street.