The deacon who evicted her tenants before Christmas to make way for a community house


Love Bristol, a charity that will be taking over the property to run a ‘community house’, says it had ‘sympathy’ for the tenants, but insists its ‘charitable mandate is to focus on vulnerable people’.

Photos: Izzy de Wattripont

“I’m exhausted – exhausted from two months of having to negotiate with people who don’t seem to care, exhausted from spending two months searching for a room, exhausted from realising my position in life.”

Scarlett’s eviction from her former home in Montpelier came totally out of the blue. “There’s so many layers of shock,” she says. “It’s like someone’s pulling the rug out from underneath you.”

The landlady had served Scarlett, a 26-year-old early years educator and her housemates a no-fault eviction notice – the notorious legislation that allows landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason.

The landlady Rachel Beere, a deacon in the diocese of Gloucester, served the notice on 2 October. She had asked a local charity, Love Bristol, if they would manage the property on her behalf if she turned it into a community house for vulnerable people.

The tenants had two months to vacate the property, or else face court action and forced removal by bailiffs.

They were complicit in my eviction. It felt like a nightmare.

Tommy

With Bristol’s rental market being so competitive, the houseshare of four young women faced being homeless at Christmas. They presented themselves as homeless to Bristol City Council.

“We were shocked and distraught,” Scarlett says. “My job is full on. It was exhausting coming home from work, looking up all this legal stuff to find out what our rights are and then coming to the realisation that we didn’t really have any.”

But something didn’t quite add up. The tenants and landlady had got on well up to that point, as Beere acknowledged in the eviction notice. “You have all been really good tenants, and I am sorry to ask you to leave.”

The housemates also found it strange that Beere was being so vague, as she didn’t mention the name of the charity in the eviction notice. “She had asked a local charity to oversee the management of the property,” says Scarlett. “Why exactly couldn’t we carry on living there?”

‘It felt like a nightmare’

Tommy, 32, says Love Bristol were complicit with her eviction.

The tenants contacted Beere to explain their situation. “We had hoped her decision had been made without an awareness of the wider context of the Bristol rental market,” explains Tommy, 32, Scarlett’s former housemate who works supporting students in higher education.

The tenants say they respected Beere’s decision because she could dispose of her property as she wished and besides it might be needed to accommodate the homeless. But they felt they needed more time.

But they say the landlord wouldn’t budge. “She told us she had already signed a contract for a new house and had people ready to move in on the day after our tenancy ended,” Tommy says.

The tenants say Beere explained that she was handing the management of the property over to Love Bristol, a charity-church based in Stokes Croft. 

While failing to mention Love Bristol by name in the section 21 notice, Beere says she had known the charity for years and that she liked their work. Love Bristol is involved in various community projects and does important humanitarian work in Ukraine.

With the clock ticking, the tenants approached the church for help. On 9 October, Tommy, and a housemate say they attended a Love Bristol service. “I cried all the way through it and when talking to them,” she says.

A member of Love Bristol’s congregation present allegedly said they would pray for the two of them. “They were complicit in my eviction,” Tommy says. “It felt like a nightmare.” 

Love Bristol has confirmed Beere approached them about turning the property into a community house, but strongly denies any involvement in the eviction process.

Increasingly desperate, the tenants even asked the bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, of whose church Beere is a member. The Archdeacon of Cheltenham Phil Andrew expressed sympathy but ultimately declined on the basis that this was Beere’s personal business.

‘Our charitable mandate is to focus on vulnerable people’

The tenants say they next heard from Love Bristol at the end of October. They insisted they couldn’t help, saying they had merely been asked by Beere if they would be willing for the property to become part of their community house network.

But one local says this argument doesn’t wash. “I understand people’s tenancies sometimes have to be ended, due to a landlord’s changing circumstances,” says Elaine Williams, who lives locally on Richmond Road.

“But it seems to me the landlady’s evicting people on a whim with the minimum legal notice. It is perfectly legal, just absolutely immoral.

“As for Love Bristol, there was lots they could have done to ameliorate the situation,” Elaine says. “They could have suggested the landlady give the tenants more notice. They could have had the tenants pay rent to them for a few months to make the notice period longer.”

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The Cable asked Love Bristol whether the tenants had asked it for help. It said it had explained to them it had “sympathy”, “but to be clear our charitable mandate is to focus on vulnerable people.”

According to the Charity Commission website, Love Bristol’s objects include “to relieve those in poverty or need (whether by reason of ill-health, disability, age or other social or economic disadvantage)” in Stokes Croft in particular.

Elaine adds: “I don’t think Love Bristol should be pretending they’re all about the community, when actually they could’ve done something [to help] and they didn’t.”

‘This could have upended my life’

Scarlett, 26, said the eviction left her “shocked and distraught”.

One of the most difficult things to process for the tenants was how Love Bristol seemed to downplay the housing crisis, saying it was challenging to find a place to live in Bristol “but not impossible”.

“I felt gaslighted,” Scarlett says. “We were all devastated and Love Bristol were like, ‘it’s not a big deal.’”

Although all of the tenants have found somewhere else to live, Scarlett and Tommy say their new accommodation isn’t permanent or secure. One of them is lodging temporarily while another is in a shared house which they say is out of their budget. Scarlett says the new tenants moved into the Montpelier house on 5 December.

For Scarlett, the experience has underlined how precarious life is for renters in Bristol. “I have a career I’m passionate about, I’ve graduated, I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to. Yet this could have upended my life.”

Love Bristol urged perspective, highlighting the problems people face in Ukraine where it’s doing humanitarian work were far greater than the situation faced by the tenants. 

“We’ve got a million and half people in Odessa that have got no power,” said a trustee. “Yes, it’s sad that someone has to look around for a new place to live and they might have to move out of BS6. But it’s not the end of the world. If it was a vulnerable person, I’d have a different perspective on it.”

The Cable has asked Rachel Beere if she recognises the tenants’ account of events or concerns.

The Bristol Cable