Meanwhile in Oxfordshire: Making space for Autism Champions

Dee Nic Stiric, Founder of Autism Champions, in their new unit with a LAB sign next to her

The process of finding a space, securing a ‘meanwhile’ lease on it and fitting it out can be a long and arduous one, so when we were able to support our first occupiers into a space earlier this summer, we were very excited.

We were introduced to Dee, founder of a local community interest company called Autism Champions, back in May of 2021. 

Dee and her team at Autism Champions provide support and alternative education services for autistic and neuro-diverse children and young adults. Prior to the first lockdown in March 2020, they had used a small number of community spaces around Oxford to deliver their services. When these spaces closed, they were at a loss. They tried home visits and going for walks with service users, but nothing seemed to work quite as well as having a consistent space to meet. 

As time went on, the need for our services became stronger than ever as the change, lockdowns and inconsistency became too much for many autistic people,” said Dee. 

Dee Nic Stiric outside the new Autism Champions space in Curtis Industrial Estate

A safe and welcoming space

Dee managed to find Unit 36 in Curtis Industrial Yard and saw the potential for this space to become exactly what her service users needed: a safe and welcoming space where they could be themselves. They’ve named it the Autism Champions LAB, which stands for Learn, Achieve, Believe.

“It is vital for us to have this space,” said Dee. “Autistic and neuro-divergent people are almost always required to change or adapt to fit into the places that they go, especially school or work environments. In our new space, we adjust the environment to their needs and support them to make it their own.”

The unit, located just a few minutes down the road from Oxford Train Station in Botley, is bright and welcoming. It’s equipped with two comfortable sitting areas, a recreation space, a kitchen, an office and a back garden. In two smaller rooms off the ground floor sitting area, Dee plans to create a music recording studio and an enclosed space where service users can go if they are feeling overwhelmed and need a quiet moment. Visitors to the LAB will also have access to a number of things to help make them comfortable; ear defenders, sensory toys, and even wraparound hammocks that help to reduce sensory stimuli.

Space to grow and scale their work

In the short while that they have been in the new unit, Autism Champions have wasted no time. They have run first aid courses, arts and crafts sessions, and more.

While the LAB is primarily a space for neurodiverse and autistic people to come for sessions and activities, it also serves as a base for the organisation, and a place from which Autism Champions can plan and expand their education outreach work.

“We feel more grounded as an organisation here, and in a better position to scale our work outside of the space and reach more people, too,” said Dee.

Bringing the ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ vision to life

Autism Champions are just one of many purpose-led organisations we will be supporting through the Meanwhile in Oxfordshire programme, and we’re so thrilled to be backing them as they continue to settle into Curtis Industrial Yard. They represent the hundreds of organisations doing critical work around Oxfordshire that, up until this point, have been unable to access the space they need to have the greatest possible impact. 

At Makespace, when we see a unit sitting empty, we also see the endless opportunities it presents for productive community use. It’s great to see this vision coming to life, starting with Autism Champions in Unit 36. 

‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ was developed by Oxford City Council on behalf of Oxfordshire’s district councils, alongside Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) who secured the £1.9m in funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

Find out more about Meanwhile in Oxfordshire here, and stay in the loop by signing up to our e-newsletter.

Apply for space for your organisation here.