While The Covered Market had long-term plans to redevelop some of the empty units within the building, we saw the interim period as a great opportunity for a handful of small businesses to trial having access to a bricks-and-mortar space, whilst also joining a strong network of businesses and increasing their exposure in the city.
We also saw this partnership as a way to introduce a number of purpose-led organisations to the Market, increasing the representation of ethical businesses in our city centre and providing more sustainable retail options to visitors.
Together with the team at The Covered Market, we selected four empty units and began to prepare them for occupancy.
Unlike many of our other spaces, the Covered Market’s units had not been empty for very long and required minimal work and investment to be brought to an occupiable standard.
What served as a barrier to access for a number of small businesses, however, were rental costs for retail units, which were on par with similar spaces in Oxford City Centre. In working with the Covered Market team, we agreed a revenue-share rent model that would make it possible for smaller, fledgling businesses to occupy the units. This meant that residents would pay based on the revenue generated from the space, and were not tied into lengthy lease agreements that might have posed a risk to their businesses.
Having reached an agreement with The Covered Market on timelines and lease structures, we took to our pool of applicants through the ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…” programme to find the organisations best suited to the units.
In November of 2021, we handed the keys over to four ethical, purpose-led retailers to run short-term, pop-up shops over the festive period. The resident organisations were Ducky Zebra, a start-up creating colourful, sustainable clothing for children; Y.O.U Underwear, a social enterprise making a difference selling sustainable, organic undergarments with a focus on ethical supply chains; The Woolhound, an independent yarn and craft store; and Headington Fair Trade, a shop selling ethical and fairly-traded food, homewares, stationery and more.
Headington Fairtrade have now vacated their unit, but the three other businesses remain in the market and are hoping to extend their stays further as active and valued members of the market community.
The impacts of our meanwhile takeover in the Covered Market have been multi-faceted, providing benefits to the market, the residents, and the wider community.
It has increased occupancy rates in the Market, contributing to a more diverse and sustainable offer in a challenging post-covid retail landscape. At the same time, it’s provided the resident businesses with a unique opportunity to trial access to space without taking on the risks typically involved in renting long term, whilst building brand awareness and increasing exposure in the city. In a broader sense, it has provided the local community and Covered Market customers with more opportunities to engage with and support ethical, sustainable brands that are otherwise priced out of central space.