Launching Meanwhile in Oxfordshire

Makespace Oxford and partners have teamed up with local councils to launch a new £1.7m programme to breathe life back into high streets and urban centres across Oxfordshire, supporting our communities to bounce forward from COVID-19 over the next year.

‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ is unparalleled in its ambition, and the first in the UK of its kind. Over the next year, along with six local partners, Makespace Oxford will bring back into use 50 vacant buildings; create or safeguard 300 jobs; create 35 traineeships; provide construction jobs to local businesses; and provide support to those occupying and reanimating each space. 

We are seeking businesses and community organisations in urgent need of space, who can animate and occupy places quickly, are independent and locally rooted, and who will work with us to be part of a bold new vision for Oxfordshire’s high streets – building more connected, more resilient local communities and stronger local economies.

Makespace and partners will be working with economic development teams and engaging with local communities in the city and wider county, to identify vacant buildings and establish short-term (meanwhile) leases with owners in urban centres most impacted by the pandemic. Leases will range from very short term ‘pop-ups’ to multi-year arrangements revitalising buildings awaiting longer term redevelopment.

Together, we aim to transform boarded up streets and empty shops into vibrant places for artists, makers, independent retailers and purpose-driven community organisations. Some buildings will form community hubs, bringing together a range of organisations spanning different sectors all under one roof. These buildings will be refurbished, fitted with energy efficiency improvements and upgraded to meet local needs, reflecting the unique character of each place, drawing visitors and delivering benefits to their local communities.

Jess Harvey, chair of the Makespace Oxford board and co-founder of Woven Ink said, 

“As a co-founder of a small, purpose driven creative agency, longstanding Makespace Oxford resident and board member, I’ve experienced first hand the difference affordable workspace connected to like-minded organisations can make to our work and wellbeing. 

“Makespace Oxford is delighted to have the opportunity to broaden its impact and help hundreds more organisations across Oxfordshire access space to grow, connect and thrive.

The funding for the programme has been secured through a capital grant from the government’s Getting Building Fund via the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP), coordinated by Oxford City Council with Oxfordshire’s District Councils.

Bouncing forward beyond the pandemic

The project is focused not simply on building back better but also bouncing forward to create a positive vision for our high streets and urban centres.

Project board member and co-founder of Meanwhile Space CIC, Emily Berwyn said.

“As we emerge from an unprecedented period of chaos and uncertainty with a renewed sense of energy and purpose, never has there been a more timely opportunity to harness that energy for the benefit of our communities.  This is our chance to test, develop and grow diverse uses that support communities to thrive, using the resource of vacant commercial spaces. 

“Over the coming years this model will be sorely needed all over the country, and this is the perfect time and place to start.”

Building a strong partnership

Makespace has brought together a partnership with extensive expertise and knowledge of the county and ‘meanwhile use’, to ensure this project can meet its ambitious timeframes. The partnership includes – 

Wild Property who bring county-wide knowledge of independent businesses and business networks and experience of establishing successful meanwhile spaces in Cherwell and South Oxfordshire. 

Transition by Design is a founding partner of Makespace and architecture practice experienced in low carbon and participatory design, who will lead on the design and management of the building refurbishments. 

Soha Housing is an award-winning, community-based housing association experienced in engaging the communities they work with. 

Meanwhile Space CIC is a multi-award winning leader in meanwhile use since 2009; currently operating 130,000 sq.ft of space and accommodating 180 tenants across 35 buildings across London and the South East.

Fusion Arts, a community Arts Charity based in east Oxford brings an immense network of artists, and collaborators they have been building since 1977 as well as experience of running meanwhile projects across east Oxford.

Aspire Oxfordshire is an employment Charity and social enterprise with a strong track record providing refurbishment and maintenance services to local authorities and charities and delivering training and support to start-ups.

Combined, the project team offers over 20 years of unrivalled expertise and experience in ‘meanwhile uses’ and is extremely well versed in the Oxfordshire economy, property markets and community development – excellently positioned to deliver on the ambitious vision and timeframes of this project.