At Makespace Oxford we have always tried to create spaces that offer a community environment for socially conscious groups and organizations. We have prided ourselves on providing affordable spaces in Oxford by acquiring short term ‘meanwhile’ leases from landlords with empty property, refurbishing them and renting them to charities, businesses, artists and makers. Our efforts over the past two years have played a key role in ensuring the sustainability and growth of numerous small organizations within Oxfordshire.
But the impact of COVID 19 on our space and our residents has been significant. Our community was separated and the primary aim of Makespace, to make use of empty space, temporarily unachievable. We’ve not only had to shut our own doors, but seen so many buildings in Oxford close their doors, some for the last time. So many organisations have been affected, forced to depend entirely on their reserve resources and the government support available.
As a non-profit organisation, all our efforts and income go to ensuring we can continue our community service to support those we house, and create new resources and spaces that can be useful to present and future organisations. We aim to create open communication with our community, be responsive to their needs and react to those needs according to our capacity.
When we closed our doors for lockdown, we made the strategic decision to maintain full staff capacity to be able to support our residents and look to widening our impact once lockdown was lifted. During the past three months we’ve set up weekly community meetings, created an online community notice board and a Facebook group for residents and our community have come together to organize online tea breaks, yoga sessions, business workshops, and meditation sessions. Our staff have identified and secured grants for residents, set up regular opportunities for members to connect with each other to receive emotional and business support, and done our utmost to help organisations who faced bankruptcy and a complete loss of income in this difficult time.
The response from our community has been amazing and heart-warming. Many of our residents have offered solidarity payments in place of their rent. Organizations who were able to continue working from home volunteered to continue paying full rent. Our efforts to liaise with residents and the city council has now secured financial support for over 80% of our permanent residents and we have seen inspiring innovation from our residents as they continue to creatively rework their organizations to adjust to the new world.
We now have the opportunity to reopen our doors to our community, and give back some of the trust they’ve placed in us to safeguard a space to come back to. It was a difficult decision, balancing the possible risks and the needs of our more vulnerable residents, and helping each group think about safe practices for their own spaces. But with a great amount of effort from our team and a socially distant reworking of our spaces, we are so happy to welcome back our residents who have been unable to work from home during lockdown and give them a chance to continue doing their phenomenal work.
As we begin to cautiously re-enter the workplace, we’re thinking about how best to refocus on our core mission. We want to be part of rebuilding and refilling spaces again, and be part of the process of alleviating some of the reverberations of the lockdown as they affect our neighbours in our community. We realise that there are many stories that haven’t been told yet that need to be heard and far-reaching impacts to our city and the wider world.
We’re going to begin seeing more and more empty buildings and affordable space has become more important than ever. We’ve already started to hear stories from organizations who have had to downsize and people who are searching for flexible and affordable working space that can adjust to their capacity and needs.
Our focus now is on how we can best make use of empty space and support those hit worst by the epidemic. We want to increase the time we can give to help others develop their businesses, and give them space to create more jobs for themselves and others. We want to find new spaces and work with diverse organizations and find those who are passionate about working to rebuild with the wider community in mind.
We’re looking for the opportunities to turn this crisis into a catalyst for positive change. Many people in Oxford have volunteered their time and energy towards investing back into their communities and new organizations have developed around innovating to adjust to a new way of working. With our experience in facilitating flexibly affordable work spaces and brokering with landlords across Oxford city, we are uniquely placed to be in the thick of it, beginning to create even more supportive, creative, and aware work environments for those who are looking to give back.