The Real Story of Makespace Oxford…

This is a guest post called ‘A Space Come True’ from our friend Marta Rossato of Transition Town Reading. Marta interviewed Emma Gordon, co-ordinator here at Makespace Oxford, telling the whole story of how different groups started collaborating to make Makespace Oxford happen.


People and ideas need the right space to thrive. Open, inclusive,  beautiful and affordable. This was the challenge that triggered the Oxford based project Makespace Oxford, a community – led working space where individuals and organisations can operate and connect to ignite social or environmental change. With a focus on sustainability, both the renovation of the building and the activities taking place at Makespace Oxford demonstrate how powerful can community action be. How a handful of individuals can join ideas, skills and resources to address something seen as a fundamental need for the community itself.


Makespace Oxford is a physical space but most of all is a hub, a “catalyst” for community – led and socially innovative projects. How did it all started and what triggered it?

Makespace Oxford came about because of the need for socially affordable work space. It started with this need and then formed into four founder organisations: Transition by Design (T/D), Community Action Group (CAG), Broken Spoke Bike Co-op (BSB.) and Aspire, coming to gather to search in earnest for affordable space. Makespace Oxford was formed as a result. An organisation that could broker and manage meanwhile spaces to offer below market rate rent to organisations trying to affect positive change. From the first meeting to acquiring 1. Aristotle Lane took four years.


Finding an available building and refurbishing it, as well as building a strong partnership must have been quite challenging. Can you tell us a bit more about these aspects and how you addressed them?

There were many forms before we came to what is now our hub in Aristotle Lane. First there was a meanwhile space on the opposite side of Oxford. Ideal, but precarious due to a two week notice period. There was excitement and effort put into a warehouse space in Cowley that did not come to fruition and a number of small nibbles elsewhere, before finally Wadham College got wind of what Makespace Oxford was trying to achieve and gave us the possibility of our current building.
Often buildings that are standing empty are in need of some work in order to make them safe, and with the expertise of Transition by Design (an Architectural firm) Makespace Oxford were well placed to assess and make good these improvements. But they do cost money, and Makespace Oxford applied for grants and loans to make the project work. Amazingly it took only two months, from signing the tenancy to 80% occupancy in the case of Aristotle House, and Makespace Oxford are working toward being able to do rapid retrofit and turnarounds, as this is imperative for buildings in which there is a limited time in which to occupy them.


Makespace Oxford is definitely a champion of a successful partnership project: being presented the Innovation Award by Oxfordshire Community & Voluntary Action and being shortlisted for the Working Together Award acknowledge this. Can you share the story of this partnership and the process of building it?

It was a group effort between numerous organisations, and a long road. There were surveys done, meetings with various interested parties, regular strategy meetings etc.. which all paved the way for the brilliant project we have today. And the collaboration still continues. Our current space is a hive of activity with lots of collaborative projects happening as a result.


Makespace Oxford is a co-working space open to social enterprises, workers cooperatives, small charities and creative individuals. How did you make this project financially viable?

Initially this was grant and loan money, however as time goes by the revenue from the residents will start to make the project self sustaining.


Your North Oxford building owned by Wadham College is awaiting redevelopment. What happens next?

We have three prospective buildings in our sites. We are working on the feasibility of converting these to be fit for purpose and creating a strategy for how we start to manage multiple small sites and fill them in the fairest and most inclusive way possible. It is exciting times in Oxford as there is allot of energy and enthusiasm about what is happening with Oxford’s empty shops. We are in the thick of the conversation and trying to establish ourselves as the go to safe pair of hands for landlords who have meanwhile spaces they want to put to good use and then to have the right links within the community to be able to fill them with organisations who are makings roads towards improving society for all.


If you’re interested in the work of Transition Town Reading you can join their facebook group here.