In March 2021, OxLEP announced the launch of a new £2m investment fund, set up to boost the county’s business community to move into an effective renewal phase following the Coronavirus outbreak.
In total, grants of between £25,000 and £100,000 were issued to 38 recipients to accelerate investment into their respective operations, strengthen business performance, drive internal technology and innovation adoption and help to increase sales and market share.
The Business Investment Fund has been supported by the government’s Getting Building Fund, with funding secured by OxLEP. The Fund was set up with aims to help kick-start the UK economy following the emergence of Covid-19, with investment being targeted in areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the pandemic.
Grants were issued to successful recipients across a broad range of sectors, including creative industries, food and drink, life sciences, the visitor economy, green tech and high-value manufacturing and social enterprise.
One grateful recipient of the grant funding was social enterprise School Space, who hire out school facilities to local community groups, providing affordable space for community events and increasing revenues for schools in the process.
School Space was set up in 2010, when co-founders Jemma and James were just 17 and saw a gap in the market for an effective business model that would support both local schools and community groups. Since then, the social enterprise has continued to grow, taking on new spaces, staff and expanding its offer - with working towards building thriving schools at the centre of thriving communities at its core.
Currently – the company has generated £2.5m for the education sector and sees over 100,000 community users in an average year.
School Space co-founder Jemma said: “We initially heard about the Business Investment Fund through our local Oxford connections, with OSEP (a local social enterprise set up to support social enterprises within the county) sharing details through their platform.
“We knew we wanted to improve our customer experience and technology platform but didn't quite have the funds to invest ourselves – however we had raised some investment and thankfully OxLEP matching this made it possible.
“The application process was comprehensive – it wasn’t short – but we felt really supported by OxLEP at all stages of the process. If I were to give anyone considering applying for a similar grant one piece of advice, it would be to ask as many questions as you can and leave plenty of time aside for administration, and the ongoing management of making sure you provide all the evidence needed.
“When we heard we’d been successful it felt wonderful – we were really excited to hear that we'd be able to invest in the next part of our customer experience and to grow our business to work with more schools and customers.
“The funding has allowed us to improve our customer experience, acquire many more customers and grow our school partners. Going forward, our aspirations are to grow School Space's impact across the UK and benefit as many schools and customer groups as we can."