This month marks the end of the first stage of an OxLEP-backed economic regeneration scheme, delivered by social enterprise Makespace Oxford, that has been reviving underused spaces across Oxfordshire’s five district councils.
The programme, called ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’, launched in February 2020 with the goal of reanimating the vast number of empty and underused units in Oxfordshire’s urban centres in the wake of the pandemic, whilst also supporting the burgeoning local community of social enterprises and organisations in need of affordable space.
£1.875m of funding for the programme was secured by OxLEP from the Government’s Getting Building Fund. Makespace Oxford, a local organisation specialising in temporary-use with a focus on supporting purpose-led organisations, was selected as lead delivery partner.
Planned in partnership with Oxford City Council, this first phase saw Makespace Oxford recruit a full team to deliver the programme, secure temporary or ‘meanwhile’ leases on spaces and deploy the Getting Building Fund funding on properties across Oxfordshire.
Since the launch of the programme, Makespace Oxford have successfully reopened 24 units, connecting 37 purpose-led organisations with affordable space and supporting over 100 jobs. These spaces span all five district councils, and organisations supported include charities, artist studios, independent shops, community groups, restaurants and more.
The programme has also been used as an example of a successful model of economic regeneration by Radix Think Tank and a coalition of high street stakeholders. With the leases secured and capital works nearing completion, Makespace Oxford will now move into the next stage of the programme; maintaining almost 30 spaces across the county and supporting the individuals and organisations that occupy them.
Ruth Cadiot, Operations Director at Makespace Oxford, said: “We are delighted to have reached this exciting milestone in the ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ programme, and are grateful to OxLEP and Oxford City Council for giving us the opportunity to challenge and reimagine the way we use and access space across our urban centres."
“We mark the end of one stage this month, but, in many ways, this is just the beginning for us at Makespace Oxford. We continue to open our remaining spaces across the county and now have a fantastic community of impactful, purpose-led residents that we will continue to support.”
On accessing affordable space through the ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ programme, Katie Herring, owner of a zero waste shop, said: “I'd always hoped to have a shop to run my business out of, but if I'd had to do it the normal way I'm not sure I ever would been able to do it, because the costs can be so high it's an enormous gamble, and you can end up in serious debt.
This scheme is absolutely perfect for me because it lets me test the waters in a really low-risk way, and gives me a realistic amount of time to build up my customer base and find my feet.”
Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of OxLEP, added: “The completion of this phase of such a significant project – that has already had such a positive impact in leading the way to a progressive transformation in how we make the most of our high streets – is excellent news.
“As the local enterprise partnership for Oxfordshire, we want to ensure our county benefits from a business environment that is fit-for-purpose, supporting dynamic economic growth and benefitting all of our communities.
“The ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ programme is an excellent example of some of the purpose-driven projects taking place here in the county – having successfully supported many of our small businesses in accessing affordable business space – and continuing to demonstrate our commitment to supporting our high streets.
“We were delighted to have secured this Getting Building Fund allocation for this project and are sure the lasting effects of ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire.. ‘ will continue to be a real asset to Oxfordshire, something which is vital as we begin the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “Oxford City Council is committed to building a fairer economy for everyone and ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ has enabled many different independent businesses and purpose-led organisations to occupy spaces they would otherwise not have access to.
“Consumer tastes are changing and people want to do much more than shop when they visit towns and cities. The ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ project has been a really important way of diversifying the offer in our urban centres and encouraging lots of different types of people to come out to places and spaces they may never have thought to visit before”.
The spaces opened through the ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ programme will remain open for varied lengths of time, from three month pop-ups to multi-year arrangements.